McGill News Magazine
La feuille de route d’Yves Fortier est imposante. L’avocat a plaidé 25 fois devant la Cour suprême du Canada. À titre de représentant du Canada à l’ONU, de 1988 à 1992, il a été aux premières loges d’événements marquants de l’histoire. Depuis une vingtaine d’années, c’est comme arbitre international qu’il laisse sa marque.par Jean-Benoît Nadeau (B.A. 1992)
Yves Fortier (B.A. 1958, LL. D. 2005) est entré dans l’histoire du droit international en juillet 2014 en statuant sur la plus grosse compensation jamais versée dans le cadre d’une sentence arbitrale. La cause opposait la Russie et les actionnaires de la pétrolière Ioukos, expropriée par la Russie entre 2004 et 2007. Ces derniers réclamaient 113 milliards de dollars à l’État russe. Après neuf ans de procédures, le comité de trois arbitres de la Cour permanente d’arbitrage de La Haye, présidé par Yves Fortier, a tranché : dans une sentence de 600 pages, il somme la Russie de verser 50 milliards de dollars aux actionnaires.
« Pendant neuf ans, les deux parties se sont battues comme des lions. Elles ont épuisé tous les recours. J’ai entendu les meilleurs plaideurs du monde », raconte Me Fortier dans son bureau de la Place Ville-Marie. À 78 ans, il se passionne toujours pour sa pratique d’arbitre international. « Ça me fait voir du pays. Je siège avec d’éminents juristes américains, européens, sud-américains et singapouriens à New York, Londres, La Haye et Paris. »
Depuis son premier mandat à titre d’arbitre, en 1992 – une réclamation d’un milliard de dollars d’un groupe de constructeurs du tunnel sous la Manche – Yves Fortier aura signé une centaine de sentences, dont une trentaine portant sur des différends fron-taliers. « Comme arbitre international, Yves a rendu trois des cinq plus importantes sentences arbitrales de l’histoire », souligne Pierre Bienvenu, associé principal chez Norton Rose Fulbright et cochef mondial de l’équipe d’arbitrage international de la firme.
En fait, Yves Fortier est reconnu mondialement comme l’un des artisans de l’arbitrage international, une branche du droit récente, régie par une convention internationale, la Convention de New York, établie en 1958 sous l’égide des Nations Unies. Reconnue par 152 pays, cette convention permet aux parties d’un différend international d’en débattre devant un comité d’arbitres, dont la sentence arbitrale est exécutoire. Mondialisation oblige, l’arbitrage est devenu le mode de règlement de différends internationaux
le plus répandu. Yves Fortier, considéré en 2007 comme le meilleur arbitre au monde selon la revue The American Lawyer, a d’ailleurs prononcé la conférence d’honneur lors du gala marquant le
50e anniversaire de la Convention de New York, en 2008.
Yves Fortier n’hésite pas à dire qu’il doit son intérêt pour la scène internationale à l’Université McGill. Après l’obtention d’un baccalauréat de l’Université de Montréal, en 1956, tout destinait le jeune homme, natif de Québec, à y faire son droit. C’est son père qui lui a conseillé de poursuivre ses études à l’Université McGill pour qu’il puisse y perfectionner son anglais. « Mon niveau d’anglais m’inquiétait, mais mon père m’a dit : “Yves, les anglophones assis à côté de toi, ils n’ont jamais fait de droit en anglais non plus”. » L’étudiant se prévaudra du droit de rédiger ses examens en français.
Celui qui redonnera à son alma mater en siégeant à son Conseil des gouverneurs de 1975 à 1985 et en coprésidant sa dernière campagne de financement n’a jamais regretté sa décision. D’abord, parce que toutes les notions acquises en droit public (constitutionnel, administratif, fiscal et international) lui sont toujours utiles.
« À l’époque, il y avait un plus qui n’existait pas à l’Université de
Montréal. Les professeurs étaient très solides, mais la différence portait sur les activités parascolaires. » Avec un de ses amis, il organisera la McGill Conference on World Affairs. « Lester B. Pearson venait de remporter le prix Nobel de la paix, en 1957, et il a accepté notre invitation de participer à la conférence. Je pense qu’il a accepté parce que c’était McGill. »
Tout réussit à l’étudiant, qui décroche une bourse Rhodes et se fait remarquer d’une étudiante, Carol Eaton (B.A. 1959), qu’il mariera en 1959. « C’est mon futur beau-père qui m’a encouragé à présenter ma candidature au concours pour la bourse Rhodes. Je pense qu’il voulait m’éloigner de sa fille. » À l’époque, les boursiers Rhodes devaient être célibataires pendant les deux années de leur séjour à la Maison Rhodes, à Oxford. « Carol et moi avons retardé notre mariage d’un an. Je lui ai dit : “Carol, je vais essayer de convaincre le préfet de la Maison Rhodes de modifier le règlement”.» Et j’ai réussi – avec d’autres, car je n’étais pas le seul dans cette situation. »
C’était sa première grande plaidoirie, trois ans avant son admission au barreau du Québec, en 1961, et son entrée à titre d’avocat au cabinet Ogilvy Renault.
En 2011, coup de tonnerre dans l’univers juridique canadien : Yves Fortier quitte le cabinet Ogilvy Renault après 50 ans, dont 20 comme président. Cette séparation douloureuse découle de la fusion avec le cabinet londonien Norton Rose survenue quelques mois plus tôt.
« Un arbitre doit être blanc comme neige. Quand on se fait approcher pour un arbitrage, la première chose à faire est de vérifier s’il y a possibilité de conflit d’intérêts. Or, la fusion avec Norton Rose me donnait 4 000 collègues partout sur la planète et je rencontrais des conflits à tous les coins de rue. La seule solution était de se séparer. »
Quand il parle de ses 53 ans au Barreau, Yves Fortier ne se décrit jamais comme avocat, mais comme plaideur. « Un vrai avocat, c’est quelqu’un qui va à la cour et qui plaide. Un avocat qui se contenterait d’écrire des actes de fiducie, ce n’est pas un vrai avocat, dans mon esprit. » Yves Fortier a tout plaidé : droit commercial, faillite, droit fiscal, dumping, divorces, différends frontaliers avec le Maine ou Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon, et même le Renvoi relatif à la sécession du Québec, en 1998. Tous les tribunaux l’ont entendu :
la Cour d’appel, la Cour suprême, les tribunaux d’arbitrage et la Cour internationale.
« Bien des plaideurs oublient que leur objectif est de convaincre. Ils parlent fort, ils sont agressifs, mais ça ne marche pas. Yves,
lui, est persuasif : il a de l’humour, des idées, du charme, il est rigoureux », raconte Pierre Bienvenu.
« Je ne lui connais qu’un défaut : c’est un libéral », déclare Brian Mulroney, embauché chez Ogilvy Renault en 1964. Depuis, les deux hommes sont demeurés très proches. « Du temps qu’il était plaideur, n’importe quel avocat l’aurait fait figurer parmi les trois meilleurs au Canada », affirme l’ancien premier ministre, qui lui proposera en 1988 l’honneur ultime : un poste de juge à la Cour suprême – qu’Yves Fortier refusera!
« Juge à la Cour suprême, ça n’était pas dans mon ADN, dit-il. Vivre comme un moine. Fréquenter les mêmes huit personnes. Sans pouvoir lâcher son fou. Non merci. » Cet ancien champion de tennis junior aime trop l’action : il sera servi.Nations Unies
En 1988, s’il refuse le poste à la Cour suprême, Yves Fortier accepte de devenir ambassadeur du Canada aux Nations Unies. Ses talents de plaideur lui seront précieux. « Dans un poste bilatéral, comme ambassadeur à Paris ou à Washington, on ne plaide pas. Mais dans un poste multilatéral comme à l’ONU, vous êtes constamment en train de livrer des discours, de débattre, d’anticiper la réaction. Surtout que le Canada était très sollicité, car il était très bien vu à l’ONU. »
Il y sera de 1988 à 1992 (dont un passage au Conseil de sécurité, en 1989 et 1990), période au cours de laquelle le vaisseau amiral de l’internationalisme joue pleinement son rôle. Yves Fortier y vivra la chute du mur de Berlin, la désintégration de l’Union soviétique, la libération de Nelson Mandela et l’invasion du Koweït. C’était avant le génocide au Rwanda, la guerre en ex-Yougoslavie, la guerre en Irak – auxquels les blocages du Conseil de sécurité ne sont
« On entend souvent : pourquoi est-ce que l’ONU ne fait rien? Dans ces conflits, ce n’est pas l’ONU qui a failli, c’est plutôt un des pays membres du Conseil de sécurité. [S’il y a une] réforme à faire, c’est celle de la composition du Conseil de sécurité, qui reflète la géopolitique de 1945 », affirme Yves Fortier. Cet aficionado de l’ONU ‒ le mot est de lui ‒ est consterné par la posture actuelle du Canada, beaucoup moins impliqué dans les travaux et les activités de l’ONU, et qui a subi un dur revers en 2010 en n’obtenant pas de siège au Conseil de sécurité. « Le comportement et l’attitude du premier ministre Stephen Harper vis-à-vis de l’ONU sont loin d’être exemplaires. »Homme de convictions
Tous ceux qui connaissent Yves Fortier le décrivent comme un homme affable, quoiqu’animé de convictions très fortes. Sur la langue, par exemple. « Auprès de Carol, j’ai insisté pour que nos enfants soient éduqués en français. Aucun de mes petits-enfants n’oserait s’adresser à moi en anglais. Pour moi, ça allait de soi. La langue, il faut la protéger. »
Il se décrit lui-même comme un nationaliste québécois ET un fédéraliste convaincu. « Si j’étais né 15 ou 20 ans plus tôt, j’aurais peut-être été séduit par les positions d’un René Lévesque. La domination des anglophones sur le Québec était réelle. Mon père, qui était agent régional du service aux passagers au Canadian Pacifique, n’avait plus aucune chance de promotion. Mais ma carrière a débuté avec la Révolution tranquille. Notre place au soleil canadien, nous l’occupons. Et les Québécois sont aussi présents sur l’échiquier international. »
Yves Fortier refuse d’admettre qu’il a des regrets, mais quand on insiste un peu, il y en a bien un : Montréal – ville biculturelle, bilingue, de tradition bijuridique – n’a pas su s’imposer comme centre d’arbitrage international. « Les Torontois s’y sont essayés, et ils ont réussi. Ils ont mis le paquet, ils ont été patients et ils commencent à récolter. Il existait un projet semblable pour Montréal, mais nous n’avons pas assez plaidé. »
Plaideur un jour, plaideur toujours.
Collaborateur au magazine L’actualité et chroniqueur au Le Devoir, Jean-Benoît Nadeau est l’auteur des Accents Circomplexes et de La grande aventure de la langue française.
Arbitrator to the world
Yves Fortier, BCL’58, LLD’05, made international legal history in July when he ruled on the highest compensation award ever determined by an arbitral tribunal. The case pitted the Russian state against the former shareholders of the Yukos oil company. Following nine years of proceedings, the three member arbitration panel of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague made its ruling. The panel, chaired by Fortier, ordered Russia to pay the shareholders more than $50 billion for the manner in which the government appropriated the company’s assets.
“The parties fought tooth and nail for nine years. I heard the best litigators in the world,” says Fortier. At the age of 78, he remains passionate about his international arbitration practice. “It lets me see the world.”
“As an international arbitrator, Yves has made three of the five most important arbitral awards in history,” notes Pierre Bienvenu, senior partner at Norton Rose Fulbright and global co-head of the firm’s international arbitration team.
Fortier began studying law at McGill in the fifties — a little hesitantly at first. His father had urged him to attend McGill so he could improve his English. “I was worried about my level of English, but my father told me, ‘Yves, the anglophones sitting next to you have never studied law in English either.’”
Fortier excelled, earned a Rhodes Scholarship and caught the eye of a student named Carol Eaton, BA’59. “It was my future father in law who encouraged me to apply for a Rhodes Scholarship,” says Fortier. “I think he wanted to get me away from his daughter.” At the time, Rhodes Scholars had to be single during their two years at Oxford. “Carol and I put off our wedding for a year. I told her, ‘I’m going to try and convince the prefect to change the rule.’ And I succeeded — with some other people, because I wasn’t the only one in that situation.”
“I know him to have only one flaw: he’s a liberal,” says Brian Mulroney, a longtime friend. “While he was a litigator, any lawyer would have put him among the top three in Canada,” says the former Canadian prime minister.
