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Upcoming Friends events

Hybrid Event | Friends Annual General Meeting & Celebration of Friend of the Year

Thursday, December 14, 2023 from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. EST

2022 Annual General Meeting with Donald Walcot at podium, McGill flags on large screen and people seated in rows.Colgate Room, Rare Books and Special Collections
4th floor, McLennan Library Building,  3459 McTavish Street
Montreal, Quebec, H3A 0C9

Each fall, the Friends of the McGill Library holds an Annual General Meeting recapping the year’s activities, highlighting future initiatives and connecting with one another.

The Friends also take this opportunity to celebrate and honour a Friend of the Year. This special Award is bestowed upon individuals or groups who have shown an unwavering commitment to the vision, mission and goals of the Friends of the Library and McGill Libraries as a whole. We are pleased to announce that the 2023 Friend of the Year will be awarded to Kate Williams for her long-standing dedication to the Friends of the Library. 

Light reception to follow.

Livestream link to come.

Chaque automne, les Amis de la Bibliothèque McGill tiennent une Assemblée générale annuelle qui récapitule les activités de l'année, met en lumière les futures initiatives et permet aux membres de se connecter les uns avec les autres.

Les Amis profitent également de cette occasion pour célébrer et honorer un(e) Ami(e) de l'Année. Ce prix spécial est décerné à des individus ou des groupes qui ont fait preuve d'un engagement indéfectible envers la vision, la mission et les objectifs des Amis de la Bibliothèque et de la Bibliothèque de McGill dans leur ensemble. Nous sommes heureux d'annoncer que le prix d'Ami de l'Année 2023 sera décerné à Kate Williams pour son dévouement de longue date envers les Amis de la Bibliothèque.

Réception légère à suivre.

Lien de diffusion en direct à venir.

Veuillez noter que cette assemblée se déroulera en anglais.

POSTPONED | Hybrid Event | 2023 F.R. Scott Lecture with international human rights lawyer Irwin Cotler

Sunday, December 10, 2023 from 4:30 to 5:45 p.m. EST

Moot Court, New Chancellor Day Hall 
3644 Peel Street
Montreal, Quebec, H3A 1W9


We regret to inform you that the Friends of the McGill Library F. R. Scott Lecture scheduled for Sunday, December 10th at 4:30 p.m. has had to be postponed.

Please be assured that we are committed to delivering the program at a later date.

We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause and appreciate your continued support and understanding.

Please visit our website for information on upcoming events.


Nous regrettons de vous informer que la Conférence F. R. Scott des Amis de la Bibliothèque de McGill, prévue pour le dimanche 10 décembre à 16h30, a dû être reportée.

Soyez assuré(e) que nous nous engageons à présenter le programme à une date ultérieure.

Nous nous excusons pour tout désagrément que cela pourrait occasionner et vous remercions de votre soutien continu et de votre compréhension.

Veuillez consulter notre site web pour obtenir des informations sur les événements à venir.


Headshot of Irwin Cotler smiling at the camera.To commemorate Human Rights Day and the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Friends of the McGill Library are honoured to invite you to the annual F.R. Scott Lecture given by international human rights lawyer, the Honourable Irwin Cotler. The lecture and Q&A session will be followed by a vernissage for the exhibit "Beyond the Declaration: A Canadian Perspective on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights” at the Nahum Gelber Law Library. The exhibit will feature items from the John Peters Humphrey collection.

Pour commémorer la Journée des droits de l'homme et du 75e anniversaire de la Déclaration universelle des droits de l'homme, les Amis de la Bibliothèque de McGill ont l'honneur de vous inviter à la conférence annuelle F.R. Scott, qui sera prononcée par l'avocat des droits de l'homme reconnu internationalement, l’honorable Irwin Cotler. La conférence et la session de questions-réponses seront suivies du vernissage de l’exposition « Au-delà de la Déclaration : Une perspective canadienne sur la Déclaration universelle des droits de l’homme » à la Bibliothèque de droit Nahum Gelber. L'exposition présentera des éléments de la collection John Peters Humphrey.

Veuillez noter que cette conférence se déroulera en anglais.

