2020 Hugh MacLennan Lecture | Author and CBC journalist Carol Off
Thursday, April 30, 2020
Details and RSVP information to follow in spring 2020
The lecture will centre on Off's 2017 book All We Leave Behind: A Reporter's Journey into the Lives of Others. It is the story of an Afghan family's frightening escape from a murderous warlord, written by a journalist who broke all her own rules to get them to safety. The book was winner of the British Columbia National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction and finalist for the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing, the Governor General’s Literary Award for Non-fiction and the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction.
CAROL OFF is the host of CBC radio's As It Happens, the network's flagship evening radio program covering human interest stories worldwide. With extensive experience in both Canadian and international current affairs, Off has covered conflicts in the Middle East, Haiti, the Balkans and the sub-continent, as well as events in the former Soviet Union, Europe, Asia, the United States and Canada. She reported the fallout from the 9/11 disasters with news features and documentaries from New York, Washington, London, Cairo and Afghanistan. She has won numerous awards for her CBC television documentaries in Asia, Africa and Europe and is the author of three previous books, most recently, Bitter Chocolate: Investigating the Dark Side of the World's Most Seductive Sweet, a finalist for the National Business Book Award and nominated for the prestigious Shaughnessy Cohen Award for Political Writing. She lives in Toronto.
Presented in partnership with Blue Metropolis International Literary Festival
2019 Annual General Meeting
All rights reservedNovember 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
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, 2019 All rights reserved
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.
2019 F.R. Scott Lecture | The Right Honourable Richard Wagner, P.C., Chief Justice of Canada in conversation with Professor Shauna Van Praagh
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
All rights reservedThe 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
All rights reservedInspired 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