Fortier served as Canada’s ambassador to the United Nations from 1988 to 1992 — a stint that included two years on the UN Security Council. He was at the UN for the fall of the Berlin Wall, the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Nelson Mandela’s release and the invasion of Kuwait. He is familiar with the criticisms levelled at the UN, targeting its seeming impotence during some international crises.
“We often hear: why is the UN doing nothing? In these conflicts, it isn’t the UN that failed, but rather one of the members of the Security Council. [If] reform is needed, it’s a reform of the composition of the Security Council, which reflects the geopolitics of 1945,” says Fortier. The former Canadian ambassador to the UN says he is dismayed by Canada’s current disinterest in the world body. “Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s conduct and attitude toward the UN are far from exemplary.”
Fortier describes himself as both a Quebec nationalist and a committed federalist. “If I’d been born 15 or 20 years earlier, the positions of a René Lévesque might have appealed to me. Anglophone domination in Quebec was real. My father, who was a regional passenger agent with Canadian Pacific, no longer had any chance of promotion. But my career began with the Quiet Revolution. We have our place in the Canadian sun. And Quebecers are also present on the international scene.”
Fortier’s distinguished legal career is almost unparalleled in Canada. Only one truly significant milestone has eluded him. Or, to be more precise, he eluded it. As prime minister, Mulroney offered him a seat on the Supreme Court in 1988. Fortier turned it down.
“Being a Supreme Court judge wasn’t in my DNA,” Fortier explains. “Living like a monk. Interacting with the same eight people. Not being able to loosen up. No thank you.”
Jean-Benoît Nadeau, BA’92
For centuries, the humanities have trained students to ask tough questions about the world around them. Now, as policymakers push for more science and engineering grads, tough questions are being directed at the humanities themselves. Scholars insist, though, that the study of literature, history and philosophy matter now more than ever.
“The unexamined life is not worth living,” said Socrates, and with that single statement, an outspoken philosophy professor set the course for 2,400 years of uneasy studies.
Humanities students, and those who train them, ask difficult questions almost as a way of life. Socrates thought this was a necessary component in an ever-evolving democracy where the status quo should always be open to criticism and where growth could only be fostered by new ideas.
In an increasingly tough job market, knowing yourself may no longer be enough. Cautionary tales abound of arts grads who can’t even catch on as baristas. The humanities (along with what are derogatively known as the “soft” social sciences) are now being frequently called into question by critics who say such studies are a drain on a resource-driven economy that desperately needs scientific expertise and hard technical skills.
When B.C. premier Christy Clark referred to the apparent mismatch of schooling and real-life work as “a significant human loss” earlier this year, she was speaking for a broad constituency in politics and business who worry that necessary jobs are going unfilled while arts BAs are languishing in the depths of underemployment.
But rather than hunker down, read Great Books and wait for the end, humanities scholars are challenging the notion that the skills they nurture are antiquated and almost irrelevant.Embracing new technologies
For Chad Gaffield, BA’73, MA’74, the former president of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) and now a professor of history at the University of Ottawa, the humanities are poised to assume a position of leadership in the technology-oriented university of the 21st-century.
“The digital age embraces what the humanities are founded upon: communication, interpretation, significance and meaning. As humanists, we say that big data doesn’t speak to us on its own. But rather, we have to interpret it, understand nuances and deal with the deep diversity and deep complexity of information.”
One example of this new approach to humanities research, one that will make ample use of the tools provided by emerging technologies, is “Text Mining the Novel”, an ambitious interdisciplinary project led by McGill’s Andrew Piper, an associate professor of languages, literatures, and cultures. Equipped with almost $2 million in funding from SSHRC, Piper and his collaborators will be using the latest quantitative analytical techniques to dig deeply into how novels have progressed over the centuries. How did different literary genres emerge? How have novels reflected their times and influenced the readers of their respective eras?
“We’re interested in studying the novel’s social significance – not just a few great books as literary studies has done in the past, but the ways novels have captured a larger cultural imagination over the past three centuries,” says Piper.Conversing with Shakespeare
“Everything I’ve done in the last 10 years has been about reorienting the study of the humanities so it gains its place in the world,” says Tomlinson Professor of Shakespeare Studies Paul Yachnin, BA’76, the director of McGill’s Institute for the Public Life of Arts and Ideas (IPLAI).
Through the interdisciplinary institute, the humanities and the creative arts become common ground for boundary-breaking collaborations between the seemingly disparate disciplines of law, management, architecture, religion, music, arts and education. All IPLAI courses have a public dimension, where participants may partner with performance artists and learn to talk about their work and their intellectual passions in language that resonates with non-academic audiences.
Yachnin cites the example of a workshop he co-led with actor Lucy Peacock at the International Leadership Association on the theme of Shakespeare’s Leading Women. “Without dumbing down the plays, a scholar and an actor can enter into a substantial dialogue with Shakespeare about ideas of distributed leadership.”
The beauty and complexity of Shakespeare make him a much more beguiling resource than your average business manual or self-help book. In the Shakespeare Moot Court course that brings together students in law and English, Yachnin says the Bard functions as “a conversational partner” for young people contemplating their place in the modern world. “He becomes a way of thinking through the most difficult questions our society has to face, because a great dramatist makes clear the stakes and the challenges of a particular issue without coming down on one side or the other. Art becomes a way of liberating ourselves from everydayness.”
The deliberately wide-ranging institute has pioneered a Thinking Art program for businesses that leverages this insight into a three-hour gathering where up to 80 participants collaborate with musicians, dancers, designers and painters to learn about an art form and then craft a work of art.
“The results are astonishing,” says Yachnin. “Artistic practice has tremendous capacity for team-building and leadership. The space of art is where we can do our best thinking.”Seeing the forest for the trees
“We’re developing talent for the knowledge economy, for a variety of domains we can’t yet imagine,” says political science professor Antonia Maioni, the president of the Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences. “We’re also shaping citizens and creating lifelong learners. So they have to be adaptable and have lots of skills in their toolkit – a student with a BA knows how to read, write, do critical analysis and see the forest for the trees. These are people who are open to the world and want to contribute to something bigger than themselves, and that’s got to be good in any workplace.”
Of course, it’s not always clear that the workplace values independent thinking and intense curiosity in entry-level employees as highly as it should. Maioni herself spent years as a waitress (“and a damned good one”) learning parallel life lessons that still serve her well, so she’s not dismissing the struggles faced by recent arts graduates. But her long-term view of her students’ prospects remains buoyant.
“[They’re] not condemned to a lifetime of low-paying jobs,” she insists. “There’s an income gap in the first few years, but over a lifespan its blurs out, which is exactly what you’d expect when people are investing time in figuring out where they’re going. The great thing is that they make that path themselves, and have the tools to forge it – which isn’t always the case with people who tick off boxes to get certification.”
“All these liberal arts degrees are equally useful and equally useless,” says Simon Rabinovitch, BA’01, a professor of history at Boston University. “You should pursue what interests you most because then you’re most likely to succeed, and be in a good position for whatever comes next. So when I talk to students about what to tell their parents, I don’t use arguments about how history is useful for understanding the past and the present – which is fine and good and true. I say, tell your parents that [whatever you end up doing], the only thing that matters is that you do well.”Who defines what’s useful?
Darin Barney, who holds McGill’s Canada Research Chair in Technology and Citizenship, is a staunch advocate of the importance of the humanities. He is currently involved in a project that raises thorny questions about the discourse surrounding Canada’s petroleum economy – such as who gets to influence that discourse and for what purposes. Barney describes his approach to the research as “exploring alternative futures in the language of the humanities rather than [the language of] econometrics.”
Still, he fully understands why arts students (and their parents) might be nervous about their post-university prospects.
“It’s well and good to say that what really matters is open-mindedness and an inquisitive disposition toward the world. But if the cost of that is a lifetime of economic insecurity and the personal pathologies that accompany that, I’m not sure we have a persuasive case to make.”
Barney is less inclined than many of his colleagues to make the argument for the labour-market usefulness of the humanities.
He doesn’t believe it’s the job of humanities departments to meet the limited and ever-changing needs of the job market – businesses are better placed to fund and develop their own training programs, while universities are designed to serve a broader, long-term public interest in crafting a workable society. If there is a shortage of secure and meaningful careers for graduating students, he believes, that’s hardly the fault of the professor in Greek history who teaches students about the awkward compromises of Athenian democracy.
“The humanities are useful only if we define usefulness to include the preparation of citizens for a world that is extremely complicated and morally challenging. We need useful people who aren’t going to put their head down in their cubicle, but [who] through their exposure to thoughtful accounts of human history and human striving and human failures, are going to develop a courageous, insightful, sympathetic disposition toward a very complex world.”
Earlier this year, Molson Professor of English Language and Literature Maggie Kilgour led a symposium series called “McGill for Humanities” that included four roundtable discussions involving professors and students as well as an essay competition for students on the topic “Humanities Matter!” The events were well-attended and the discussions were lively.
“To me, it’s the most exciting thing that at a time when the parental and societal voices are saying ‘Go to engineering school, go to med school,’ students are studying the humanities because they know they need it.”
In her dealings with students, Kilgour stresses the transferable skill set they’re acquiring as they do close readings of beautiful, difficult poems by Ovid and Milton – interpretation, communication, analysis, organization.
“They understand where I’m going with this,” Kilgour says of the students. “But it irritates them. They hate the idea of education being reduced to a utilitarian commodity. For them, the whole point of studying the humanities is to get away from that, to see what is really and truly valuable –what is good in itself and not just a means to something else.”
Kilgour points out that Ovid was supposed to become a lawyer before he turned to poetry that has lasted 2,000 years. Even Milton was in danger of being a disappointment to his parents.
“He seems like he could have been one of my students,” she says. “He’s a young kid, everyone tells him he’s brilliant, he wants to do something great and he doesn’t know what to do with his life. People are saying to him, shouldn’t you get a job, and meanwhile he’s trying to justify why he’s a poet. This resonates with my students, because the way he resists the pressure to become a good worker is quite heroic. We don’t have to reduce everything to usefulness. We can acknowledge that the skills of the humanities are useful. But we still need to say, paradoxically, that one of their uses is the transcendence of usefulness as a measurement of what’s good.”
If the humanities are now seen by some as a risky venture, maybe that’s what they were meant to be all along. The freedom to explore inevitably leads toward the unknown, and that’s where an education that prepares you for everything and anything is best put to the test.
And yet for people in a crisis – and who doesn’t feel they’re part of a crisis in the interconnected modern world? – the humanities are also well-placed to offer perspective, the comforting thought that what seems new and overwhelming can always be related back to the common human experience.
John Allemang is a feature writer for the Globe and Mail. He studied classics at the University of Toronto’s Trinity College and, after receiving a Rhodes Scholarship, at Oxford’s Wadham College.
The job market: How bad is it?
Is a degree in the humanities really a gateway to underemployment?
That certainly seemed to be what British education secretary Nicky Morgan suggested recently, when she urged students who were considering degrees in the humanities to think twice. “The subjects that keep young people’s options open and unlock the door to all sorts of careers are the STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths).”
There is some evidence out there, however, that indicates that things might not be as bleak for humanities majors as the doomsayers believe.
According to the Council of Ontario Universities, the employment rate for those with humanities degrees six months after graduation was 86 per cent – graduates with degrees in the physical sciences had the same exact employment rate. The employment rates for graduates with degrees in mathematics (87.3 per cent) or engineering (87.6 per cent) was just a little bit higher.
Statistics Canada data on employment patterns between 2007 and 2011 noted that job growth in careers related to “art, culture, recreation and sport” and “social science, education, government service and religion” actually outpaced job growth in careers related to “natural and applied sciences.”
And a recent report from the Association of American Colleges and Humanities indicates that while the salaries of humanities degree recipients do initially lag behind those with professional degrees, the gap gets closed as the years go on. By the time they’re in their mid-fifties, humanities grads are actually earning more.
Rethinking the PhD
A year ago, Paul Yachnin and his colleagues in IPLAI produced a white paper on the future of PhDs in the humanities. Yachnin’s team discovered that over the last half-century, only 10 to 15 per cent of humanities students who enter PhD programs end up in tenure-track jobs. But rather than interpret these numbers as a sign of failure, he prefers to see a new version of intellectual success.
“The majority of the people who enter PhD programs don’t end up as professors, it’s true. But the evidence is that they do fine – they get well-paying, worthwhile jobs that have huge social value. We’re arguing that we need to change the programs and the culture of the academy so this really excellent training will lead to a multiplicity of career pathways.”
Yachnin suggests that doctoral programs in the humanities tend to be too focused on individual research and narrow specializations. More doctoral students in the humanities should be given opportunities to take part in collaborative and interdisciplinary projects.
