Time capsule

Students, staff, and dignitaries on hand for the placing of the Donner Building for Medical Research time capsule inside its cornerstone. Old McGill 1947.
In September 1947, the elaborate ceremony signaling the commencement of construction of the Donner Building for Medical Research took place on the McGill University campus. Surrounded by hundreds of people, and in the presence of several dignitaries including McGill Principal and Vice-Chancellor Frank Cyril James, McGill Chancellor O.S. Tyndale, and Governor-General of Canada Field Marshal the Earl of Alexander of Tunis, the cornerstone for the new medical research building was laid and a time capsule placed inside.

The Donner Building, whose namesake, William H. Donner, had donated $232,355 to build, was a large facility designed to house five modern laboratories for research in medicine and biophysics at McGill. The Donner Building was completed and went on to fulfill its mission to serve McGill’s research needs.

Donner Medical Research Centre McGill University Archives PR039980
After many years of service, the Donner Building was demolished in the summer of 2001. As plans were drawn up to design and construct a larger research facility (also supported in part by the Donner Foundation), the rubble revealed the long forgotten time capsule. On October 2, 2003, Sergeant Mathieu Racette of McGill Campus Security found the time capsule in its cornerstone while conducting his regular security checks. The time capsule, measuring roughly 6" by 6" by 24", was held for 90 days. After following the protocols for found items, Sergeant Racette brought the time capsule to the attention of the Director of Security Louise Savard, who, in turn, sought advice from the McGill University Archives. While there was no precise listing of the contents of the time capsule in the University Archives, there was nonetheless photographic evidence pointing to the existence of a time capsule in the Donner Building. The University Archives clearly wanted a closer look.

In September 2004, the time capsule was sent to the McGill University Archives, where, with advice and technical support from McGill’s Waste Management Program manager Claude Lahaie, it was cut open, its contents seeing the light of day for the first time in over fifty years.

Sergeant Mathieu Racette of McGill Campus Security with time capsule (photo by Owen Egan/McGill Reporter)
Soggy and stained but still legible, the contents of the time capsule included: the donation letter written by William H. Donner; remarks made by Chancellor O.S. Tyndale on the occasion of the laying of the cornerstone and time capsule; an extract from "Who’s Who in America" on William H. Donner; a McGill Faculty of Medicine Calendar, dated 1947-1948.

The timeline of the Donner Building Time Capsule--the laying, the discovery, the opening, and the revealing of its contents--demonstrates how the commitment of one man to the cause of research can transcend time and affect many. The Donner Building Time Capsule, though hidden and seemingly forgotten for years, was eventually found, shedding new light on McGill’s past and giving a renewed sense of mission for the present and future.As Chancellor O.S. Tyndale said on the occasion of the laying of the cornerstone, "It is with great pleasure that I publicly record the heartfelt gratitude of the University, the medical profession and the public of Montreal in general. More precious, however, to Mr. Donnor than our thanks and the perpetuation of his memory in stone must be the thought of the countless thousands who will be the ultimate beneficiaries of his munificent gift."


Chancellor O.S. Tyndale placing the time capsule inside the Donner Building for Medical Research cornerstone. Old McGill 1947

















Dentistry Donner Building, McGill University Archives PR008050

McGill's Waste Management Program manager Claude Lahaie begins cutting open the time capsule. Photo by David Kemper/McGill University Archives.

Left to right: Johanne Pelletier, University Archivist; Claude Lahaie, Waste Management Program; Mathieu Racette, McGill Security; Louise Savard, Director of Security (photo by David Kemper/McGill University Archives)













McGill University, Faculty of Medicine, Calendar, 1947-1948 (Accession 2004-0171)









Accession 2004-0171
























Accession 2004-0171

Accession 2004-0171

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