voices from the footnotes over a waveform of that text
Image by Jacquelyn Sundberg.

Welcome to Voices from the Footnotes. In this podcast we will explore some of the hidden histories at the McGill University Library and Archives, looking at places, people, and artifacts. The library and archival collections are rich and fascinating, but this series flows from the silences and absences that are also present. Join us as we explore the voices and stories from the Footnotes.


The Gault Nature Reserve

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Did you know that McGill also owns some land in Mont St. Hilaire? It’s called the Gault Nature Reserve. This episode will focus on the beautiful land and waters of the Gault Reserve, what we know about its history based on McGill’s archives, and how it is used today especially by McGill’s First Peoples' House.

lake surrounded by forest

    Explore Additional Content

    The Gault Nature Reserve As Property: Seigneurie to Estate


    The Gault Estate; Prioritizing Conservation and Building a Nature Centre


    See where this Episode's guests are speaking from on the map.

    Get connected with First Peoples' House at McGill

    collage of images showing paige Isaac, Tanya lalonde, Allan Vicaire, Bannock and the TOPONA board game
    Clockwise from top Left: Paige Isaac and Allan Vicaire, Tanya Lalonde speaking at graduation ceremony, Allan Vicaire speaking at graduation ceremony, Paige Isaac speaking at graduate ceremony, Bannock from Soup and Bannock Wednesdays at First Peoples' House, TOPONA Board game (The Original Peoples of North America). Photos used by permission of First Peoples' House and Podcast guests.


    Host & Producer: Sheetal Lodhia

    Production and technical assistance: Jacquelyn Sundberg

    Transcription: Labiba Faiza

    Research Assistance: Michelle McLeod, Adria Seccareccia


    • Adria Seccareccia
    • Paige Isaac
    • Allan Vicaire
    • Tanya Lalonde


    • Title song: Happy Sandbox, by Mativve, sourced from Freesound.org
    • Transitions: hejdå, by edtijo, CC0 1.0
    • End credits: Happy-music by monkeyman535, Sourced from Freesound.org.


    Full Transcript


    00:03 Sheetal: Welcome to Voices from the Footnotes, a podcast series presented by the McGill University Libraries’ ROAAr team. Each episode we will explore some of the hidden histories at McGill, looking at places, people and artifacts. The library collections are rich and interesting, but this series flows from the silences also present. It is our desire to gather stories and share them. It is our goal is to highlight voices who have often been overlooked in histories and in archives. I am today’s host, Sheetal Lodhia.

    [00:40] Before we begin today’s episode, we acknowledge that McGill University is situated on the traditional territory of the Kanien’kehà:ka, a place which has long served as a site of meeting and exchange amongst Nations. We recognize and respect the Kanien’kehà:ka as the traditional custodians of the lands and waters on which we meet today.

    01:01 Sheetal: McGill’s campus is well-known to Montrealers and to many Canadians. It’s located primarily in downtown Montreal, beginning at Sherbrooke Street and heading north all the way up to Pine Avenue at the foot of Mont Royal. There is an additional campus, the MacDonald, or “mac campus” as it is known by McGillians, which is located west of the downtown campus on several acres of land. But did you know that McGill also owns some land in Mont St. Hilaire? it’s called the Gault Nature Reserve.

    [01:35] Today’s episode will focus on the Gault Nature Reserve, what we know about its history based on McGill’s archives, and how it is used today, especially by McGill’s First Peoples’ House.

    01:50 Paige: I mean, if you've ever been there and if you've seen the lake up in the mountain, like it's just, I don't know, like it's almost like a perfect circle, with the steep mountains around it, like it's a gorgeous place. So you can tell, I think, you can tell that there, you know, Indigenous peoples have been there. You can tell a-and feel that it was a sacred place.

    02:17 Allan: Uh [laughs] but there was also a significant, also cultural aspect where I think we had opportunity just for Indigenous people to be on the land, um, to take hikes, to walk, and just to be in one with nature that we wouldn't receive that if we were, you know, downtown campus.

    02:42 Sheetal: The Gault Reserve on Mont St. Hilaire has a pretty long and storied history. And the thing is, we don’t know the whole history. What we do know, we have pieced together through archives at McGill and through stories where we can. We know that the land was parcelled out by the French crown, and then sold to various owners over the years. We also know that McGill’s ownership comes quite late in the story, and through a donation.