In a recent article in Policy Options that he co-authored with Leigh Yetter, the senior director of McGill’s Office of the Provost, Yachnin also argues that the work done by humanities PhD candidates should “become more public and more oriented toward the world outside academia.”
As a child, Linda Cho, BA’95, daydreamed about becoming a plastic surgeon. Things didn’t quite turn out that way, but Cho is attracting a lot of attention for her ability to transform the way people look as an award-winning costume designer.
The turning point came at McGill. “You go into undergraduate studies with one idea of how you’re going to live your life, and then you’re exposed to so many different things you didn’t even fathom,” recalls Cho. While studying psychology, Cho took an elective course in costume construction with Catherine Bradley, the wardrobe manager of the Department of English’s costume shop.
“Catherine’s class was definitely the door that opened everything for me,” says Cho, who credits Bradley with giving her a chance to flourish by allowing her to work on Department of English productions. Bradley’s eye for talent proved to be astute. Cho earned a Tony Award earlier this year for her design work on the Broadway hit A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder. “I discovered [at McGill] that people who work in the theatre were warm, wonderful and quirky, and I thought, ‘This is the best thing ever.’”
Cho’s first professional gig was with the Montreal-based Shakespearean troupe Repercussion Theatre. Since then, she has contributed to hundreds of theatre, dance and opera productions. Though headquartered in New York, Cho has worked on productions in England, Hong Kong and Taiwan.
Cho’s work begins early on in a project. Even before a production is cast, she is dealing with deadlines. Part of her job involves meticulously researching historical periods, and trying to capture a director’s overall vision.
“I like to keep a very open mind; you can’t assume that Shakespeare, for example, will always be Elizabethan, because there are so many different ways to interpret it,” says Cho, who starts with a round of hand-drawn black and white sketches to establish silhouette and character.
“Painting is how I work things out in terms of character and the pace at which I do it is in line with my thinking.”
During the production phase, Cho does several sets of fittings and then attends dress rehearsals to assess how the costumes, makeup and hair look in motion under the stage lights before making final adjustments. Her work is generally complete after the first few performances.
For her Tony-winning contributions to A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, she faced a huge challenge: lead actor Jefferson Mays plays eight parts and has to change costumes – including wigs and even fake teeth – in just 12 seconds, dozens of times during the performance.
“I had a brilliant wardrobe person working with me on Broadway – Rob Bevenger – who was part of a team of three, running back and forth offstage. There’s an entry and exit for each of Jefferson’s costumes. His clothes are rigged with snaps in the front that he can tear away as he’s coming off the stage, and they zip up the back after he walks into the next costume.”
While she has earned many prizes over the course of her career, there is no doubt that the Tony is the biggie in her profession.
“There have been shows that I don’t think I would’ve been considered for before the Tony that now I’m being considered for,” says Cho, who is busy working on an opera, The Ghosts of Versailles, with Patti Lupone and Patti Racette, which opens in January in Los Angeles.
“Now, for shows I’d really like to do, I don’t have to prove myself with a producer. I can take a breath, and not have to go through that nerve-wracking interview.”
What’s the best way to learn how to become a Grammy-winning producer or engineer? By studying in a program where many of your teachers are Grammy-winning producers or engineers.by Bernard Perusse, BCL’76, LLB’77
As the McGill Symphony Orchestra tackled a particularly spirited melodic sequence from The Sorcerer’s Apprentice on a Wednesday morning in Pollack Hall, it was easy to miss the action taking place in a small area hidden above the stage.
And that’s the way Martha de Francisco wanted it.
De Francisco, an associate professor of music research at the Schulich School of Music, was upstairs in a cramped control room with students from McGill’s Graduate Program in Sound Recording. The students were busy mapping out the best way to record an upcoming concert by the orchestra that was only two days away.
One of de Francisco’s goals throughout the orchestra’s rehearsal of the Paul Dukas piece was to keep her students away from the stage as much as possible. “It would be too distracting for the musicians,” she explains.
So while the orchestra rehearsed for the live event, de Francisco and eight first-year students from her Recording Theory and Practice course stayed out of sight, squeezed into their spot with a mixing console, cables and monitors.
The program, which is celebrating its 35th anniversary this year, trains aspiring engineers and producers in both the art and science of capturing the sound of music. The highly competitive program selects only a handful of new students each year. Its graduates have worked with everyone from Beck to Anne Murray to Yo-Yo Ma, winning a pile of Grammys and Juno Awards along the way.
As the young team listensed attentively to the orchestra play, passing headphones around, the discussion centred on whether the bass drum was coming across a little too prominently in the mix. De Francisco, a veteran of more than 300 recordings by the likes of Jessye Norman and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, guided the discussion as the students debated the merits of replacing or adjusting some of the microphones situated on or near the stage.
As soon as the orchestra took a breather, de Francisco and several students sprinted downstairs to raise, lower or change the angle of the microphones and the outriggers flanking them. As the orchestra leaned into the fourth movement of Brahms’s Symphony No. 2 in D Major, the technicians disappeared as quickly as they had arrived.
Back in the upstairs room, a new problem emerged. The kettledrums now seemed too dominant. “We need to have microphones capturing the essence of what we hear, as if we were making them listen like our ears do,” de Francisco told the students. As usual, the score was consulted as the final arbiter for determining what is appropriate for the various orchestra sections.
Another pause in the rehearsal and there was a second dash downstairs and a further storm of activity.A unique approach
McGill’s Graduate Program in Sound Recording was founded in 1979 by James McGill Professor of Sound Recording Wieslaw Woszczyk, who was recruited to the University by Paul Pedersen, McGill’s dean of music at the time. Woszczyk’s mission was to build something unique to North America – a sound recording program based on the European Tonmeister model. That approach demands that students are not only adept with recording technologies, but that they are also fully trained musicians themselves.
A graduate of the Frederic Chopin Academy of Music in Warsaw, Woszczyk moved to New York in the mid-seventies where he collaborated with some of the most daring musical minds of the era, including Brian Eno and Philip Glass.
“My education allowed me to look deeper into [the] physics and psychophysics of audio engineering to explain the choices I make, whereas young people in the business then learned mostly through apprenticeship and practice, sometimes waiting long for their turn,” says Woszczyk. “When I started to work, I noticed there was a lack of depth [on the part of producers and engineers in the business] in understanding various issues: how we work with sound, how we can improve it.”
“We’re training engineers to record sound, but specifically, we’re training them to record musicians and music,” says associate professor Richard King, MMus’91. “They need the vocabulary to speak with musicians about sound – but in musical terms. Musicians won’t say ‘There’s a resonance around 240 hz in my cello.’ Instead they might say, ‘There’s a wolf tone on my B flat.’ We have to be able to speak their language.”
King is the area chair for the program. He is also one of its star graduates. King has received 12 Grammys over the course of his career. He picked up three in 2012, for his engineering contributions to The Goat Rodeo Sessions (a project involving Yo-Yo Ma) and the cast recording for the Broadway hit Once: A New Musical. He has just been nominated for two more – for Best Engineered Album, Classical and Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical.Academic all-stars
The program’s teaching corps boasts a stellar lineup. De Francisco has worked with some of the biggest names in the world of classical music, including Alfred Brendel, Sir Simon Rattle and Anne Sophie Mutter. Adjunct professor Steven Epstein’s production work on albums by Ma, Wynton Marsalis, Plácido Domingo, Isaac Stern and others has resulted in 17 Grammys – seven in the category of Classical Producer of the Year. Associate professor George Massenburg has earned several top industry awards too – including two Grammys and a rarely awarded Grammy for Technical Achievement – for his work alongside such artists as Linda Ronstadt, Billy Joel, Mary Chapin Carpenter and the Dixie Chicks.
How did the program manage to assemble such an impressive group?
“In short, Wieslaw Woszczyk hounded me for years to teach,” says Massenburg. With a demanding career and little free time, Massenburg was reluctant to add teaching duties to the mix. When he finally relented in 1994, he was surprised to discover how much he enjoyed the teaching.
“I learned quickly that I learned a great deal from the students – in particular from their questions, many of which I simply couldn’t answer in an honest, sensible way. It forced me to think about my approach to listening, to mixing, and, most importantly, to critical analysis.”A very choosy program
Before they get the chance to pose questions to Massenburg – or to any of the other teachers – the students first need to get accepted into the program. That’s no easy task.
The two-year master’s program accepts only eight students per year. And apart from already having a music degree, each applicant must have taken a year of technical courses, either spread throughout their music studies or concentrated in an academic year. And even then, passing courses in such subjects as electronics, electro-acoustics, perception and cognition and the physics of musical acoustics is no guarantee of acceptance.
“We try to keep the numbers low, so the students can have a lot of individual time in the labs and studios to get their research done,” says King.
Brian Losch, MMus’10, a Grammy winner for his engineering work on jazz composer Maria Schneider’s classical project When Winter Walks, has fond memories of the program’s small class sizes and its hands-on approach to learning. “We would spend all our time together – whether we liked it or not – and most of the time, we liked it,” Losch says. “It was a little bit like a family. You fight sometimes, but you also encourage each other.”
“Our approach is to create a very good team,” Woszczyk says. “Part of the learning here is learning from each other.”
Once the students graduate, much of the work they’ll find will be freelance. With the declining power of record companies, the marketplace for music professionals has been transformed, de Francisco says. But opportunities, she insists, are not lacking.
“In our changing world of music recording and consumption, there are no jobs in the way it used to be –where you could, for example, be the main recording engineer at an important record label,” she says. “But in the industry, there is more recording being done than 10 years ago and someone has to do [it] really well. The structures are changing, but there is work.”
“What we teach is the ability to adapt,” says Massenburg. “What we tell students is, in Joseph Campbell’s words, ‘to follow their bliss,’ to do what makes them happy. [We] give them the confidence that they have mastered the tools to excel in every aspect of quality sound recording and reproduction.”
The real ace in the hole for current students, says Woszczyk, is the reputation that the program’s graduates have built up through their accomplishments. “We really have a track record of attracting the very best students, who do extremely well out there getting jobs and working all over the world.”
Career opportunities for the program’s graduates aren’t restricted to the recording industry. Sean Olive, MMus’86, PhD’08, is the director of research for Harman International, the company that developed the world’s first stereo receiver and the first concert hall loudspeaker. Geoff Martin, MMus’94, PhD’01, is a tonmeister and technology specialist in sound design for Bang & Olufsen, where he focuses on developing high-end audio systems.
Woszczyk says that part of the program’s mission is to look ahead to tomorrow’s technologies. The program is closely affiliated with the McGill-based Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Music Media and Technology (CIRMMT). Woszczyk is part of a research team exploring cutting-edge approaches to videoconferencing, while de Francisco’s research interests include examining the latest surround-sound techniques. Woszczyk says this research orientation is a vital component in a “technologically-oriented discipline with a reliance on innovation.” The program has access to state-of-the-art facilities for both training and research purposes, including one of the largest sound stages in North America.
Students in the program are also members of CIRMMT, which offers them opportunities to network with the industry representatives who take part in the centre’s seminars and other activities. “We have always played that card very well,” says Woszczyk.
In an age where music consumers often listen to MP3s on laptops through cheap earbuds, it seems natural to wonder whether the high standards in sound quality sought by the program’s exacting faculty members still matter. For Woszczyk, a distinction must be made.
“We want [recordings] to have reference and archiving quality, so future generations, when they get their hands on them, will get the appropriate picture of what we were like. They must be excellent, but how these recordings are enjoyed today is another matter.”
Woszczyk uses the analogy of an image that appears on both a postcard and a poster to make his point. “On a postcard, you see everything that you see on a poster, but it’s much smaller and [more] portable. You wouldn’t put [the postcard] on a wall, but it’s just as valid in terms of understanding and enjoying the content,” he says.
While Woszczyk takes pride in his program’s 35-year history, he believes it’s never been better than it is right now. “Today is probably the peak moment.” When Brian Losch looks back at the training he received from the program, he remembers how his teachers allowed students a lot of creative leeway in how they set about accomplishing their goals. Only one thing was non-negotiable. “In the end, it [had] to sound good. That’s the only real criteria.”
Bernard Perusse is a Montreal-based journalist who covered rock and pop music for The Gazette between 2001 and 2013.
Engineers, producers… Which is which?
Many of the program’s graduates become recording engineers, while others become producers. The two jobs – both of which have been done by multi-taskers like Richard King and Martha de Francisco – are sometimes confused.
