A womb without a view until the ’50s

In From Right to Left: Maternalism and Women’s Political Activism in Postwar Canada, Brian Thorn profiles women in the 1940s and ’50s who were active at all points along the political spectrum. FULL STORY

Fire guts Sono Nis

The office and warehouse of one of B.C.’s most venerable publishing imprints, Sono Nis, were completely destroyed by a West Kootenay fire on August 4.

August 08th, 2016

Started in 1968, Diane Morriss' family-owned Sono Nis Press has been laid low by a fire in Winlaw.

The cause of the fire has yet to be determined.


“My husband Jim had been in town (Nelson) running errands,” says Sono Nis publisher Diane Morriss, “and when he was driving home he saw thick black smoke up on the mountain where we live and knew it was our shop.

“He tore home and managed to get our two dogs out of the shop, rescue a couple of computers, take files out of my filing cabinet, and save the beautiful Myfanwy Pavelic portraits of my dad and grandfather.

“Everything else is gone including my beautiful orange cat Caber who was always with me day and night. I am in shock.”

Founded in 1968 by poet J. Michael Yates and operated with his wife Ann, Sono Nis Press was bought by Diane Morriss’ father, Dick Moriss, in 1976 when the literary press couldn’t pay its bills to Morriss Printing. For almost twenty years the imprint received considerable input from Victoria’s resident literary maven, Robin Skelton.

When Dick Morriss died in 1994, Morriss Printing was sold to a former employee (Keijo Isokmaa) and Moriss’ daughter Diane made a deal with her siblings to continue the Sono Nis book publishing company even though she was divorced with two young children and knew very little about running a publishing company.

Sono Nis 1 Diane Morriss

Diane Morriss just an hour before the news

She operated the company from her home in Rockland, Victoria, until she married book designer Jim Brennan in 2002, at which time they moved to his home on 33 acres in Winlaw, near Nelson, B.C. Using the money from the sale of her Victoria house, they built an office and a large warehouse with a guestroom for visiting authors.

“We are in shock and disbelief,” says Diane Morriss. “We’re up to our ears dealing with insurance and waiting for the office phone, fax and internet to be moved to our little house near the office where we were internet and computer free by choice.  “We’re also trying to salvage what we can from the building although not a single book remains. Sadly all of the Morriss Printing archives were lost in the fire.”

Diane Morriss is the granddaughter of book printer Charles Morriss who was born in Winnipeg in 1907. He moved with his family to Victoria in 1910. At 14, Charles Morriss began to apprentice in a printer’s shop. He worked in countless printing shops before serving in World War II. Thereafter he opened Morriss Printing on Victoria’s Fort Street.

Morriss Printing in Victoria and Mitchell Press in Vancouver became the two leading producers of books in B.C. prior to the rise of five new imprints that formed the Association of Book Publishers of B.C. in the early 1970s. The first book printed by Morriss Printing was Who’s Who in British Columbia, in 1953. The record of the hundreds of books produced by Morriss Printing has now been lost.

Sono Nis Fire 2Dick Morriss learned the printing trade from his father and semi-reluctantly acquired Sono Nis Press in 1976. The odd name is derived from the name of a character in the first book published, Man in the Glass Octopus, by press founder J. Michael Yates. Sono in modern Italian means “I am”; Nis in Anglo-Saxon means “are not”.

Diane Morriss was traveling with one of her authors, Sylvia Olsen, in Vermont and New Hampshire, when she received the news of the fire that started in the carport at the far end of the office building. It hadn’t spread to the warehouse before the volunteer firefighters arrived about half an hour after it was called in. The volunteer crew had little training for containing such a blaze. It eventually took several fire departments eight hours to put out the fire. Morriss says the facilities were under-insured.

Today Sono Nis has more than 150 titles in print.

“We are unable to reprint all of the books we had in stock.” she says.

The press has published more than 400 titles from 200 Canadian authors.

sono-nis-publishing before the fire

Before the fire.