    [03:10] I also want to mention that, as with many research endeavours, new information can often come to light as we are in the midst of creating our publication. That is true in this case. When we began this radio documentary project, and unbeknownst to us, McGill had begun to create a relationship with the Abenaki Community, who are the original stewards of this land. We don’t yet know all the history of the reserve, as much of it is still sacred knowledge among the Abenaki. You’ll hear more about McGill’s developing relationship later in the piece.

    [03:42] First, let’s get to some of the history we do know. And for that, we turn to Adria

    03:49 Adria: So my name is Adria Seccareccia. I am, uh, archivist and liaison librarian at, uh, Rare Books and Special Collections at McGill library. And yeah, I mean, I work with, um, processing collections, archival collections, but also reference, uh, some, uh, teaching as well about, you know, archival literacy, and, uh, helping with research requests like this one [laughs].

    [04:16] But the first timeline is really, became a-a timeline of property ownership, like I mentioned. Um, and it, it only starts in 1694 because, um, the records, or the narrative, the records, um, are kind of, um, telling our, you know, a history of, uh, when colonialists take this land and make it their property. And obviously, we know this land was around way longer [laughs] than that.

    [04:44] Um, so yeah, so it begins in 1694, uh, when, um, the land is, um, given to, uh, Jean-Baptiste Hertel, um, as—and he becomes the first seigneur, um, of this, um, seigneurie de Rouville they called it. Um, the lot of land that ends up, um, being donated to McGill is really only a small portion of this large seigneurie. Um, from 1694 to, um, 1844, the seigneurie is intact in a sense and remains, um, within the family, the Hertel family, through inheritance until it’s sold in 1844 to Thomas Edmund Campbell.

    05:31 Sheetal: The timeline is fairly detailed, so alongside this podcast, we have online resources where you can see a visual timeline and more granular details of the history of Gault, including pictures. Look for the link in the show notes. You might also be wondering: what is the seigneurie system?

    05:50 Adria: It's, it's based off of, um, like the French feudal system. But there's, um, okay, so it, it was adopted in 1627 in, in New France, and it's abolished in I think 1854. What essentially it is, is that, uh, influential colonists were given portions of land, or seigneuries, uh, in order to kind of encourage settlement.

    06:20 Sheetal: Remember that France in the 1600s was a monarchy, and so the first settlers were responsible to the crown. In fact, it is assumed that all the “discovered” land is owned by the crown, with an officer acting in the king’s place in New France through a crown company. The first crown company was originally run by Cardinal Richelieu. There was also a fee structure in this seigneurie system. Seigneurs are essentially Lords.

    06:48 Adria: And these colonists became seigneurs and they either produced on the land themselves or they also, um, gave land to tenants, or assigned, had tenants on this land who would pay the seigneur rent to either produce on the land or to also extract resources like lumber or, um, hunting, things like this.

    07:13 Sheetal: So, now getting back to the timeline. In 1844 is when we see a shift from francophone ownership to anglophone ownership, and that’s through marriage. The Campbells sell off portions of land and Admiral Gault purchases some of it, which would later be donated to McGill.

    07:30 Adria: And then, you know, the big, kind of like, milestone i-in, for the history of McGill is when Admiral Gault, uh, receives, um, or purchases part of Lot 306 in 1913, but also in 1913, he also purchases Lot, part, a portion of Lots 305 and 306 from, uh, Robert Peel William Campbell who was, um, the son of the, the first Thomas Campbell who got the property in 1844, or the, I should say the seigneurie rights in 1844.

    [08:04] And so, from that point, um, you know, we know the story is that he then, uh, Admiral Gault then, donates this land to McGill in 18, uh, sorry, 1958, after he after, um, after he passes away. Um, but McGill also kind of acquired, um, other portions of this land, or the, or the surrounding area, uh, through another donation in 1959, um, from also I think another relative of the Campbells, but it seems like they also purchased portions.

    08:40 Sheetal: As is typical with land ownership throughout history, sometimes the rights are murky and contested. In fact, the archives show that some parts of Mont St. Hilaire may not have even been Admiral Gault’s to give.