In classical music, de Francisco explains, the producer is the person with the score in hand, making suggestions to the conductor about such things as inconsistencies in tempo, performance and continuity. The engineer, she says, has the task of making it technically possible to capture the music, using all the equipment in the recording chain to get the best result possible.
In rock music and jazz, the roles are likely to be less rigid, but still follow the same general guidelines.
Diplomacy, a key attribute for the program’s small group of students, who work together regularly, is a crucial skill in the professional world. “Recording engineers from our program have a profound knowledge base of music construction, so it’s very easy for the recording engineer to know that the clarinet is out of tune, but he or she has to be careful not to step on the producer’s toes,” King says.
“There’s an overlap. Quite often, one person will wear two hats. We are training our students here to do both roles. My background has been more in engineering than producing, but occasionally, I do both at the same time. You have to split your brain: think about the mixing console and push faders up and down, while at the same time, you’re taking notes on the score and talking directly to the artist. It’s fun to do, but it’s exhausting.”
What’s a good basis for a children’s book series? Wisecracking wizards? Samurai squirrels?
How about the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms?
Dustin Milligan, BCL/LLB’10, is the author of The Charter for Children, a series of books that showcases the Charter in a kid-friendly way.
The idea emerged while Milligan was studying law at McGill and volunteering for a group that visited schools to teach children about human rights. He discovered there wasn’t much available in terms of relevant teaching materials for young kids. So he decided to come up with something himself.
Each book focuses on a different right outlined in the Charter and while Milligan uses puns to keep his young readers engaged, the underlying messages are “centred in scholarship and law. The Charter has been interpreted at length by the Supreme Court, so I take their interpretation and then convey that to children.”
The Prince Edward Island-based lawyer likes to visit schools when he can, to interact with his young readers directly. At one school, he talked about The First Flock, a book about aboriginal rights. In the story, crows infringe on land that belongs to a flock of geese, and mock the geese’s tradition of flying in a V-formation. Afterward, he asked the children, if they had ever made fun of someone with different traditions from their own.
The children began sharing stories, opening up a conversation about the importance of respect for others. “It’s always my hope that the [books] will be read in that kind of environment,” Milligan says, “where a parent or teacher can ask questions, and engage children in dialogue after they’ve read the story.”
Should terminally ill patients have the right to choose how and when to die? After four years of study, scrutiny and deliberation, the Quebec government thinks so.
On June 5, 2014, the province adopted Bill 52, a landmark act legalizing euthanasia, in a historic vote at the National Assembly. The controversial measure – the first of its kind in Canada – will enable certain adults with fatal illnesses to have the option to receive medical assistance in dying.
While the ink has dried on the new law, euthanasia continues to be widely discussed in Quebec and across the country. To get the inside scoop on this issue, the McGill News has turned to Eugene Bereza, BA’78, MDCM’88. Bereza is the director of the medical ethics program in McGill’s Department of Family Medicine and the director of the Centre for Applied Ethics at the McGill University Health Centre.
Bereza recently discussed the pros and cons of the new healthcare act, the safeguards that are being put in place to thwart frivolous use of the law and its far-reaching implications for broader society.
The law has passed, but euthanasia remains an emotionally and ethically charged issue for many people. What are some of the most positive elements of this bill?
There are a number of potentially positive things that have come out of this. First of all, it is important to note that the bill was constructed very much to focus globally on end-of-life care, and on the hospitals, institutions and professionals who need to provide optimum care for patients who are dying. The word “euthanasia” is never mentioned in it. Many people in the healthcare community have advocated for legislation that promotes palliative care for decades, but it wasn’t something that was legally endorsed before now. So that’s really positive.
Also, while end-of-life care isn’t exactly a new topic, this bill has really brought the issue to the forefront and raised the consciousness of the Quebec community. Many people are now talking about it and educating themselves about it, so I think the population and people in the profession are inevitably far more informed and conscious of the issue than they were before, and that’s a good thing.
But the subject is emotionally charged, so people are sometimes taking extreme positions on the topic, whether they are for or against the bill. In fact, it has been a challenge to try to remind people that there are valid, powerful ethical and legal arguments on all the sides.
And what are some of those more valid arguments against the new law?
Many of those opposed to the bill believe it will ultimately provide the government with a cheaper and easier way of dealing with dying patients. They argue that there will be a temptation to simply euthanize people rather than provide them with good, long-term palliative care.
The majority of Quebec physicians in palliative care – those who normally provide end-of-life care – are probably strongly opposed to this bill from an ethical standpoint. They feel that there is a clear moral distinction between supporting patients through the dying process versus consciously and actively precipitating their deaths. It provides an interesting logistical challenge for institutions if the people normally providing end-of-life care aren’t willing to participate. I don’t know whether lawmakers considered this dynamic seriously enough, but doctors do have the right to conscientious objection, so other physicians willing to take on this role will have to be found.
Another concern – and this one comes from people who support the bill – is how to implement this service province wide. It’s one thing for patients who live near Montreal and have access to major hospitals, but how easy will it be for those who live in remote communities in the north to have access? Will the government be required to transfer them by airplane to bigger facilities?
The bill will reportedly only be applicable in medical cases of exceptional suffering. How will these cases be determined and what safeguards will be put in place to prevent abuses?
While the law has passed, there is a lot of work still to be done to develop the actual policies and protocols within the institutions, so we haven’t seen the final product yet. All we have at this point are broad brush strokes, but at the very least there is a sense that patients would have to meet all of the criteria listed in the bill to qualify.
What are the criteria exactly? First, a patient has to be a Quebec resident, at least 18 years old and mentally competent. They also have to ask for the medical intervention themselves – it can’t be someone else asking on their behalf and they can’t put in an advanced directive and have it recognized later. And, of course, a patient has to be terminally ill and experiencing intolerable suffering, which raises many questions about how to evaluate this. There are many things that still need to be answered.
Is there concern that the bill is a slippery slope that can put vulnerable people at risk and potentially undermine the medical profession?
There is the risk of the slippery slope, and there’s a risk that it will undermine the fundamental nature of the profession. Those are certainly legitimate concerns, but the question then becomes: how do you know whether these will actually materialize? How much of a slippery slope will it become? Any new initiative carries potential risks. That’s why you have to look at other experiences in the world to see how often, when, how, and whether that slippery slope has actually occurred.
It’s hard to speculate, but as the bill currently stands, many people are questioning whether it will withstand legal challenges. For instance, since access to this kind of medical intervention is strictly limited, someone who doesn’t fit neatly into the current criteria could challenge it in court that they are not eligible based on discriminating factors. Case in point: patients have to be 18 years old to be considered, but what happens if someone is 17 years and 364 days old? They’re going to say, “how come I can’t be eligible when the last person you provided this service to was 18 years and one day old? Aren’t you discriminating against me?”
What are the current medical options in Quebec for terminally ill patients and are they sufficient?
There are several options currently available that are completely legal and ethically justifiable, but perhaps many people aren’t really aware of them. First of all, every competent, informed individual who is at the end stage of life has complete rights to refuse any life-sustaining medical interventions.
Certainly, palliative care is a discipline which is there to provide patients with a whole range of medical interventions that relieve suffering, pain, indignity and fear that the dying process may imply for some. Many people don’t realize what palliative care can do and many people don’t realize that they have access to it. Another option that exists, although there’s still some controversy surrounding it, is palliative sedation. What this means is that patients who are suffering and would rather not be conscious during the last few days of their existence can be medicated to a state of unconsciousness until their death.
Lastly, how will the new legislation emotionally and morally impact the doctors themselves? Some physicians will surely be opposed to administering a lethal dose.
There is no question that many physicians will see this as a major shift in what was previously accepted within the ethics of the profession. In fact, the law will actually require institutions to amend their code of ethics to be able to allow for this. Having said that, any physician can invoke conscientious objection and refuse to participate. Also, euthanasia is hardly a new idea. There’s a sense that a significant part of the profession is at least partially open to the idea as long as it is presented within a strong legal framework of protection.
This interview has been shortened and edited for clarity.
The first-ever CBC Rock Your Campus battle-of-the-bands competition involved hundreds of musical groups from universities across the country. When the smoke cleared and the finalists were announced, two of the top five acts were from McGill — Cash Chalice and the eventual winners, Busty and the Bass.
“It’s kinda surreal,” said Busty bassist Milo Johnson. “I don’t think it’s really hit us yet.” At 1 pm on October 27, the members of the band were sitting on couches in a Mont Royal apartment waiting for the CBC Radio announcement. Then they were jumping up and down. And that’s a lot of jumping: Busty and the Bass is a nine member electrofunk ensemble featuring two trumpets, trombone, alto sax (and vocals), two keyboards, guitar, bass and drums.
Having met three years ago in the Schulich School of Music’s jazz program, the players’ backgrounds are as varied as the instrumentation, with members hailing from Victoria, Calgary, Toronto, Manhattan, Connecticut, Boston and Johnson’s Washington, D.C. The fact that none of them was born in Montreal testifies to the enduring appeal McGill holds for out-of-province students.
With musical allegiances stretching from reggae to ragtime, they’d been gigging around town since forming (Sala Rosa, Bobards, Le National). “Our live show is what got us here,” says Johnson.
But a single song, “Tryna Find Myself,” is what won them the prize, including $10,000 and a concert performance at a major Montreal venue in late November. Johnson describes the winning tune as dance music with “the sophistication that can happen when you have nine trained musicians.”
For his part, Justin “Cash Chalice” Stander (the name came from a teenage birthday present) was simply enthralled with the processes – the contest, and songwriting itself.
“Music is just a hobby,” he says. However, the upstate New York native has been playing violin for 13 years, and still busks the streets of Montreal.
Although his song, “A Million Pieces,” does feature a singer (McGill science student Cyann Dias), Cash Chalice is mostly a one-man synthpop project. “I like having a full sound, so for me, synthpop is the go-to because I can program all the instrumentation on a PC.
“It was a little disheartening when I didn’t win,” he confesses, but then again, he’d put the song together in two days. “I do want to continue doing music, but I’m not banking my future on it. The best thing is that, every time I create a new song, I can really see that I’m making progress at it.”
CBC host Talia Schlanger, one of the three judges for Rock Your Campus, was “was blown away by the quality of the applicants. It was really incredible and inspiring, especially the eventual Top five.”
“They all demonstrated phenomenal musicianship. Cash Chalice is a really sophisticated producer. His song is very catchy and fully fleshed out. With Busty and the Bass, when you listen to big bands live, you hear this tremendous energy that often falls flat in a recording. These guys somehow crammed nine instruments into a studio, with an intricate and ambitious arrangement.”
What’s next for the winners? Johnson says, “This is validation of months and months of hard work and the start of a new chapter.”
The cash prize, as with all gig money, will be poured back into the band “because the only thing more depressing than making $200 for a gig is splitting it nine ways.”
Hear the song that put Cash Chalice into the final five for CBC Rock Your Campus. Busty and the Bass will be performing at McGill on November 24 with the Arkells. Sponsored by CBC Rock Your Campus, free tickets to the show were distributed on campus on November 18.
Do a Google image search of author Sean Michaels, BA’04, the winner of the 2014 Scotiabank Giller Prize, and you’ll notice something straight away – at least in the photos that don’t feature burly pro wrestler Shawn Michaels. Sean, the Montreal-based author, looks like an unassuming guy who is at his most comfortable rocking a hoodie. Not the sort of fellow who typically turns up at a swanky soirée.
“We kind of looked at it like we were going off on a safari,” says Michaels of his and his wife’s approach to attending the glitzy, black-tie Giller award ceremony on November 10. “We were hoping to see some elephants and giraffes. There were all these cameras flashing and VIPs in tuxedos and somehow, [the prize finalists] were the V-est of the Ps. It was all very strange.”
The announcement that Michaels and his ambitious debut novel Us Conductors won the $100,000 prize elicited almost a collective gasp from Canada’s literati. That’s no knock against Michaels – his book has been collecting rave reviews for months. But the first-time author was probably the least well-known of the six finalists for the prize and he was up against some daunting competition, including Miriam Toews and fellow McGill graduates David Bezmozgis, BA’96, and Heather O’Neill, BA’94. (It was a very good Giller year for McGill’s Department of English, whose graduates comprised half the finalists for the prize).
“I wanted to write a book about the way that love can sometimes lie to you,” Michaels says of one of the central themes behind his Giller Prize-winner. “You can see it as the truest, most destined thing in the world, and still love can lie to you. But even once it’s exposed as a lie, that love can still be invaluable to you, it can still sustain you through some very difficult things in life.”
