Quick Links

John Bland

Resolution on the death of Professor Emeritus John Bland, 1911 — 2002

Professor John Bland, William C. Macdonald Emeritus Professor of Architecture, died on Tuesday, March 26, 2002, at the age of 90, ending a relationship with McGill that spanned more than seven decades. He was one of Canada's most distinguished architects and town planners, and without doubt one of its greatest architectural educators.

He studied Architecture at McGill, entering at the age of seventeen and graduating with honours in 1933, and went on to do graduate work in Town Planning at the Architectural Association, London, graduating in 1937. Following several years of practice in England, he returned to Canada and started his teaching career at McGill in 1939, eventually serving as Director of the School of Architecture from 1941 to 1972. He was appointed to the Macdonald Chair in Architecture in 1953, a position he held until his retirement, and was appointed Emeritus Professor in 1979.

Although John retired formally from full-time teaching in the School in 1978, he maintained an active and productive relationship with the University for almost twenty more years. He continued to teach his course History of Architecture in Canada for many years, to the great delight and benefit of generations of recent students, and he worked with his long-time friend and collaborator Irena Murray on what is now known as the John Bland Canadian Architecture Collection, which he founded, until just a few years ago.

The late Norbert Schoenauer once wrote this about him: "He was the first Canadian-born Director of the McGill School and was influential in its rebuilding at a very crucial period just prior to the outbreak of the Second World War, when enrollment was drastically low and it appeared that the School might have to close. He reorganized the curriculum in accordance with contemporary design teaching principles, introduced the first Canadian graduate programs in architecture, and to accommodate the great influx of students in the post-war period, he expanded the faculty with teachers who shared his enthusiasm, idealism and optimism for a better world to come."

Throughout his tenure at McGill, John remained actively involved in architectural practice. In 1997, Irena Murray wrote: "Like his predecessor, Percy Nobbs, he fought for the belief that in the life of a teacher of architecture, a professional career could and indeed must co-exist with an academic career to maximize the benefits of both." John's built work was carried out in a series of partnerships, including, in England, with Harold Spence-Sales, and in Montreal at different periods with Vincent Rother, Charles Elliot Trudeau, Roy LeMoyne, Anthony Shine, Gordon Edwards and Michel Lacroix. His work and teaching have been the subject of dozens of articles in the professional and popular press, and the portfolio of his firms' distinguished buildings includes the Ottawa City Hall (1957-1959), McGill's Chancellor Day Hall (1965), the Labyrinth for Expo '67, the University of Windsor Library (1970), and Pollock Hall of the McGill Schulich School of Music (1973).

John published several books, including England's Water Problem (1939, co-authored with Harold Spence-Sales), Housing and Community Planning (1944), University Housing in Canada (1966, co-authored with Norbert Schoenauer), and Three Centuries of Architecture in Canada (1971, co-authored with Pierre Mayrand), as well as numerous articles and chapters in books, and he authored or co-authored a number of important planning reports on Canadian cities. His most recent book, Saint-Anne-de-Bellevue, Heritage Town: An Architect's Perspective, a delightful examination of a small town he knew very well, was published less than two years ago, in 2000. He has also served on a long list of professional councils, design review committees and commissions, and his contributions to the recognition of built heritage in Quebec and Canada have been pivotal.

He was elected to the College of Fellows of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada in 1954 and to the Royal Canadian Academy in 1967. Among his other honours are the Médaille du Mérite of the Province of Quebec Association of Architects in 1971, a Massey Medal for the Ottawa City Hall (Rother, Bland, Trudeau), an Honorary Doctor of Science degree from Carleton University in 1975, and the prestigious Heritage Canada Gabrielle-Léger Award in 1994.

When he retired from full-time teaching in 1978, after four decades of teaching in the School, John wrote a characteristically short note to Derek Drummond, then Director of the School: "At the end of next month my appointment at McGill will end. It has been longer than I expected and more rewarding than I can measure."

Longer than expected, more rewarding than can be measured - a fine description of the legacy of a great teacher whose optimism, dignity, and enduring belief in the power of architecture to both celebrate and serve society, so eloquently expressed in his teaching and architectural work, have inspired and will continue to inspire generations of architects, architectural students, and architectural educators.

John leaves his wife Fay, his daughter Clara and his sons Johnny, Andrew and Harry, numerous grandchildren, and the countless students, colleagues and friends whose lives he has changed.

Presented by David Covo to the Faculty of Engineering on behalf of the staff and students of the School of Architecture, April 9, 2002