14 Responses to “Fire guts Sono Nis”

  1. theresa says:

    As a one-time Sono Nis author, I am so sorry to hear this. Sorry for Diane and Jim and sorry for what’s been lost. I have vivid memories of the Friday evening events at Morris Printing when writers, editors, publishers, and writers (even of the wanna-be variety, which was me, then…)gathered to talk about books. Dick once hired me — a very kind gesture towards a penniless young poet — for a couple of days to organize the books in the library there and it was the first time I realized how many Sono Nis titles there were, how much of our history — literary and otherwise — was represented on those shelves.

  2. My heart aches when I look at those photos & read Diane’s words! Sending blankets of love, support & ease in the healing & insurance work. Whatever form Diane chooses to rebuild, I’m sure it will have the same love that she has woven into Sono Nis for years!!

  3. I have long been a fan of Sono Nis. I am so sorry to hear this. If I’m feeling sick about it I can only imagine how Dianne and Jim are feeling.

  4. Katherine Palmer Gordon says:

    This is a tragedy for British Columbian and Canadian readers. A huge legacy in ashes. Diane Morriss and her husband Jim are so supportive of Sono Nis authors – they deserve all the love and support they can get at this time.

  5. Ian Baird says:

    Diane and Jim,
    My sincere condolences. I am terribly sorry for loss. I am saddened by the loss of your cat-Caber. I realize words cannot replace your loss, but I trust time will heal this terrible tragedy.
    Ian Baird

  6. The publishing community is devastated by this terrible news. As executive director of the Association of Book Publishers of BC and one-time manager of Sono Nis Press under Dick Morriss, I’m anxious to reach Diane to give her all our support and offer whatever help we can. Sono Nis Press was a founding member of the ABPBC and their books in the literary, history and children’s genres have made an enormous contribution to BC and Canada’s culture.

  7. Matt says:

    Maybe the owners should join the local volunteer fire department so they can help stop tragedies like this instead of trying to place the blame upon those who came to help.

  8. Lyn Hancock says:

    Oh, Diane and Jim, I was devastated today to see the news of the fire and your tragic loss, made even worse by seeing how beautiful your publishing house was before, let alone the loss of the books of so many writers. My heart goes out to you. I feel almost guilty that just a few weeks ago I had ordered and bought most of the boxes of my own book\’s second printing from you-Tabasco the Saucy Raccoon. You are well loved in our industry. And as an animal lover, I can just imagine your anguish at losing your cat, that is cruel indeed. Writing and publishing books is not a job,it is a love, wish I could do something to help.

  9. If you recently had a ‘smart’ meter installed by FortisBC, I’d specifically ask the regional district Fire Chief to investigate that as a strong possibility for the fire. These meters have been implicated in fires across the country, although there’s a conspiracy of silence about this fact in official circles.

  10. Judith Plant says:

    So sad to read of your great loss. Perhaps there will be a phoenix rising from the ashes. For now, though, what a nightmare. Deepest sympathy.

  11. Tom Lymbery says:

    This an unprall.eled disaster – for all the important history titles that re the stock in trade of those of us who specialize in stocking BC history.
    I am so sorry to hear of this and my sympathies go to the Morisses as i know how impossible it is to get good insurnace coverage in a rural area.

  12. Anna O'Keeffe says:

    What a terrible nightmare. What a loss — my deepest condolences.

  13. Heather Harbord says:

    Oh dear! I’m glad you were able to save the two dogs but to lose a business with such a heritage and a beloved cat is just terrible. I hope you can find a phoenix somewhere to help you revive.

  14. Martyn Sharp says:

    Only just heard about this today when I bumped into Keijo. So sad to hear, I remember back in ’96, Dick and some of the staff going over to the mainland and returning with the Sono Nis books, files and various documentation. As a compositor at Morriss for 30 years, I worked on most of the Sono Nis books that were printed in the 20 years that followed. To make this terrible event even worse, if I’m reading this correctly the complete Morriss library has been destroyed. That in itself is an incredible disaster, there was a complete record of literary quarterlies from various universities across the country, not to mention a plethora of books printed for publishers other than Sono Nis.

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