    [08:53] So, how has this land been used? Well, among other things, there were mines and claims to mining rights. There is a lake, Lac Hertel, which used to provide the surrounding municipality of Beloeil with water. McGill took part in gravel mining and in building many of the road infrastructures leading to and from these resources. In fact, the surrounding community did not like the noise and disturbances caused by the mining in the early 1960s.

    [09:23] Resource extraction may have actually run rampant in the area if not for the fact that in 1978 — roughly 20 years after McGill owns a portion — Mont St. Hilaire was declared Canada’s first Biosphere by UNESCO. That declaration entitled the mountain to protection against resource extraction. In the decade leading up the UNESCO declaration, the director of the Gault Nature Reserve also began putting policies in place to ensure that the land would be protected.

    09:56 Adria: So, in 1963 and 1964, these kinds of conversations or questions, uh, lead to actually dividing the estate into three sections. Um, so there's the biological reserve, the recreational area, and, uh, a forest management area. But the need to kind of prioritize the conversation around, um, around preservation, um, really kind of gets more defined in 1969 with Alice Johansson,

    [10:31] who sets up, um, kind of a committee to plan, to create a nature center, which is then ju- or even further justified by a study, um, done by the National Audubon Society in 1970. So, the center actually, because of, um, Alice Johansen’s recommendations, but also I think, you know, the National Audubon Society's recommendations, the center is established in 1972, um, and in 1977,

    [11:01] they kind of do this review of the master plan for the Gault estate and they re-identify these, these three zones, let's call them. So, the first becomes the Nature Center sector. Uh, then there's also [clears throat] the Research and Preservation sector and, um, the Development, uh, and Access, uh, sector. So, you know, the Nature Center was really meant to allow for the use of public trails,

    [11:31] so that people could, you know, walk or, or um, interact with nature without having, with having as least harm as possible to the ecosystem. Um, and then the Research and Preservation sector is really kind of intended to be, uh, left, you know, “untouched” [laughs] as much as possible, um, and used for academic staff and students, really for all kinds of different research purposes.

    11:59 Sheetal: And that’s how the Gault Nature Reserve is largely known today, as an environmental research centre and nature conservation area. The water disputes among McGill and Beloeil was an example of McGill’s push for preservation rather than resource extraction. We also look to the bequest of Admiral Gault, which outlines his interest in land stewardship. In the show notes, you will see a photo of a plaque in Gault’s memory from September 29, 1964, which outlines his wish for the reserve.

    [12:29] Gault himself was a businessman, involved in textiles and in the cotton industry. He financed a regiment for WWI called the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry.

    12:50 Sheetal: As I mentioned at the beginning, we do not know some of Mont St. Hilaire’s indigenous history. Indeed, the principle of absence has been one of the guiding forces of these podcasts: whose voices are we missing?

    13:14 Sheetal: Where connections to the land or to the Abenaki community has occurred, it has come through individual efforts, and through the First Peoples’ House. We spoke with Paige Isaac, former student and former director of First Peoples’ House, about what it’s like up there on the mountain.

    13:31 Paige: I mean, if you've ever been there and if you've seen the lake up in the mountain like it's just, I don't know, like it's almost like a perfect circle, with the steep mountains around it, like it's a gorgeous place. So you can tell, I think, you can tell that there, you know, Indigenous peoples have been there. You can tell a-and feel that it was a sacred place. But it was only after a friend of mine, um,

    [14:01] asked if I knew anything about it, like asked if I knew if it was a ceremonial place for Indigenous peoples, and you know, and I had to admit, like I didn't really know the history, you know. And as any place in, in North America, you know it's, it's a sacred place for Indigenous peoples, but you don't often get, have access to those stories, um, or that history.

    [14:26] And so, yeah, I remember, you know, it was something that she would remind me every time she saw me, like “have you found anything out yet”? And, you know, “we need to do something”, you know, “we need to bring ceremony to the place,” you know, to that space and make, you know. Um, so there was always this intrigue that I had but I didn't, you know, quite get to doing the research or speaking with, with Indigenous communities around that area to find anything out. Yeah, so it's still like a mystery to me, yeah.