Listening to his car radio while visiting his parents in Ottawa a few years ago, Michaels had a eureka moment that would prove to be essential for Us Conductors. “I was struck by a beautiful song that had this otherworldly voice. It was haunting – it really stuck in my head.”
When Michaels learned that the sound he heard was actually a theremin, a now obscure electronic instrument that had its heyday in the thirties and forties (composer Miklós Rózsa uses it in his soundtrack for Hitchcock’s Spellbound), he was “dumbstruck. I knew what a theremin was, but I always saw it as a sideshow gimmick, a sci-fi soundtrack cliché, a joke.”
Michaels now views the theremin as a remarkable instrument, capable of conjuring an eerie spell. “You could view the book as my attempt to express that realization.” The Giller Prize jury clearly believes he pulled it off. In their statement about selecting Michaels as the winner of this year’s Giller, they write, “he succeeds at one of the hardest things a writer can do: he makes music seem to sing from the pages of a novel.”
As Michaels looked into the theremin’s history, he learned about the real-life individuals who would become his novel’s principal characters – Clara Rockmore, who became the world’s most gifted theremin performer while still in her twenties, and the instrument’s Russian inventor, Lev Termen.
Termen’s life, in particular, was the stuff of novels even before Michaels came along. An amazingly accomplished scientist (he was also a pioneer of eavesdropping equipment) and a spy, he met the likes of Lenin and Einstein, was hailed as a genius by CEOs and celebrities in the New York of the Roaring Twenties, and later served a grueling prison sentence in a brutal Russian gulag.
Michaels says doing research into the history of Termen and his musical invention supplied one surprise after another. “I would turn a page and see he went to Alcatraz, then on the next page I’d find out that the Marx Brothers once had a theremin radio show. It was a parade of one crazy happening after another.”
Of course, Michaels introduces a few elements of his own creation into the mix. His fictionalized Lev Termen is a skilled kung-fu practitioner who kills two men with his bare hands. There’s nothing in the history books about that.
The Termen who appears in Us Conductors is a complicated and ambiguous figure. Charming and brilliant, he is often swept up by forces beyond his control. But, in the author’s eyes, that doesn’t get him off the hook for the pain and ruin he brings to the lives of those around him.
“He is manipulated by others, yes, but he hides behind that. He refuses to take responsibility for his life – he tries to cede that responsibility.”
Michaels first made his mark as a writer while still studying at McGill as the creator of the well-regarded music blog Said the Gramophone. Michaels routinely champions obscure and eclectic artists (many of them from Montreal) on the blog, while also making it plain that he is no music snob – he isn’t immune to the charms of a catchy song by the likes of a Beyoncé or a Miley Cyrus.
The blog was a sideline – Michaels says he created it, in part, to score free concert tickets. He regarded himself primarily as a fiction writer. But as the blog started attracting attention, he found himself characterized as a “music critic.” “I started getting calls from the Globe and Mail and The Believer, asking if I wanted to write something for them.” He began contributing to Maisonneuve and McSweeney’s, winning a couple of National Magazine Awards along the way.
But his first love was always fiction. “I took a writing workshop at McGill back in 2003-04. Claire Holden Rothman [a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award this year] was teaching and Anna Leventhal [like Michaels, a nominee for a 2014 writing award from the Quebec Writer’s Federation] was one of my classmates. I feel like that class is really having its moment in the sun right now.”
When we spoke, Michaels was looking forward to giving a presentation at Dawson College. He hopes to speak to students at other schools too. “I feel that one thing that we don’t talk enough about to people interested in being writers is how that life really works.”
What advice would he give?
“Stay in Montreal, for one thing,” Michaels says with a laugh. The city is still relatively affordable. “You have to know that you’re not going to make a lot of money, especially at first, and it’s a long process. Try to find a community of people doing similar work who can support you and inspire you.
“I wrote a blog for 10 years for no money, but it’s one of the places where I got to express my individual voice,” he adds. The blog didn’t make him rich, “but it was one of the things that my book’s publisher found interesting about me.”
Meet the three McGill grads in the running for the 2014 Scotiabank Giller Prize
The Main is the muse for Heather O’Neill’s new novel
On the last page of the McGill Honour Roll 1914-1918, following the list of names of all who served, is a dispassionate ledger of the toll of the First World War on McGill students and alumni. Number enlisted: 3,059. Number Killed or Died on Service: 363. Decorations: 791.
With the widespread media coverage of the 100th anniversary of the First World War, Professor Peter McNally, director of the History of McGill Project, has been doing a lot of radio interviews about the impact the war had on the University. “The large number of deaths – both absolutely and relatively – seems to resonate with many listeners,” says McNally. Of the McGillians who went off to war, more than one in ten didn’t come back.
The University’s military engagement during the war included the No. 7 Canadian Siege Battery comprising 150 men, mostly students from the downtown and Macdonald campuses, and the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, which was founded in 1914 by McGill graduate Andrew Hamilton Gault (when Gault died in 1958, he bequeathed his estate at Mont St-Hilaire to McGill).
McGill’s most impressive contribution to the war effort might have been the No.3 Canadian General Hospital that was established in Boulogne, France during the fighting. The brainchild of McGill’s dean of medicine Herbert Stanley Birkett, the hospital was largely staffed by doctors, nurses and medical students recruited from McGill and its teaching hospitals. One of the doctors who served with the unit was Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, a McGill pathology instructor and the man who would pen “In Flanders Fields,” the poem that has defined war for generations to come.
The McGill military hospital provided medical and surgical care to more than 140,000 military personnel over the course of the war. It also served as a model for similar medical units that were later established by the University of Toronto, Queen’s University and Université Laval. The Royal Victoria Hospital alone provided 67 doctors and 123 nurses to the No.3 Canadian General Hospital and to other branches of the services during the war. The absence of so many skilled medical practitioners on the homefront became a serious problem as the war progressed. During the 1918 influenza epidemic that claimed tens of thousands of lives across Canada, the Royal Vic and other short-staffed hospitals struggled to provide adequate care.
Clare Gass was a nurse with the Canadian Army Medical Corps of the No. 3 Canadian General Hospital and served in both France and England. Her war diary, part of the McGill University Archives collection, captures the mundane (“Slept in & had breakfast in our tent with Ruth and Lilly Gray”) and the horrific (“One young boy with part of his face shot away, both arms gone & great wounds in both legs. Surely Death were merciful.”).
Back in Montreal, McGill was a very different place during the war years. By the fall term, more than 2,000 men had enlisted in the armed forces, including faculty, staff, students, and alumni. As a consequence, for the first time ever, women comprised the majority of the student body. The football program, along with many other student activities, was suspended during the war.
The war also had a profound impact on the nature of the research that was being pursued in McGill’s labs.
“It was the first war in history where nations turned to scientific research to solve problems,” says Desmond Morton, McGill’s Hiram Mills Emeritus Professor of History. The war spurred a dizzy acceleration of scientific research applying McGill innovation to areas such as armoured vehicles, acoustics, explosives, and medical research and practice.
“The Department of Physics proved especially valuable,” says Morton. “Ernest Rutherford, who had left McGill to return to the University of Manchester, was recruited by the Royal Navy to develop technology for locating U-boats.”
Étienne Bieler was a McGill graduate student and one of five brothers, all with strong McGill ties, and all of whom served in the War. Bieler studied physics at McGill, served with the Princess Pats and lost a leg to an enemy shell. He returned to Canada and resumed his studies before being summoned to work with Rutherford’s team on the development of sonar technologies.
“Getting [top scientists] to help you locate submarines makes all the difference in the world,” says Morton.
The Department of Chemistry established a laboratory to study explosives and to develop protection against the deadliest poison gas of the war, phosgene. Two McGill graduate students, H.W. Matheson and H.S. Reid, designed a basic process for manufacturing acetone (the key component for making cordite, an explosive propellant for military weapons) and extended their system to achieve mass production.
Magnesium was another badly-needed element and a team largely composed of McGill chemistry students soon produced four hundred pounds a day, all of it desperately needed to produce electrical cable and photographs.
Brigadier-General A.G.L. McNaughton, BSc10, MSc1012, LLD1920, an instructor in the Department of Civil Engineering before the war, presided over the Canadian Corps’ counter-bombardment force, locating and destroying German guns with the aid of sound ranging techniques perfected by McGill physicist J.A. Gray.
Some of the innovations of those years were born out of the brutal conditions that soldiers faced. The First World War marked the introduction of poison gas as a weapon of war. German forces first used it in 1915 in Ypres, Belgium.
Using makeshift materials, including a helmet taken from a captured German prisoner, medical officer Cluny Macpherson, MDCM1901, developed a crude gas mask with a canvas hood treated with chemical sorbents that absorbed the chlorine used in the gas attacks. Macpherson’s gas mask concept would be widely adopted by the British forces and their allies.
Another medical officer with McGill ties, a surgery demonstrator named Francis Scrimger, BA1901, MDCM1905, also distinguished himself in Ypres. Scrimger, who ended the war as the surgeon-in-chief of No. 3 Canadian General Hospital, was in charge of evacuating the wounded from a battle in Ypres in the midst of heavy shelling. Scrimger put himself in considerable danger attending to the wounded, and received the Victoria Cross, the Commonwealth’s highest military award for bravery.
Many McGill alumnae also distinguished themselves during the war.
Helen Reid, BA1899, LLD’21,one of McGill’s earliest women graduates, became the central figure in the Montreal branch of the Canadian Patriotic Family, a charity established to raise funds for soldiers’ families – often left destitute while the Militia Department struggled with the paperwork involved in providing them with a separation allowance. Women who had learned how to drive offered to operate ambulances so they could enlist. Isabel McCaw, BA1915, for instance, drove an ambulance for the Scottish Women’s Hospital in Serbia, and was decorated by the government there for her service.
Among the many young graduates who died during the war was Captain Percival Molson, a 1901 graduate who excelled in almost every athletic endeavour at McGill, and was killed near Vimy Ridge while serving with the Patricia’s. Molson sat on the University’s board of governors and was heavily involved in efforts to raise funds for a new McGill football stadium before the war. He left McGill $75,000 in his will to be used for that purpose. Today, the Montreal Alouettes and the McGill Redmen both play in the stadium that bears his name.
The enduring memory of McGill lives lost in World War I — and World War II — will be uniquely commemorated on Remembrance Day with the launch of a digitized version of the newly restored illuminated Book of Remembrance which records the names of the nearly 700 students, staff and faculty who lost their lives in the two world wars.
“This is part of McGill’s ongoing initiative to digitize University archival material and make it available online,” says Lori Podolsky, acting university archivist. “The objective is to provide continued online access to the holdings of the Archives, which also includes those of McGill’s War Records Office and the profound stories they tell.”
The Book of Remembrance was first unveiled during the official opening of Memorial Hall, now part of the Currie Gymnasium Complex, on November 26, 1950. Earlier in 2014, it was removed from its original casing in Memorial Hall to be restored and digitized. As a result of this project, a replica of the Book was made and will be housed in a special display case in the pedway connecting the McLennan and Redpath Libraries. A digitized version will be launched on the McGill Remembers website, and the original will be made accessible for viewing in the Rare Books and Special Collections, and Archives Reading Room on the fourth floor of the McLennan Library Building.
In addition, in 2015, the McGill Library & Archives will be organizing two exhibits related to the WWI centenary. The first, We will remember them: The No. 3 Canadian General Hospital (McGill) in The First World War, 1915-1919, celebrates the contribution of McGill to healing the broken bodies that were the casualties of the First World War. A handwritten copy of John McCrae’s poem “In Flanders Fields” is amongst the items on display. The second exhibit, The Lighthalls: A McGill Family at War, celebrates the contribution of the Lighthall family, a typical Montreal and McGill family whose members participated in the First World War in different ways. The exhibition will use letters, photographs and diaries in the Lighthall Papers held in Rare Books and Special Collections and other contemporary documents.
Both exhibits will be on display from February to June 15, 2015.
On Monday November 17, Hiram Mills Emeritus Professor of History Desmond Morton will discuss McGill’s contributions during the First World War at a presentation sponsored by the James McGill Society and the Sigma Xi McGill-Montreal Chapter. The presentation will begin at 6 pm in the Ruttan Room on the third floor of the Otto Maass Chemistry Building (801 Sherbrooke St. West).
Brian Gallant, LLM’11, is the only premier in Canada who might have to worry about getting carded in a bar. The youthful-looking 32-year-old is the new head of the government of New Brunswick and the youngest premier in Canada. If he’s not careful, though, he might age in a hurry.