Image by Jean-Marc Carisse

Recent Friends events

2023 Hugh MacLennan Lecture | Stories and How They Tell Themselves: Ann-Marie MacDonald in Conversation

Wednesday, April 26, 2023 (Hybrid)

Watch a video recording of the event by clicking here

Ann-Marie MacDonald smiling at the camera standing in front of a tree.The Friends of the McGill Library and Blue Metropolis Festival were delighted to present the 2023 Hugh MacLennan Lecture, an evening with renowned author, actor and playwright, Ann-Marie MacDonald.

The award-winning and best-selling author chatted about the creative process and the relationship between playwriting, acting, and writing fiction. With the recent premiere of her play, Hamlet 911, the national tour of the adaptation of Fall On Your Knees, and the publication of her new novel, FAYNE, Ann-Marie is ready to dive into themes that drive and haunt her work. From gender and identity, to science, magic, sex and spirituality, Ann-Marie spins, topples and tilts the dominant cultural gaze, and asks us to re-imagine our lives, our species, and our planet. Join us for a lively, provocative and, yes, highly hopeful conversation.

The event was moderated by Professor Erin Hurley, Chair of McGill's English Department, whose teaching areas are Quebecois theatre and cultural performance; national performatives; theatre historiography; performance studies; dramatic theory; 20th century theatre; feminist and LGBTQ theatre. Professor Hurley is currently researching English language drama, theatre and performance in Quebec from 1945 to 2010 using a mix of archival and research-creation methods. She continues to follow contemporary performance by women artists in Quebec.

Books are available for purchase through Paragraphe Bookstore.

The 2023 MacLennan Lecture is generously supported by Donald Walcot.

[Photo: Lora MacDonald-Palmer]

2023 Shakespeare Lecture | The Hardness of King Lear: Kimberley Rampersad and Paul Gross in Conversation

Wednesday, January 18, 2023 (Hybrid)Headshots of Kimberley Rampersad and Paul Gross

Watch a video recording of the event by clicking here

The Friends of the McGill Library and Stratford Festival were delighted to partner once again on the 2023 annual Shakespeare Lecture,

A familial story of legacy, loyalty and loss, King Lear is perhaps Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy, and one of the greatest challenges he presents. Director Kimberley Rampersad and actor Paul Gross discussed their vision for the 2023 Stratford Festival production of King Lear in an event moderated by Professor Paul Yachnin, Tomlinson Professor of Shakespeare Studies at McGill University.

The 2023 Shakespeare Lecture is generously supported by Donald Walcot.

2022 Friends Annual General Meeting & Celebration of Friend of the Year (Hybrid Event)

Thursday, December 8, 2022

Ann Vroom speaking a wood podium.Each fall, the Friends of the McGill Library holds an Annual General Meeting recapping the year’s activities, highlighting future initiatives and connecting with one another. The Friends also take this opportunity to celebrate and honour a Friend of the Year. This special Award is bestowed upon individuals or groups who have shown an unwavering commitment to the vision, mission and goals of the Friends of the Library and McGill Library as a whole.

We are pleased to announce that the 2022 Friend of the Year was awarded to Immediate Past Chair, Ann Vroom for her long-standing dedication to the Friends of the Library. Thanks to everyone who joined us both online and in-person as we honoured Ann and her enduring support of the Library and the entire McGill community.

2022 Hugh MacLennan Lecture | "The Betrayal of Anne Frank" and Beyond: The Work and Process of Rosemary Sullivan

Wednesday, May 4, 2022 (Virtual)

Watch a video recording of the event by clicking here

Graphic featuring a photo of Rosemary Sullivan on left-hand side with her book covers on the right-hand side.The Friends of the McGill Library in partnership with Blue Metropolis International Literary Festival were delighted to welcome Rosemary Sullivan as the 2022 Hugh MacLennan Lecture speaker.

Rosemary Sullivan is author of fifteen books in the genres of biography, memoir, poetry, travelogue, and short fiction, including Shadow Maker: The Life of Gwendolyn MacEwen, which won a Governor General's Award; The Red Shoes: Margaret Atwood Starting Out; Labyrinth of Desire: Women, Passion and Romantic ObsessionVilla Air-Bel: World War IIEscape and a House in Marseille; and Stalin's Daughter, which won the Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize, the BC National Non-Fiction Award, and the RBC Charles Taylor Prize, as well as the International Plutarch Award in Biography.