    14:58 Sheetal: Were you, were you glad that McGill sort of had this, you know, a place that, that most McGillians weren't really using?

    15:07 Paige: Yeah, I mean I thought it was, um, yeah, I mean, you know, I thought it was pretty cool that there was, there was this connection, for sure. I actually went there as a student in one of my ecology classes. We went and took a walk around there and, um, yeah. Yeah, no, I mean I, I was happy to have that connection there when I was a, a student and an employee to just kind of, yeah, like maybe reclaim our, con- connection to that

    [15:37] land even though, you know, a lot of our, a lot of the Indigenous students who went to McGill were from all over the place, right? So they might not have been aware of, of the history there, um, you know. But I think just being there, you can feel it, right? And there's like a change of energy when you, when you're out in natural spaces and so, you know, I think we, even though we might not be connected to the history, that we can kind of feel and be changed by just being there and taking in the beauty and breathing the air [laughs]. Yeah.

    16:07 Sheetal: Paige is not the only one who described having a connection to this land. Tanya Lalonde, former and current student of McGill and former Family Care Officer at SEDE, also talks about the having a connection to this land and how that sparked the idea of an annual Indigenous student and staff retreat.

    16:26 Tanya: I grew up in the country, so I grew up on a farm in Alberta and then I lived on an acreage in Alberta as well, so I’ve always been a country person. I didn’t live in a city until I was 15 years old, um, that was my first time living in a city, taking a bus, going to a city school, all that kind of stuff, so it’s like, I’m definitely a country kid, so I always find it extremely calming and, like,

    [16:56] spiritual to be in a place where there’s a lot of nature. And so I think that that connection to the land is very integral to, um, Indigenous culture and Indigenous people, and I think that, you know, I’m not the only one that feels that way. Um, yeah, like just being out there and hiking, uh, you know, usually we, we went in winter, so, uh, we do like big snow hikes and,

    [17:27] uh, it’s just, in the middle of a busy, stressful academic year, it was just such a nice break to look forward to, and I really liked that. I also really like, you know, eating communal meals together and talking and, um, you know, at night we would have like a fire outside, and we just hang out and joke around, and we’d have crafts out so that people could do like a beading project,

    [17:58] or, I would always bring homework because it was kind of the, like a kid-free time for me to get some work done. Um so, there’s people, you know, working on computers in the corner, people doing crafting, people out by the fire, like it was just a very nice, communal, like sense of community, but with no pressure, like, um, it wasn’t super structured, so there wasn’t like “okay at three you have to do this,

    at five, you do this.” It was like very much, very organic in terms of how we, you know, structured the. the weekend, so I, I really like that too.

    18:37 Sheetal: I asked Paige what it took to get the retreat going.

    18:41 Paige: Yeah, so, you know, First Peoples’ House was, you know, a service there to support Indigenous students and so, you know, we had a community of Indigenous students at the House, and there was also another program and I think it was a new program, uh, Indigenous Access McGill, and so they were also offering more support for Indigenous social work and nursing students. And so they, there was a cohort of Indigenous social work students and Tanya LaLonde was one of them.

    [19:10] Um, and so you know, I was really, they were part of our, of our, of our community and it was one year, It was like an especially rough year I think, you know. Several of these students had something major going on in their life, whether, you know, I think it was like losing family members, there was, I remember there was, you know, suicide in the, in the family and like, a lot of rough things were happening that were affecting their well-being, um, and affecting their studies,

    [19:40] and I think it was a, you know, I think it was Tanya who, who brought up the idea to one of their, the people running Indigenous Access McGill that a retreat could be a good idea. And, yeah, I think, you know, we were like “yeah, that sounds like a really great idea, how do we make this happen and, and what does this look like?” And, so, it–that began a collaboration. So, it was a First Peoples’ House [and] Indigenous Access McGill collaboration, open to all Indigenous students.

    [20:11] And, you know, uh, I think we identified the Gault Nature Reserve pretty early on, like I don't, you know, I think just being part of McGill, it was far enough out of the city, it was a natural, beautiful location, there was somewhere to stay. Um, you know, it all just kind of, sounded really good and, and we thought, why not? Let's, let's try this out and, you know, I would, I would, um, ask the students,

    [20:41] like get a group of students who are interested in coming, we would meet beforehand and collaborate on the activities, like, you know, um, so we would gather ideas from the students and get a sense of what they wanted to do and try to make it a good community, community event and, you know, yeah that's it. It was kind of like a camping, camping weekend and something to, build community, right?