Gallant could soon face tough debates on fracking (he plans to institute a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing) and on access to abortion (which he has promised to improve). The biggest challenge, though, will be to kick-start his province’s moribund economy. Gallant led his Liberal Party to an election victory in September, based, in large part, on his promise to focus on improving the province’s bottom line.
“We’re facing many challenges,” acknowledges Gallant. “We’ve had one of the worst unemployment rates in Canada over the last four years. We’ve had stagnant GDP growth. I realize there’s no magic pill for that. It’s going to take hard work, patience and a diversified approach. We’re going to have to get the big things right and a lot of the little things right too.” One of his government’s first moves will be to follow up on a campaign promise to devote $900 million in spending on the province’s infrastructure, with the hope that it will spur job creation.
A former provincial tennis champion (he and his brother Pierre have earned multiple doubles titles, as recently as last year), Gallant says his first brush with political office happened when he was made vice-president of his fifth grade class. “I was the new kid in the school and nobody else wanted the job.”
He must have enjoyed the gig. He went on to become the president of his elementary and high schools and the head of the student federation at Université de Moncton, where he did degrees in business administration and law.
After completing his law studies at Moncton, Gallant says he felt a certain restlessness. “I wanted to spend more time thinking about the law and how it related to justice and social policy issues in a way that I don’t think I would have been able to do in a corporate practice,” Gallant says. “I was also interested in going outside the province for a while, to gain a little perspective. I decided to do a master’s while I was still relatively young.”
Gallant opted for McGill. “Obviously, the dynamic of being in Montreal was part of the attraction,” he says. But Gallant had a few reservations.
“I did have a nagging doubt,” says Gallant. “Part of me thought that maybe I should have gone outside the country. Once I got [to McGill], I ended up having the international experience I was looking for. Most of the students in my class were international students. I met people from around the world. I learned about different cultures.”
Associate professor of law Richard Janda, BCL’85, LLB’85, was one of Gallant’s teachers at McGill and frequently bumped into the future premier at the gym. “It was obvious that he was quite comfortable with public speaking,” says Janda, remembering a fairly tough oral presentation that the students in his course on Theoretical Approaches to Law had to make. “After Brian’s presentation, a number of people said, ‘Here’s someone who clearly has experience with making speeches.’
“He was quite focused and forthright about the goals he was after,” Janda says. “Even then, he was thinking about his future in the Liberal Party. He was obviously very ambitious, but I was also struck by his humility.” While many future politicians emerge from law schools, Janda says he has noticed “a decline of political ambition” among students in recent years.
“People are somewhat more cynical about what it means to be involved in politics. There is a certain sense of optimism when you meet someone like Brian who is politically ambitious, but who also seems to be guided by a real interest in public service.”
Gallant too has noticed that many Canadians are disillusioned with politics. He has been trying to do something about it. When he was the leader of the opposition in New Brunswick, he emphasized civility and bipartisanship. He instructed his caucus that heckling and other forms of disruptive behaviour in the legislature wouldn’t be tolerated. Now that he is premier, he wants to maintain the same respectful tone.
“I’ve told my caucus that it’s the kind of thing that’s hard to build up and easy to lose,” Gallant says. “I see a real opportunity to change the culture of this legislature. The people of New Brunswick will see a very disciplined, sober and responsible group focusing on job creation to the best of our abilities.”
While the task of being premier is daunting enough, Gallant also named himself the minister responsible for women’s equality. Only eight of the 49 MLAs elected in the last New Brunswick election were women. Four of those women are members of his government. “We didn’t elect enough women,” says Gallant. “Clearly, there are still systemic barriers that we need to be thinking about. Putting [the ministry for women’s equality] in the Premier’s Office sends out a message about the importance of the issue.”
Gallant says McGill played an important role in his life and he isn’t shy about broadcasting the fact. He owns two McGill ties and claims that one of them is his “lucky tie.” He has worn it on important occasions – at the leadership convention when he became the head of the Liberals, on election night and at the swearing-in ceremony for the newly elected members of the New Brunswick legislature. “I noticed that Mike Babcock [BEd’86, LLD’13] wears a McGill tie for some of his most important games,” Gallant says of the hockey coach who has led teams to two Olympic gold medals and a Stanley Cup. “It seems to work for him.”
There is no one left alive who fought in World War One to speak to us about that conflict. Yet we can still hear those who spoke to them: the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts is mounting an exhibit of propaganda posters tied to the centennial of the Great War, many of which are drawn from the McGill Libraries’ Rare Books and Special Collections.
“The Patriotism of Death” exhibition was the brainchild of Hilliard Goldfarb, an associate chief curator at the MMFA. He says the poster exhibition will offer a unique counterpoint to the museum’s current major exhibition, “From Van Gogh to Kandinsky,” which explores the development of art in the early 20th century.
“From Van Gogh to Kandinsky” looks at “the interface between French and German Art in that period, when there was a very active cross-current of inspiration between Paris and Berlin, ending at the moment of WWI,” says Goldfarb. The curator thought that posters from the war, with their aggressive imagery, would provide an interesting sidebar to the main exhibit. “It is supposed to be a coda to the other exhibition, [which covers] a very dynamic period of communication that ended in 1914.”
Richard Virr, PhD’80, the head of Rare Books and Special Collections at McGill, says the University has a fairly extensive collection of both Canadian and German materials from the period, including posters and pamphlets, many of which were acquired in the years just after the war. The Canadian material includes recruitment posters in French and English, pleas to buy war bonds, and other materials that promoted food rationing. Virr explains that the MMFA and the libraries have collaborated on projects in the past, so they were more than happy to open their doors to the visiting curators, and share in the excitement at what they found.
“The people in the museum came and were opening up folders and going ‘look at that!’ It was very much a discovery process.”
Emeritus professor of history Desmond Morton has studied many of McGill’s wartime posters, and says that their blocky letters and blunt messages hide subtle lessons about our history. Posters aimed at French Canadians, for instance, claimed that volunteers would serve with their friends in French-language battalions. Many were then assigned to whatever unit needed men, irrespective of language. This practice informed the conscription crisis.
“Imagine arriving with a bunch of people who were supposed to speak your language, who were supposed to be your comrades and friends, and [being told instead] you’re a coward anyway because you’re an effing Frenchman. We blame the Québécois for being unenthusiastic about conscription, but they’d been betrayed, lied to, by the rest of Canada,” he says.
“The Patriotism of Death” exhibition will be on display at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts from November 11, 2014, to March 29, 2015. McGill’s collection of posters from both world wars are viewable online.
Chloë Grysole, BA’98, has helped bring some of the biggest blockbuster films of recent times to life, from the Harry Potter series to the James Bond thriller Skyfall, but her latest role might be her most challenging yet: building a new state-of-the-art visual effects studio from the ground up.
Earlier this year, the McGill alumna and Montreal native was named general manager of the new Montreal branch of London-based visual effects company Cinesite. It was a perfect opportunity for Grysole to bring her passion for world-class visual effects back home.
“It’s exciting to be entrusted with such a big project,” Grysole says. “It allows me to put to use the things I’ve learned about the visual effects industry over the years as a producer and a manager.”
Grysole’s 16-year journey from an undergraduate degree in cultural studies to working on the latest X-Men film and the epic Tom Cruise action flick Edge of Tomorrow is anything but science fiction. She worked her way up, starting as a production assistant for the special effects supervisor on the television series The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne.
“I didn’t know anything about visual effects at first. I was more into documentaries,” Grysole recalls. “I ended up meeting so many artists who could truly influence the look of a film in a very real way.”
She moved up the ranks, from bringing Thai chicken to her boss, to becoming an office manager, and then a producer. In 2001, Grysole co-founded Montreal-based Meteor Studios, and was their director of business development. After Meteor, Grysole moved on to FX Cartel, serving as a visual effects producer for such projects projects as the Will Ferrell comedy Stranger Than Fiction and Across the Universe, a drama based on the music of the Beatles.
In 2007, Grysole relocated to London to work for Cinesite on the famed Harry Potter franchise, starting with Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince.
“Being a part of that big Potter family was an extraordinary experience,” she says. “It was a chance for me to manage a large team and budget. Resources aren’t scarce with a franchise like that – our goal was to create something unparalleled.”
During Grysole’s three years of working on the Potter series, she was responsible for managing the computer graphics artists and overseeing the studio’s cutting edge research and development.
“Just for something like Voldemort’s nose, it was a huge undertaking to create a skin shader that could render skin so it didn’t look like plastic,” she explains.
Since February of this year, Grysole has been tasked with building a Montreal studio that lives up to the reputation of Cinesite’s London headquarters. Over the next two years, the studio is expected to expand and hire 250 employees.
“We’re seeing an explosion of the visual effects industry in Montreal. It’s becoming a world centre,” she says. “We’ve always bred talented people, but at a certain point they would leave. Now we’re seeing a maturing of the industry in Canada. There’s more interest in coming here.”
In her position, Grysole serves as the main liaison between the directors and producers who are chiefly responsible for films and the visual effects staff she oversees. She tries to ensure that her team has the time and resources it needs to do their work properly and that the visual effects being produced for the filmmakers are on time, on budget and of high quality.
“Visual effects keep pushing the envelope and getting better. Directors have more tools for storytelling than ever before,” Grysole explains, adding that a common misconception is that visual effects are only important for sci-fi summer blockbusters.
“Even a romantic comedy [that] you think has no special effects, could have a background that has been replaced. Visual effects are becoming a more important portion of making a film, which wasn’t the case 15 years ago. Sometimes there will be more people in VFX and post-production than working on the movie itself.”
When the finalists were announced for Canada’s most lucrative fiction prize on October 6, it was revealed that half the shortlist was comprised of writers who had studied English at McGill. Three of the six writers in the running for the $100,000 Scotiabank Giller Prize are McGill graduates – David Bezmozgis, BA’96, Heather O’Neill, BA’94, and Sean Michaels, BA’04. A fourth graduate, Claire Holden Rothman, BA’81, BCL’84, had been named to the Giller longlist for My October, a novel that explores some of the aftereffects of the 1970 October Crisis. While Rothman didn’t make it into the final six for the Giller, she did receive a splendid consolation prize. She is a finalist for another of Canada’s top fiction honours, the Governor General’s Literary Award.
We invited Bezmozgis, O’Neill and Michaels to answer some brief questions for us. Here’s what they had to say.
David Bezmozgis is the author of The Betrayers, a book that deals with, among other things, a very unexpected reunion in Crimea between former friends. One is now an Israeli politician, who is punished for his unyielding principles with a public disgrace. The other is a man whose act of betrayal decades ago resulted in a life-altering incarceration in a gulag for the politician.
What do you admire the most about the protagonist of your book?
How did the novel you set out to write differ from the one you ended up completing?
In the usual formal ways. For instance, I had initially thought it would all be written in one voice, but in the end it was written in as many as three. I also intended the book to be set in a Yalta of 2014 but political events undermined my plans.
When you were a McGill student, what were the temptations you faced that would most likely result in you skipping a class or two?
I don’t remember skipping many classes. I am rather dutiful that way.
Who was your most memorable teacher at McGill? Why?
Stewart Cooke. I took a couple of classes with him. One was on the postmodern novel that proved unexpectedly influential in my development as a writer. [Cooke now teaches at Dawson College, but he is an adjunct professor at McGill and the associate director of the University's Burney Centre].
Heather O’Neill’s The Girl Who Was Saturday Night, follows the lives of a 19-year-old woman and her fraternal twin brother, the children of a charming, irresponsible and past-his-prime Québécois folk-rock star. The siblings pursue a bohemian lifestyle in Montreal against the backdrop of the 1995 Quebec referendum campaign.
What do you admire the most about the protagonist of your book?
I love how full of life she is. I love that she’s a romantic and the crazy declarations that she makes. I love her bad decisions and the way she dresses. But what do I admire about her most? I would say her ability to make sense of any situation. She’s like a 19-year-old philosopher with a flower behind her ear giving a hilarious version of the History of the World in 10 & 1/2 Chapters on the street corner.
How did the novel you set out to write differ from the one you ended up completing?
It just ended up much bigger. Like the characters really took on lives of their own and started having their two cents, so the book became more political and sociological. I knew that the book was going to swerve out of my hands when I created those characters. I think about four of them are off the charts brilliant. It’s a family of orators. So I knew they would be talking about things that I knew nothing about. I was reading books just to catch up with them.
When you were a McGill student, what were the temptations you faced that would most likely result in you skipping a class or two?
I guess it all had to do with boys. If I studied too much, I would get dumped. So I had to be a party girl sometimes, even though it wasn’t really in me. It always seemed like the tomfoolery was the hard part for me. I would get home with a little gold party hat on the side of my head, thinking thank the lord that’s done, now I can just read some plays in peace.