Her most recent title, The Betrayal of Anne Frank: A Cold Case Investigation, has been sold in twenty countries. In 2012, Rosemary Sullivan was named an Officer of the Order of Canada for her contributions to Canadian culture.

The evening featured a virtual conversation between Rosemary Sullivan and Anne Lagacé Dowson, Montreal-based freelance journalist and commentator. The discussion addressed Rosemary Sullivan's oeuvre, themes, and process.

Works by Rosemary Sullivan are available for purchase at Paragraphe Books.

The MacLennan Lecture is generously supported by Donald Walcot.

In-person Blue Metropolis 2022 events featuring Rosemary Sullivan:

Rendering of Tom Patterson Theatre.2022 Shakespeare Lecture | Stratford Festival's New Tom Patterson Theatre: A Virtual Conversation between Antoni Cimolino and Siamak Hariri

Thursday, February 3, 2022 (Virtual)

Watch a video recording of the event by clicking here

The Friends of the McGill Library and Stratford Festival were delighted to partner on the 2022 Virtual Shakespeare Lecture in which Antoni Cimolino, Artistic Director of the Stratford Festival, and Siamak Hariri, Founding Partner of Hariri Pontarini Architects shared insights into the process of facilitating the vision for the new Tom Patterson Theatre, discussing the inspiration and design elements that went into creating this innovative theatre space.

The 2022 Shakespeare Lecture was generously supported by Donald Walcot.

2021 Friends of the McGill Library Annual General Meeting (Virtual)

Thursday, December 9, 2021

Red archival McGill pennant on top of a vintage McGill hockey sweater featuring a crest.The Friends of the McGill Library's Annual General Meeting offers the opportunity to recap the year’s activities, highlight future plans and connect with one another, which is more important now than ever.

In addition to the regular order of business, we celebrated Library staff members and initiatives with a special video reel featuring Rare & Special Collections, Osler, Art, and Archives (ROAAr) projects followed by a Q&A with curators and creators. The event was a way to celebrate the year's achievements and raise a glass to 2022.

Daniel Mendelsohn in a blue shirt
Image by Matt Mendelsohn.

2021 F.R. Scott Lecture | From the Classics to Pop Culture: An Evening with Daniel Mendelsohn

Thursday, November 4, 2021 (Virtual)

Watch a video recording of the event by clicking here

The Friends of the McGill Library were delighted to welcome Daniel Mendelsohn, critic, essayist, translator, and internationally bestselling author of, among many others, The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million (2006); An Odyssey: A Father, a Son, and an Epic (2017); Ecstasy and Terror: From the Greeks to Game of Thrones (2019); and Three Rings: A Tale of Exile, Narrative, and Fate (2020).

The evening featured a virtual conversation between Daniel Mendelsohn and Allan Hepburn, James McGill Professor of Twentieth-Century Literature at McGill University. Professor Hepburn’s research focuses on the novel - British, American, Irish, Canadian. His areas of interest include twentieth-century fiction, contemporary literature, and aesthetics.

The F.R. Scott Lecture is generously supported by Donald Walcot.

Works by Daniel Mendelsohn and Allan Hepburn are available for purchase at Paragraphe Books.

2021 Hugh MacLennan Lecture: Navigating Identity Through Storytelling

Thursday, April 29, 2021 

Watch a video recording of the event by clicking here.

The virtual lecture featured Danny Ramadan, the Syrian-Canadian author of The Clothesline Swing (2017), Salma, the Syrian Chef (2020), and The Foghorn Echoes (2022). Danny Ramadan is also an LGBTQ+ refugee advocate whose work focuses on immigration, identity, and belonging.

The lecture was moderated by author, actor and playwright, Ann-Marie MacDonald

Presented by the Friends of the McGill Library in partnership with Blue Metropolis International Literary Festival.

Generously supported by Donald Walcot.

Works are available for purchase at Paragraphe Books.

