News / Ottawa

Ottawa man designs Canada 150 typeface

Free-font designer, not government, chose to include Indigenous symbols.

Ray Larabie added Indigenous languages to the font database.

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Ray Larabie added Indigenous languages to the font database.

An Ottawa man is behind the chunky typeface that has Canada 150 projected onto Centre Block, stamped onto balloons and printed on signs across the country and he insisted Indigenous languages be represented.

“It’s great to see people using it," font designer Ray Larabie told Metro from Japan where he now lives.

He created the typeface for free, and says he included Indigenous characters despite a weary bureaucracy.

Larabie, who moved to Japan eight years ago, calls his typeface "a geometric font with a lot of human angles to it," with slightly wobbly circles, retro-style pointed angles and a low x-height, meaning that lower part of a lowercase h and the bar of a capital A hang quite low.

Heritage department officials asked Larabie for a font similar to another he’d published for free usage, Mesmerize. It took him about a month to complete the requested English and French sets.

But as first reported by the blog Canadian Art, Larabie also volunteered to include Indigenous syllabics, a set of letters that missionaries created for languages like Cree and Inuktitut. "I just thought immediately, that doesn't include everyone," he said.

He claims bureaucrats welcomed the idea but warned him it would be politically explosive if he accidentally forgot a single language’s letters. They said he could proceed if he took the flack for any errors.

The heritage department wouldn’t confirm or deny this account, but touts the font as “a symbol of our commitment to inclusivity .”

It took Larabie an extra three weeks to create the Indigenous set, which involves 10 key geometric shapes that are rotated in different angles and have accents added to them.

That proved challenging, because his typeface uses thicker vertical lines than horizontal.

"It was mostly me going over and over, trying no to make a mistake," said Larabie, who ended up spotting an error in the international Unicode database. For years, a Cree letter resembling an S had been standing upright in all digital usage, when it’s supposed to be lying on a side. Since June, the symbol has been corrected in updated software.

He plans to do more fonts for Indigenous languages, saying all existing ones look “old-fashioned.” For him, including these languages in more digital uses “is so easy to solve, because the technology's all there.”

Meanwhile, Larabie said he gladly made the typeface for free. He knows graphic designers called the government’s 2014 contest for the Canada 2017 logo “exploitative” for only paying its winner, but he disagrees.

“It always frustrates me to not have Canadian fonts used on a Canadian project,” he said. “Free fonts have been around for over a decade now.”

The heritage department will let anyone use the typeface, but only after they submit an application outlining its use.

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