Who was your most memorable teacher at McGill? Why?
Hmm… I’m really biased towards the ones that gave me As. [Retired English professor] Christopher Heppner comes to mind immediately. Because once I wrote this really crazed essay on William Blake in a fit of inspiration. And I handed it in. I was sure that I would fail the course and I sat at the bus stop hitting myself on the head with my binder. But then I got the paper back and he wrote “a risky endeavor… a bird of parallel flight… bravo!” I remember those words 20 years later.
Sean Michaels is the author of Us Conductors, a fictionalized account of the extraordinary life of Léon Theremin, the brilliant Russian inventor who introduced the ethereal sounds of the theremin to the world (if you’ve ever heard seen Hitchcock’s Spellbound or the Bugs Bunny cartoon “Knighty Knight Bugs,” you’ve heard a theremin).
What do you admire the most about the protagonist of your book?
Lev is a fine scientist, a good noticer; but I did not set out to write a character the reader would admire. He is shallow, selfish and irresponsible. He is deeply flawed in ways we too rarely acknowledge as flaws.
How did the novel you set out to write differ from the one you ended up completing?
It is longer than I intended. Sorry!
When you were a McGill student, what were the temptations you faced that would most likely result in you skipping a class or two?
Late concerts at la Sala Rossa or the Jailhouse, with bands that glinted in the dark.
Who was your most memorable teacher at McGill? Why?
I deeply enjoyed classes with Michael Bristol and Derek Nystrom, but by far my favourite instructor was Jackie Buxton – a professor of English literature who taught us with relentless intelligence and impervious wit, transforming the way I think about modern writing and critical theory. She was brilliant, funny, an incredible teacher; I took as many of her classes as I could. Not long after my graduation, McGill let her go; it makes me furious and disappointed.
The number of McGill students seeking help from the professionals at the University’s Mental Health Services Clinic has risen sharply in recent years. Just this past year alone, there was a 24 per cent spike in new cases over the year before.
Do the growing numbers indicate that students are experiencing depression and anxiety more often than in the past? Or is there simply less stigma associated with seeking help for mental health issues, prompting more students to do so?
“It’s probably a bit of both,” says Nancy Low, MSc’02, the clinical director for Mental Health Services and an assistant professor of psychiatry at McGill. A survey organized by the clinic last year indicated that more than 40 per cent of the University’s students have experienced symptoms associated with serious anxiety or depression. Low says those numbers roughly parallel the findings of similar studies done at other universities.
Thanks to a $500,000 grant from Bell Canada, Low and her colleagues are developing a valuable new tool to address the mental health needs of McGill students.
Low and her team will be using the Bell funding to fine-tune the McGill Wellness Portal. The website, which will be launched next fall, will allow students to assess their own mental health needs.
“The portal will offer feedback,” says Low. “In some cases, it might suggest that students make use of the peer-to-peer resources we have at McGill. If there is evidence of medium to severe symptoms of a mental health problem, students will be advised to come to Mental Health Services.”
For some students, the thought of doing an online self-assessment might be less intimidating than going to a psychologist or counsellor straightaway. “One of the major things associated with mental health problems is social isolation,” says Low. “People often don’t know if what they’re experiencing is normal or not.”
The portal will focus on the most common mental health issues faced by McGill’s students: depression, anxiety, eating disorders and alcohol abuse. It will include first-person accounts of individuals who have struggled with various mental health issues, as well as tips on combating anxiety and information on the stress-busting benefits of being physically active and getting enough sleep.
It will also offer information on all the support systems that exist on and off campus for students. Low says there is a lot of help available for students encountering difficulties, but they often don’t know about those resources. “During orientation, new students do hear about all the support systems that are in place at McGill, but it’s a lot to take in. And then the semester starts and they’re focused on doing well in their courses. A lot of that other information gets washed away.”
Low says that international students and out-of-province students are especially at risk for mental health problems. “It’s a huge transition for them. They’ve typically done very well in school, but now they’re away from their parents and their friends and family. The support systems they had in place aren’t close by anymore.”
As a psychiatrist, Low says she’d like to see a day when “people found that talking about their mental health concerns was just as easy as talking to your doctor about diabetes or hypertension.” She sees some hopeful signs.
“When students do come in to the clinic, we ask what prompted them to book the appointment. A lot of the time, it’s because of urging from their friends. That makes me think that there is less stigma associated with mental health issues than there once was. Students are more comfortable talking to their friends about this and the friends are being supportive.”
In fact, Low says McGill students have been very sensitive to mental health concerns. Students are very much involved in the evolution of the McGill Wellness Portal – they’ve been closely consulted throughout the process. And Low recently took part in Student in Mind, a student-organized campus conference dedicated to mental health issues.
She gives Bell credit too. Since its launch in 2010, Bell’s Let’s Talk campaign has committed more than $68.5 million to supporting various mental health programs throughout Canada. “I think that’s fantastic.”
“We will shut down China and reboot.”
With that brazen pledge, the hacker collective Anonymous declared cyber war on the Chinese government earlier this month for their refusal to listen to pro-democracy protestors in Hong Kong. Within days, the online rabble rousers began delivering on their promise, successfully infiltrating more than 50 government websites and leaking the names, phone numbers, IP addresses and email addresses of hundreds of government officials.
The campaign marked the latest in a long string of daring cyber-attacks from the loosely connected group of hacktivists, who have made a name for themselves by taking on high-profile targets like the CIA, Visa and the Vatican.
Gabriella Coleman, McGill’s inaugural Wolfe Chair in Scientific and Technological Literacy, is considered by many to be the leading expert on Anonymous. A trained cultural anthropologist, she has spent the last half-dozen years keeping close tabs as “Anons” – as Anonymous members refer to themselves – targeted government agencies and banks, corporations and child pornography sites around the world.
Now, in her soon-to-be-released book, Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous, Coleman is taking readers behind the Guy Fawkes mask as she chronicles the complex sphere of cyber insurgency and provides never-before-seen insight into the motivations of the hackers, pranksters and activists who operate under the Anonymous moniker.
But what exactly is Anonymous and how has it evolved into a worldwide movement that sends shivers down the spines of nation-states and big business?
“Anonymous is not an organized group per se, but it can be quite organized in different moments,” Coleman explains. “At any given time, there are small teams who work behind the scenes to harness spontaneous outcries and collective anger in very effective ways, and then allow for broader participation in these different operations.”
Though Anonymous took shape in 2003 on 4Chan, an online image board popular among hackers, the group only started to garner attention after it launched a series of pranks and online assaults aimed at the Church of Scientology five years later. Coleman, who was conducting research on free and open-source software at the time, was intrigued and began to study the subversive subculture.
“I was immediately hooked, though I never thought it would grow beyond that narrow issue,” she says.
At first, Coleman’s research into Anonymous was mostly straightforward; she attended protests and followed discussions on web forums and on Internet Relay Chat (IRC) – a popular online destination for hackers. But in 2011, as Anonymous grew bolder and their attacks on government and corporate websites increased, so did Coleman’s interest.
For the next two years, she was constantly jacked in, spending long days and late nights glued to her computer screen examining, interviewing and debating the hackers, and struggling to keep abreast of all of their simultaneous operations. In her book, she equates the process with “following a thread through a dark and twisty path strewn with rumours, lies, secrets and the ghoulish reality of spies and informants.”
The deeper that Coleman delved, the more trusted she became by the group’s members. Eventually, she served as a confidante and interpreter, editing manifestos, teaching journalists how to find Anonymous and correcting misconceptions – though Coleman stresses that she always limited her involvement to activities that are legal. But was Coleman ever concerned that she became too close to the people she was watching?
“That is always an issue whenever anthropologists become so enmeshed in a community they are studying, but there are always elements that allow you to create some critical distance,” she says.
Coleman states that not bearing witness to their illegal activity allowed her to maintain some distance. The fact that she disagreed with many of the group’s more controversial actions, like inadvertently targeting and exposing the personal information of innocent people, also served as an important reminder not to get too friendly.
Still, she says the work left her exhausted and paranoid that law enforcement was tracking her movements.
“The journey has been marked by soaring thrills, disappointing dead ends and moral pretzels – wherein seemingly intractable ethical conundrums coexist easily with clear-cut examples of inspirational risk and sacrifice,” she writes.
Ultimately, despite Anonymous’ covert methods, some of its more notorious members were arrested and convicted in recent years. But the police takedowns seemed to have had little impact on the group’s overall operations. After all, anyone can decide to be Anonymous, Coleman explains.
“Anonymous is composed of people who decide together and separately to take a stand,” she writes. “Who might these people be? A neighbour? A daughter? A secretary? A janitor? Student? A Buddhist? An incognito banker? You? Whatever sort of people are involved today, one thing is certain: what began as a network of trolls has become a wellspring of online insurgency.”
Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Story of Anonymous hits book shelves on November 4 – just in time for Guy Fawkes Night.
Meet Mirella Amato, BMus’98, a good gal to know during Oktoberfest. She is Canada’s first Master Cicerone – a certified global beer sommelier. Her new book, Beerology, offers plenty of insights into tasty beer options for ale aficionados and neophytes alike. McGill News contributor Tiffany Pope recently spent some time with Mirella and put together this video.
Matt Nichol, BEd’98, regularly puts millionaires through the wringer, introducing them to all kinds of acute physical discomfort. And they happily pay him for the privilege.
“What these athletes do isn’t natural,” says Nichol, a highly regarded strength and conditioning coach who counts NHL stars and Olympians among his clients. “Your body doesn’t want to be pushed past the point of exhaustion.”
Nichol’s clientele also includes athletes from the NFL, the NCAA and the CFL. But mostly they’re NHL players. Sportsnet.com recently called Nichol “hockey’s best trainer.”
Each summer, shortly before NHL teams begin their training camps, dozens of NHLers and NHL prospects attend Nichol’s BioSteel Camp in Toronto, looking for a boost to jumpstart their seasons. This year, the camp attracted Dallas Stars sniper Tyler Seguin, Philadelphia Flyers power forward Wayne Simmonds and New Jersey Devils winger Mike Cammalleri, among others.
“Some of the guys who come here are stars who regularly play 20 minutes a night and some are just trying to find a way to crack a NHL roster,” says Nichol. “[Winnipeg Jets coach] Paul Maurice used to say that the days of fat guys at [NHL] training camps are over. You might get away with being an out-of-shape superstar, but you can’t be an out-of-shape ordinary guy. Somebody will take your job.
“The facilities we have here don’t look like much,” Nichol acknowledges. “The gym kind of looks like a dungeon.” His clients don’t turn up for the ambience. The draw for them is Nichol’s expertise. “He’s so well researched. He’s so confident,” Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Jay Harrison told Sportsnet. “His results speak for themselves.”
Back when he was studying at McGill, Nichol couldn’t have imagined that he’d become such an in-demand commodity in the hockey community. His focus was on a different sport entirely. While doing a double major in kinesiology and history, Nichol was a defensive lineman for the McGill Redmen football team. “I went from riding the bench in my first year to leading the conference in sacks.”
Shortly after completing a master’s degree at York University in Toronto, where his thesis focused on injury prevention and enhancing performance, Nichol was hired by the Toronto Maple Leafs as a strength and conditioning coach and nutritionist. He admits to being nervous at first. “I wasn’t a hockey guy. I felt like a fraud.”
In retrospect, Nichol thinks the fact that he didn’t know much about hockey was a blessing in disguise. “I wasn’t attached to any particular style of training, so I was able to take a step back and think, ‘OK, how do you build a hockey player?’ I looked at the biomechanics and all the other factors involved [in the sport]. I remember thinking this was my one shot at the job. I was either going to be a flop or I was going to succeed. Whichever way it worked out, I wanted to do it on my terms.”
Thankfully, says Nichol, he gained the trust of the team’s veterans. “The leadership on that team was incredible. Six or seven of those guys could have been team captains. When Mats Sundin and Gary Roberts and the other veterans are the hardest working guys in the gym, everybody buys in.”
Nichol worked for the Leafs between 2002 and 2009. In 2004, he served as Team Canada’s head strength and conditioning coach, helping the squad win a gold medal at the World Cup of Hockey. As a consultant, he worked with the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers in 2007 and for the Russian Hockey Foundation in 2010. “My advice to the Russians was simple: ‘Get back to basics. You guys were the pioneers.’ A lot of my work is based on what they did 30, 40 years ago.”
Nichol’s focus isn’t entirely on his clients’ physiques. Michael Del Zotto, a talented young NHL defenseman coming off a sub-par season, spent the summer working out with Nichol and credits the trainer with helping him gain back his confidence.