RSVP here:

2020 Friends of the McGill Library Annual General Meeting (Virtual)

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Event summary by Cecily Lawson

Every fall the Friends of the Library holds its annual general meeting and this year for the first time the event was virtual. At the same time, it was the last AGM presided over by chair Ann Vroom who announced that after six years as president, she was stepping down. During her tenure, the group expanded its role from advocacy for the Library through a stellar series of annual lectures to fundraising and philanthropic initiatives. It is now raising funds for Fiat Lux, the transformation of the MacLennan-Redpath Library into a vibrant hub for teaching, learning and research in the digital age, and so far its members have donated or influenced donations of $3 million. In reviewing the past year, Ann noted the challenges presented by Covid and the Friends’ ability to pivot from live lectures to webcasts. Both the Hugh MacLennan Lecture with CBC journalist Carol Off and the Shakespeare Lecture with Stratford Festival artistic director Antoni Cimolino were online events and both attracted large audiences.

Trenholme Dean of Libraries Colleen Cook thanked Ann for the major role that she has played in making Fiat Lux possible and for her many contributions as Friends chair. She went on to describe how the Library has been faring since mid-March when everything was changed by the pandemic. While noting that library services are not meant to be delivered totally virtually, she detailed how effective the Library has been at maintaining services, from providing access to millions of digitized books, journals and other items, to online reference services, to pickup for items not available digitally.

Honorary Treasurer Don Walcot presented the treasurer’s report and Ann Vroom listed the members of the Friends of the Library Committee for 2020-2021. A motion to approve the new slate was carried by the Friends’ board. As incoming chair, Don Walcot thanked Ann Vroom for her dedication to the Friends. Don followed this special thank you with introductory remarks that included three goals for 2021:

  1. to continue to work with Dean Cook and Library staff to help it meet the Library’s objectives;
  2. to ensure that the Friends are informed of and can participate in related initiatives;
  3. to continue ongoing efforts to open the Library’s incredible resources to the larger community both here in Montreal and globally.

Before Don Walcot called the AGM to a close, he presented a short series of pre-recorded performances that Library staff put together for a special virtual talent show to raise funds for Centraide.

2020 Shakespeare Lecture (Virtual) | Antoni Cimolino, Stratford Festival Artistic Director | Shakespeare and the Weight of This Sad Time

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Watch a video recording of the event by clicking here

(Photo credit by Scott Wishart)

Event summary by Cecily Lawson

Every year the Friends of the Library has the good fortune to welcome a member of Canada’s renowned Stratford Festival to present its annual Shakespeare Lecture. This year the speaker was Antoni Cimolino, who has been with the festival since 1988 as an actor, director and since 2013 its artistic director.

Cimolino started by asking whether we can look to Shakespeare for inspiration during uncertain times such as our own. Looking first to the tragedies – “As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods, they kill us for their sport” (King Lear)—he concluded that inspiration is not what they provide. Neither do the comedies. But they weren’t meant to. They have purposes quite other than offering uplifting thoughts or providing solace when life throws up challenges.

But, Cimolino continued, Shakespeare does speak to us in profound ways in difficult times. He demonstrates the power of words, the importance of being able to articulate what is happening to us. As humans we need ritual. Words matter to us, when tragedy happens we reach for words. When we feel powerless, which we do in the face of a pandemic, we turn to words. We gain a modicum of power over it by talking about it.

Cimolino reminded us of the importance of theatre in times such as ours, and in particular the importance of sharing the theatre experience with others. By confronting our mortality with art, we derive comfort from the assurance that we are not alone. Above all, we do this with others. And as much as we all love seeing online presentations of our favourite plays, it is the being with others that we are all missing so much today.

Cimolino concluded his remarks by showing the audience photos of the new Tom Patterson Theatre which was slated to open in the 2020 season. Instead that will happen next year. Meanwhile the festival has started an online subscription service STRATFEST@HOME which will make available films of Stratford productions both current and archival, documentaries and podcasts. It’s not the same as being together, Cimolino remarked, but it has its rewards. The productions that the festival streamed in the early months of the pandemic attracted large audiences not only from Canada, the U.S and Australia, but also from India and Germany. The sense of community in theatre is real.

Antoni Cimolino was introduced and thanked by Ann Vroom, Chair of the Friends of the McGill Library. The Q & A period was moderated by Christopher Lyons, Head Librarian, Rare Books and Special Collections.

Presented in partnership with the Stratford Festival.

2020 Hugh MacLennan Lecture (Virtual) | Carol Off, Author and CBC journalist | Crossing the Line 

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Watch a video recording of the event by clicking here

Headshot of author and journalist Carol Off in front of teal wall
Image by Kevin Kelly Photography.

Event summary by Cecily Lawson

Carol Off is an award-winning CBC journalist who has covered stories in Canada and in many conflict-ridden areas of the world. Her lecture centred on the sense of the other and how it has resulted in divisiveness that has ruined the lives and the prospects of so many people on this earth. Off spoke about the individuals that she has interviewed who have lost everything, children who have seen their parents killed before their eyes, women who have had their husbands and sons dragged from their homes never to be seen again. She marveled that they were willing to talk to her and realized that they wanted the world to hear their stories, because they didn’t feel like the other, they felt like people who were part of a shared humanity.

She told the story of an Afghan family, Assad Aryubwal and his wife and their five children. Assad was invaluable to Carol and her team providing them with the contacts they needed to do a documentary on a powerful Afghan warlord, General Dostum. Because of his willingness to help, born of his desire to expose the crimes of the warlords to the world, Assad’s life was put in danger and he and his family had to flee to Pakistan. Carol worked for nine years to bring them to Canada and finally they were admitted as refugees in 2015. The full story is told in her recent book All We Leave Behind. Off concluded her talk by saying that in opening her heart to this family, her world has changed. And she noted again the importance of fighting the sense of the other and encouraging a shared sense of humanity.

Carol Off was introduced and thanked by Ann Vroom, chair of the Friends of the McGill Library. The Q & A period was moderated by Montreal media personality and translator Shelly Pomerance. Ms Pomerance is Associate Programming Director for the Blue Metropolis International Literary Festival which partnered with the Friends of the Library in presenting the lecture.

The lecture is generously supported by Donald Walcot.

Carol Off’s All We Leave Behind: A Reporter's Journey into the Lives of Others is available for purchase at Paragraphe Books.

Event | "Murder in Venice": The Commissario Guido Brunetti Series

Monday, March 9, 2020

A full house was treated to a conversation between crime novelists Donna Leon and Judith Flanders exploring the newest installment of Leon's much beloved, New York Times bestselling Commissario Guido Brunetti series set in Venice. With TRACE ELEMENTS, the twenty-ninth novel in the series, a woman’s cryptic dying words in a Venetian hospice lead Guido Brunetti to uncover a threat to the entire region. Rich and mysterious with the colours of Venetian life, an unusual cocktail of atmosphere and event, Leon and Flanders explored the writers' process, and introduce audiences to a Venice only insiders know. 

Presented in collaboration with ROAAr (Rare & Special Collections, Osler, Art, and Archives), and with the generous support of Ron Harvie (Ph.D. McGill Art History, 1999) and Doug Bagguley.

2019 Annual General Meeting

November 28, 2019

Event Summary by Cecily Lawson

The 2019 Annual General Meeting of the Friends of the McGill Library took place in the Colgate Room of the Rare Books and Special Collections Department of the McGill Library. Chair of the Friends Board of Directors Ann Vroom welcomed the attendees and summarized the year’s activities, noting that in addition to regular lectures and events, the Friends have taken on another mandate – that of raising funds for Fiat Lux, the reimagining and major renovation of the Redpath and McLennan libraries. Specifically, the Friends plan to raise $500,000 by creating a $250,000 Matching Gift Fund to support the construction of the Ask Us Centre, the central welcoming point of the new library, an important component of the Fiat Lux project. Other business included the treasurer’s report presented by Don Walcot and the naming of the slate of Friends of the Library Committee members for the coming year.

The highlight of the evening was the nomination of the Friend of the Year for 2019. Noting that the AGM was taking place on American Thanksgiving, Trenholme Dean of Libraries Colleen Cook remarked that as an American, she was happy to be with her Canadian family and that high among the things for which she was grateful was the remarkable support of this year’s Friend of the Year, the Crabtree Foundation. Its generosity over decades has given the Library the edge that allows it to be excellent. Harold Crabtree established the foundation in 1951 and expressed the wish that it become a powerful instrument for good. Soon thereafter a grant of $1000 was made to McGill. This was just the beginning and over the years, the Crabtree Foundation has been very generous in its support of the University in the Health Sciences and Osler Libraries, with the digitization of rare and special collections and most recently the Fiat Lux Library Building project.