“Any really good coach does that,” says Nichol matter-of-factly. “In pro sports, we’re talking about highly talented guys making a lot of money. What gets forgotten is that they’re still people. They get anxious, they get stressed out, they get down on themselves.”
Nichol is quick to name the coach who had the biggest impact on him.
“I’ve worked with coaches in the NHL, in the NFL and in the Russian Hockey Foundation, and I can honestly say that the best coach I ever dealt with was at McGill. All the Redmen coaches were great, but [defensive line coach] Gary Kirchner was special. He never raised his voice. He didn’t have to. After one particularly bad game, in a season when we were a particularly good team, he had a talk with us. He said he was really disappointed in us. That was like a dagger through the heart, because we all knew how much he cared about us.”
Nichol says no two athletes are completely alike. “Every client is unique. No two bodies are the same and everybody has different issues with diet or sleep patterns. Athletes in different sports need completely different training programs. A basketball player who’s on the court for almost the whole game is different from a hockey player who goes out for short shifts requiring bursts of energy. Even in the same sport, in football, a 5’10” punter weighing 175 pounds and a 6’7’ linebacker weighing 310 pounds are very different physical specimens.”
In recent years, Nichol’s company BioSteel has become a fast-rising player in the sports supplement industry. Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price and Olympic gold medalist Heather Moyse are among the many prominent athletes who have enthusiastically endorsed BioSteel’s sports drink. According to Forbes, 23 NHL teams use BioSteel products, along with 14 NBA organizations and 18 MLB franchises.
That part of his business was largely an accident, says Nichol. Back when he was working for the Leafs, the NHL introduced more stringent rules about performance enhancing drugs and Nichol went looking for a sports drink he could recommend to his players. His criteria was simple. He wanted natural ingredients, with nothing suspicious in the mix and he wanted a product that had been vetted by a trustworthy independent third party. He couldn’t find anything.
“I couldn’t just tell the players, ‘Don’t use any supplements.” Athletes looking for an extra edge wouldn’t take that advice, he explains. So he set about creating a drink that he could have faith in. “It was the only way I could guarantee that they could get something safe.”
It was an unexpected shift in his career path, but one that proved to be fortuitous. Nichol prides himself on not being set in his ways. “I’m always building a bigger, more diverse toolbox. I’m learning all the time.”
Like a plot straight out of a nightmarish Hollywood blockbuster, the world’s worst-ever Ebola epidemic continues to rage in West Africa. Over 8,300 cases of Ebola have been reported since the start of the outbreak and more than 4,000 people have died, according to data from the World Health Organization.
Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has been working on the frontlines to contain the Ebola virus since March, sending nearly 3,000 staff members to the region to treat infected patients. But it hasn’t been nearly enough, cautions Dr. Joanne Liu, MDCM’91, IMHL’14, the Montrealer who is the international president of the medical relief organization.
“The sick are desperate, their families and caregivers are angry, and aid workers are exhausted. Maintaining quality of care is an extreme challenge. Fear and panic have set in, as infection rates double every three weeks. Mounting numbers are dying of other diseases, like malaria, because health systems have collapsed,” she told the United Nations General Assembly on September 25.
Dr. Liu recently spoke to the McGill News about the desperate situation in the affected West African nations and what the international community needs to do to get it under control.
Previous outbreaks of Ebola have been localized, but this threat is much broader. Why is this epidemic different from previous outbreaks?
The magnitude of this Ebola outbreak is different in that it has spread through different countries. Why has that happened? We don’t have all of the information yet, but one reason is that past epidemics occurred in rural, isolated areas, where people were not very mobile. The chain of transmission would stop after a few hundred people were infected and the disease would essentially die out on itself.
The epicenter for this new outbreak was in Guéckédou, which is in Guinea, but close to the borders of both Sierra Leone and Liberia. The people who live in this area are quite mobile and cross the borders regularly, so the disease was able move very quickly into other urban areas such as Monrovia, the capital of Liberia.
Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has led the response against Ebola. What has it been like to work on the frontlines and to deal directly with victims?
Working on the frontlines and working with victims is MSF’s bread and butter. This is what happened in Sierra Leone last year, this is what happened in Gaza this summer, and this is what is happening right now in South Sudan and in Central African Republic – so [responding to the Ebola outbreak] is more or less the usual modus operandi for MSF. And one reason we have such autonomy is because we are financially independent, so we can immediately start to deploy resources when we see a crisis.
In terms of the Ebola crisis, what has been the most distressful for the teams in the field is the fact that we have known for many months that this epidemic is different from past epidemics. And we’ve known for several months that there are only a few non-governmental organizations that are capable of containing this epidemic. That is why we have been ringing alarm bells since the spring, though it only actually got traction by the end of the summer.
What are the main challenges that MSF has faced in treating the virus?
Our main challenge is the scale of the outbreak – it has spread all over the place and we don’t have enough isolation centres to care for all of the infected patients. Over the last month or so, especially in Liberia and specifically Monrovia, we’ve had to turn people away because our isolation centres are full. We are sending these people back into their communities knowing that they’re going to spread the virus to loved ones and neighbours. It’s a paradoxical situation and one that is completely untenable. This is why we’ve been telling whoever will listen that we need more hands in the field and we need to open additional isolation centres for infected patients.
Another major challenge, which is on a more personal, human level, is dealing with so many deaths. We are physicians trying to save lives, but we have found ourselves in a situation where we are building crematoriums rather than building hospitals. When someone dies of Ebola, we have to treat the body, place it in a bag and then dispose of it, and cremation is the best way to cut the chain of transmission. This is something we’ve never had to do, and it has been very, very difficult for our team.
Over 300 frontline health workers have died from Ebola, while others have been attacked and even killed. Are you worried about your own safety or the safety of your MSF colleagues?
We are always concerned about the health and safety of our staff. It has been paramount in contexts like Somalia, Syria, Iraq, South Sudan and Gaza, and it is something we are now dealing with in West Africa. We have very strict rules for personal protection at our isolation centres as we want to ensure that we are not exposing our staff to undue risks. However, it also adds a lot of constraints and it is one of the reasons why it has been very difficult for us to scale up our operations. But it is necessary because the fatality rate of this current Ebola outbreak is 50 per cent, which means there is no forgiveness [for errors].
You’ve warned that “the world is losing the battle to contain Ebola.” What more do governments need to do to curb the epidemic?
I think my message to the United Nations was heard, because the UN Security Council has passed a resolution to set up the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response to address the outbreak. And right now, we’re seeing different governments and NGOs come to the field to conduct assessments and open new centers, though none of them are yet operational.
So there is some momentum, but the reality is we still need people to feel a greater sense of urgency. The number of Ebola cases is doubling every three weeks, so if we don’t take the necessary steps now, it is going to be much more complicated to answer the epidemic in the future.
There are forecasts that 1.4 million people could be infected by January if the disease is not contained. Should Canadians be concerned about Ebola spreading to this country?
I have been asked this question a lot. In terms of the projection, this is the worst case scenario presented by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but we don’t really have a model in place to project the future. What we do know is that the situation can be pretty dramatic if nothing meaningful is done over the next few weeks.
What are the chances of Ebola coming to Canada? Very unlikely, and if it does come to this country, the patient will quickly be placed in isolation and the chain of transmission will be cut almost immediately. The reality is that the best way to stop Ebola from spreading is to invest massively in the countries that are already affected. It’s not by barricading ourselves in our home country that we will help contain the epidemic; it is by increasing our aid in West Africa.
The race is on to develop a vaccine that can treat Ebola. How close are we?
I think we are fairly close as we have two vaccine candidates that are beginning clinical trials. We really need a game changer to cut the chain of transmission, and a vaccine could be that for us. But in order for this to happen, we need to have more collaborative research and open source data, and we need to ensure that a vaccine will be affordable, accessible and rapidly delivered to the affected populations. We don’t want just a select few to be immunized; we need a widespread vaccination campaign, which means creating and delivering millions of doses.
This interview has been shortened and edited for clarity.
Called in at the last minute to fill in for another tour guide who’s absent, Jeremy Rothschild, BSc’14, bolts into McGill’s Welcome Centre with the firm look of concentration that he likely conveys when tackling his physics assignments, or stealing the soccer ball from an opponent in one of his intramural games. Parents, as well as prospective students with their younger siblings in tow, mill around the open, brightly lit room on McTavish, evincing quiet anticipation. They have made the long – and in some cases, expensive – trek to McGill specifically to explore the campus.
“We are finding more and more that families are making university tours into a holiday experience, and they’ll be doing the circuit,” says Welcome Centre supervisor Tania Raggo. “At the same time, they’re going to so many universities, that one of the pitfalls of doing so many tours, they may begin to blend together.”
Still, Raggo suspects the the McGill tours will stand out for these families. “We offer a different experience than most tours by providing [people] with an authentic sense of what the student experience is like. We look for tour guides with personality, who can transmit their distinct view of student life, drawn from their own experiences, rather than giving them statistics and numbers,” says Raggo. “We encourage our tour guides to use personal anecdotes. We do have a script, but try to keep it fairly loose.” The Welcome Centre organizes about 500 tours each year and almost 15,000 people take part in them.
On today’s tour, families from Iran, Santa Cruz, and San Francisco are aptly representative of the mix Rothschild says he tends to see in his groups: “I’d say it’s about two-thirds from the U.S. and the rest are either international or Canadian.”
Rothschild, beginning a master’s degree in physics, begins the tour with a radiant smile. And then it’s full-steam ahead. Covering as much ground as possible on a sunny September afternoon, he winds his way to locations such as the Rutherford Physics Building, Morrice Hall, and then, with the intent to show – and disarm fears about – large first-year classrooms, he takes the group into the belly of the beast that is Leacock 132, which seats over 600 people. The room is crammed with students just settling in for a lecture. Some peer up at the group, likely remembering their own tours not so long ago. Having to raise his voice in the buzzing auditorium, Rothschild tells the group, “Don’t worry. The classes get much smaller after freshman year, and many freshmen, such as myself, actually have fond memories of this room!”
Hustling the group quickly over to the imposing Leacock 132 means that the tour bypassed the student-run ice-cream parlour, Frostbite. “[It] just cannot fit into the tour,” says Rothschild. “I tried once, and we were left waiting far too long for people to get their scoops. They’ll just have to come back later.” And many do.
“Nowadays, it’s rare to see students who don’t come with their parents,” says Rothschild. Raggo concurs: “Choosing a university has evolved. It’s become a lot more of a family decision, partly because of the high cost involved in sending a child away for university. There is also the idea that going away is just an incredible, irreplaceable life experience. So, when they come here, we understand why they have so many questions.”
On the ground, Rothschild tells it like it is, and doesn’t coddle. Parents ask most of the questions along the way, and one wonders whether some of the prospective students would ask more questions, or take more initiative, if they were sans parents.
One parent inquires about the student protests of 2012, and Rothschild provides balance in addressing her concerns, saying that, yes, it was an intense time, while adding that the campus itself wasn’t much affected by the protests. When one parent raises an eyebrow to his use of the term “McGill ghetto,” Rothschild doesn’t miss a beat, explaining, “You’ll get to understand that ‘McGill ghetto’ is a term of endearment – it’s a really nice area where students live in close proximity to campus, and actually, it’s just over there,” pointing east. Several parents remark that they will check out the area at the end of the tour.
One of many unheralded ambassadors for McGill, Rothschild evidently loves his job, and often goes above and beyond the call of duty. “I like showing the University off, yet there are so many nice places on campus that you can only do so much in an hour and a half. But if I have extra time after a tour, sometimes I’ll take them out to show them a bit more.” The group is engaged and hangs on his every word, which makes it all the more meaningful when he tells them that he chose to stay and do his master’s at McGill because he loves the University too much to go elsewhere.
Venturing in or out of the Welcome Centre, one passes by coordinator Darleen Maselli, unassuming front-desk sentinel and veteran answer-provider, who admits she suspects some of the uninitiated view the role of the Welcome Centre as something akin to Tourism Montreal. “We get lots of questions about where to eat, what to do in Montreal. Of course, we get the normal questions about McGill, such as entrance grade requirements and residence life, but then we also field some very peculiar questions once in a while. I’ve received calls about where to donate bodies, where to look for fossils – in that particular case, I was quite concerned the woman was going to show up with a shovel! Well, it makes the job lively.”
As the tour comes to a close, the group splinters off, with many staying behind to ask Rothschild and Maselli additional questions. Off in the distance, one of the families with several small children appear to be heading over for a trip to Frostbite.