The award was accepted by Sandra Crabtree, granddaughter of Harold, who spoke very warmly about her family’s long association with McGill beginning with her grandfather’s high school which had a McGill link, her father H. Roy, who graduated from McGill in 1938 and the family’s most recent McGill graduate, her stepdaughter, Megan MacGarvie. Sandra’s husband Gerald MacGarvie and her son Jeremy Price were with her at the award presentation.

Following the meeting and the award ceremony, members and colleagues of the Friends of the Library adjourned to the adjacent Rare Books and Special Collections display area where refreshments were served.

2019 Shakespeare Lecture | Taking Ownership: Stratford’s Jonathan Goad talks acting, directing, and playing with Shakespeare

November 19, 2019

Watch a video recording of the event by clicking here

Close-up of Stratford actor and director, Jonathan Goad speaking at a podium with a red pop-up banner behind him reading "Friends of the McGill Library"
Image by Photo: Joni Dufour.
Event Summary by David Lank

On Tuesday November 19, the attendees of the annual Friends of the McGill Library Shakespeare Lecture, held in partnership with the Stratford Festival of Canada, were educated, entertained, and mostly enthralled by the personal stories of the remarkable career of Jonathan Goad, one of the leading actors and directors who has just completed his 15th season with Canada’s world renowned Shakespearean company.

His lecture interspersed anecdotes and insights from his own personal career with readings from some of his favourite passages from the Bard. The results captivated the audience.

In the Introduction, Peter Roberts, himself one of Canada’s foremost theatre producers, pointed out that Jonathan Goad was considered “our go-to-guy” whenever a subtle interpretation of a role was needed at Stratford. Understandably. After training at the University of Waterloo, the National Theatre School, and the Banff Institute, Mr. Goad finally realized his theatrical dreams which started in Grade 7 at his Bowmanville grammar school. “Finally” was a key word, because along the way, as Goad explained, he was beset “by doubt, regret, and self-sabotage.” He kept on dropping out of programs, but was incredibly fortunate to have had teachers and mentors who put him, as he said, “back on the horse.”

Shakespeare became his “main dance partner.” Goad “took ownership” of the words bequeathed by the playwright to such a degree that the iambic pentameter, the subconscious heartbeat of the language, became part of his very being. The message was there for everyone in the audience: commitment, hard work, dedication and the acceptance of “vulnerability.” Mastering a craft is incredibly difficult. Every performance had to be “alive.” That is what audiences have every right to demand of “live theatre.” Mr. Goad underlined that people do not expect perfection, they expect life.

These challenges are equally real no matter how prominent a given role might be. Mr. Goad would have embraced the insight of the late, great French Canadian actor Albert Millaire, who told a McGill MBA class on Leadership that “There is no such thing as a small role; only small actors.” To imbue even modest roles requires that an actor understand the character. To take such ownership, Mr. Goad related how he spent countless hours researching everything he could get his hands on to understand the “back story” of certain characters he has portrayed. In one case, how he felt the need to spend time in the Louisiana Bayous and in the New Orleans music scene to absorb the environment in which some of his Tennessee Williams characters had spent their formative time.

Mr. Goad emphasized the need to maximize freedom on the stage. The actors must never intrude or impose their own personalities. To seduce the audience into becoming co-conspirators in the act of acting, there are three stages – literally and figuratively – that are essential. The first is work in which the artist memorizes the lines; the second is play in which the artist interacts with the company during rehearsals; and the third is what he called the “Carnival,” which entails the sharing of the experience with the audience. That is what theatre is all about. The Shakespeare Lecture audience was treated to an extraordinary Carnival on Tuesday night.

Professor Peter Gibian, of McGill’s Department of English, graciously thanked Mr. Goad on behalf of the Friends for sharing his many personal insights on the Shakespeare and the craft of acting and directing.

Trenholme Dean of Libraries Colleen Cook closed the evening by pointing out that Shakespeare is the single most represented author of books held in McGill Library’s Rare Books and Special Collections. His presence is felt in the Main Collection and across our 80 special collections, stretching from original folios to fine press illustrated editions, to children’s books, engraved portraits, costumes, and theatre sets. Whether it be the comedies the tragedies, the histories or the sonnets, Shakespeare is highly present at every turn of the corner in the McGill Library stacks.

The nature of the collections is extensive and varied, including a 2nd folio Shakespeare (1632) and 2 copies of the 4th folio (1685), sonnets, costume sketches and even a gold medal made for McGill on the occasion of the "William Shakespeare Tercentenary" of 1864. These materials, like all of McGill’s rare collections, are accessible through the Rare Books and Special Collections Reading Room, which, luckily for lovers of original materials, is open to the public.

Lecture | If Walls Could Talk: A Short History of McGill’s Art Collection

October 17, 2019Visible Storage Gallery

Lecture given by Gwendolyn Owens, Director, McGill Visual Arts Collection

Event Summary by Cecily Lawson

On Thursday, October 17, 2019, the director of the McGill Visual Arts Collection, Wendy Owens, spoke to an enraptured audience about McGill’s art collection. Art at McGill has a long history, she noted, beginning with 19th century portraits of James McGill and other benefactors, through to a gift of tapestries from Queen Alexandra, wife of British monarch, Edward VII, into 20th century paintings and sculpture and now 21st century acquisitions. Currently, there are 3000 works in 90 buildings on two campuses plus the Gault Estate.

Owens talked about her love of archival research. “It’s like reading someone else’s mail and I often fall down a rabbit hole.” It was in searching through university archives a couple of years ago that she discovered a letter written in 1946 from Principal Cyril James to well-known artist Arthur Lismer, a member of the Group of Seven and a teacher at McGill. In it, James asked Lismer to put together a catalogue of McGill’s various artworks. The files contain no reply from Lismer and there is no catalogue from that era, but this is at least an indication that someone at the university felt the need to create such a document.

A couple of decades later, McGill was the happy recipient of a gift from Montreal businessman Sidney Dawes of a collection of 64 Canadian artists, including works by AJ Casson, Emily Carr, David Milne, Clarence Gagnon, Robert Pilot, and Edwin Holgate. Dawes wanted McGill to establish a gallery to house these works and others. That did not come to pass, but the gift provided the impetus for the creation of the Visual Arts Committee in 1967 whose members took up the mandate of managing not only the Dawes donation but also the pieces that were dispersed throughout the university. Work was started on a catalogue and policies were developed for managing the collection.

During her talk, Dr. Owens focused on the university’s philosophy of getting art out of hidden places and putting it in public spaces. As well, she tantalized the audience with photos of selected works from McGill’s collection. These included paintings by by Marion Dale Scott, Arthur Lismer and Goodridge Roberts, a sculpture by Pierre Bonnard, stained glass windows by Percy Nobbs, the Three Bares sculpture by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney presented to McGill in 1931 as a symbol of friendship between the US and Canada, and the wonderful visual storage collection on the fourth floor of the McLennan Library. She talked about the collection of The Montreal Star which was donated to McGill when the newspaper closed its doors in the 1980’s and a recent gift of Asian art by McGill alumnae Dr. Joanne Jepson as well as a gift of a number pieces of sculpture by Peter Monk. And she noted that the department is working to expand its collection of indigenous artists, especially contemporary indigenous artists from Quebec.

Dr. Owens was introduced by Ann Vroom, chair of the Friends of the McGill Library, who talked about Fiat Lux, the $150 million planned renovation of the McGill Library, that will reinforce its place as the beating heart of the university. Dr. Coleen Cook, Trenholme Dean of Libraries, thanked the speaker, and encouraged the members of the audience to keep an eye out for the art that is everywhere around the university. Now that you know what goes into managing these works of art, she said, pursue your curiosity and create your own moments of discovery.

Presented by the Friends of the McGill Library in collaboration with the Visual Arts Collection & ROAAr.

2019 F.R. Scott Lecture | The Right Honourable Richard Wagner, P.C., Chief Justice of Canada in conversation with Professor Shauna Van Praagh

Packed house in Moot Court, watching the interview between Professor Shauna Van Praagh and Chief Justice Richard Wagner
Image by Photo: Owen Egan and Joni Dufour.
Photo: Owen Egan and Joni Dufour
September 9, 2019

Watch a video recording of the event by clicking here

On September 9, a full house of nearly two hundred people gathered at McGill University’s Moot Court for the 2019 Friends of the McGill Library F.R. Scott Lecture – a lively conversation between The Right Honourable Richard Wagner, P.C., Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, and Shauna Van Praagh, Professor of Law at McGill.

The evening kicked off with words of welcome and introductions from Friends of the Library Chair, Ann Vroom and Friends member, The Honourable Allan R. Hilton of the Court of Appeal of Quebec.

The discussion then commenced between the Chief Justice and professor on topics as wide-ranging as access to justice, the role of the courts, transparency, independence, poetry and even architecture. When it was the audience’s turn to ask questions, there were more than time allowed. In the end, six questions were asked, including one on the difference between the Supreme Court of Canada and its international counterparts.

After the Question and Answer period, McGill Principal and Vice-Chancellor, Suzanne Fortier offered her gratitude to both Chief Justice Wagner and Professor Van Pragh and Trenholme Dean of Libraries, Colleen Cook closed out the evening, thanking all of the speakers and wishing everyone a wonderful semester.

It was a fascinating evening and the hall was abuzz with excitement even after the event was over.

This lecture was graciously sponsored by Lavery Lawyers.

2019 Hugh MacLennan Lecture | Esi Edugyan in conversation with Amanda Parris

April 29, 2019

Event summary by Cecily Lawson

Watch a video recording of the event by clicking here

Photo of Amanda Parris (left) and Esi Edugyan (right) seated on stage at the lecture.The 2019 Hugh MacLennan Lecture was given by Canadian writer and Giller Prize winner Esi Edugyan. She was interviewed on stage at Moyse Hall on April 29th by CBC radio and television personality Amanda Parris whose questions focused largely on Edugyan’s most recent book, Washington Black.

The book’s title character, Wash, began life as a slave on a plantation in Barbados. Edugyan shared with the sellout audience the difficulty of researching a subject such as slavery, which was particularly cruel in the Caribbean and South America. She said she felt that she needed to write about the life of a slave in some detail, what their days were like, the randomness of the punishments that were meted out, the lack of control. Glossing over the brutality would dishonour those who had lived that reality. She noted that the descriptions of slavery are covered in the first quarter of the book and the reader must trust that they are there for a reason and that he or she will get through it.

Edugyan explained that she is very interested in the loss of human potential that resulted from the institution of slavery. All the talent and capacity for greatness that were never realized. She also wanted to explore the concept of what she termed the aftermath. In the case of Washington Black, this meant the journey Wash embarked upon once he was no longer a slave. Edugyan notes that he doesn’t know how to be free. His notion is that it means he doesn’t have to work or to answer questions. But as he goes out into the world, he realizes that it is much more complicated and the novel is about him groping his way to freedom.

Moving away from the book, Parris asked about the impact of current political events on a writer. Edugyan responded that we are living in a time of regression where so much of the progress of the civil rights movement is being undone. As a writer, she said, one sits at a desk all day long and feels guilty about not being socially active. But one of the things that fiction does is to give the reader the ability to understand the plight of someone else who is not himself or herself, and that can be transformative.

Edugyan, whose main protagonists in both her previous book, Half Blood Blues, and in Washington Black are men, confirmed that her next book will be told from the point of view of a woman. She talked about writing from the male perspective, saying that today it can be controversial to write not from your own experience. She hopes that we don’t come to a place where we cannot be creative as writers. While preferring not to put limits on her material, Edugyan said that her work would always be about what it’s like to be black moving through the world.

The MacLennan Lecture is sponsored by Don Walcot. It is presented by the Friends of the McGill Library in cooperation with the Blue Metropolis Literary Festival. Blue Met board member Philippe Bélanger spoke briefly at the start of the event, preceded by Friends board member Louise Dery-Goldberg. Ms Edugyan was introduced by McGill Law Professor Adelle Blackett and thanked by Christelle Tessono, president of the Black Students Network of McGill.

Vernissage | Visible Storage Gallery

March 27, 2019 

Inspired by the growing trend of “Visible Storage” spaces across museums worldwide, the gallery makes available highlights from the collection that would otherwise be in storage or on view in less accessible spaces. These highlights include works from Group of Seven members Arthur Lismer and Edwin Holgate, as well as a mesmerizing work by Anishinaabe artist Norval Morrisseau.

Together, the works on view represent a cross-section of McGill's Visual Arts Collection holdings in Canadian, Indigenous, and international art, both historical and contemporary, shown together here for the first time.

The vernissage, a collaboration between the Friends of the McGill Library and the Library's ROAAr unit, was a wonderful opportunity to take in the artworks and to learn more about them and the project as a whole. 

See also: Past events

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