    [21:09] So people, th-the students kind of actually, I think a big thing that we learned was that for them, just getting to know each other and building community within each other was really supportive. So it wasn't just, just getting away, it was really–I think that helped, you know [laughs]. Get away from the city, get away from distractions, um, and get to know one another on a different level, um, I think that really helped build their friendships even like moving forward.

    21:36 Sheetal: Allan Vicaire became director of First Peoples’ House after Paige. He was also the Indigenous Education Officer at SEDE, and we spoke with him about his experiences there too.

    21:46 Allan: Well, I was very lucky when I was at SEDE. I actually participated in the retreat, um, I would say several times. I don't know, maybe two or three times. So I had an opportunity to go out. I didn't stay the night there. Um, so I always did day trips. Uh, it wasn't until I took th-the, you know, the head of the First– director of the First Peoples’ House. Then, I was like okay, I gotta, I gotta, I gotta bunk it with the students. Uh, so I had a little bit of luxury beforehand. Not to say I actually, I actually did enjoy, um, uh, bunking it with the students 'cause we actually had a lot of fun and, and just being me, we put on music, we did face mask.

    [22:17] Uh, uh, [laughs] but there was also a significant, also cultural aspect where I think we had opportunity just for Indigenous people to be on the land, um, to take hikes, to walk, and just to be in one with nature that we wouldn't receive, that if we were, you know, downtown campus. So it was something where, it was just, it was, it was something that was really special, you know, for us and for the students. So we incorporated a mix of variety. Some was cul- some were cultural,

    [22:47] but then some were just like, just bonding experiences, whether it was games, or watching a movie. But there were opportunities for drumming, for sharing circles, um, for craft, so we invited like Ben Jibo to come in and do some crafts. Uh, we did, on our spare time, beading, so we were looking at everyone's beading projects. I remember Ben Jibo, uh, he, he, he's a PhD student who, I, I believe just is going to be wrapping up his studies soon in the School of Social Work.

    [23:17] And, uh, he's also part of Indigenous Access McGill, so he was really part of like bringing the beading in and that was something that was really great, to sit around, to talk. Some of us, some students will come and bead, but the others would just be on the couch, uh, reading, doing some of their, their, their, their schoolwork or anything that they had to do, or papers, and it was just a really relaxing time.


    23:38 Paige: We, we did different things. We did a lot of, like, collages and we would bring photos and talk about, you know, and share, uh, like what it meant to us, so you know. So, a lot of thinking about family and relationships and where we come from and, um, we, you know one of our, one of my colleagues Kakwiranoron was a massage therapist, like before, [laughs] before coming to McGill and so he would do, sometimes he would like actually

    [24:08] do massages on people and then he would do workshops on just like self-massage techniques. We would go hiking, we would make all of the meals together, we would watch movies, play games, um, yeah, there was this [laughs] one game, it was left at the First Peoples’ House when I first got there. It was, it was a board game called TOPONA [laughs] st-stands for The Original People of North America.

    [24:39] And it's a trivia game, and so we would play [audio lags] this trivia game about Indigenous Peoples of North America and it became a tradition, like we would play it every year to see who won TOPONA [laughs].

    24:51 Sheetal: Describe the, the bunking. What did it look like? What is it, what was it like?

    24:56 Allan: Yeah, so you would go in, so there was these two– so we would, uh, book these kind of two lodges that kind of, they didn't connect but they were beside each other. And then, uh, for each room there were four bunk beds, and we just divided it up, so, you know. But what happened i- when I took, you know, when I took the lead on this was I think we divided up by like grad students in one area and undergrads in the other, because I think the undergrads had more of a lively night, uh, being up,

    [25:26] playing games, uh, you know, whether it was like, you know, Dungeons and Dragons at like one or two a.m. Um, and then, on our side we just went to bed early 'cause we were just old farts [laughs]. It was definitely the more, you know, y-you could definitely feel the vibe. So that's how, that's how it was.

    25:46 Sheetal: What about meals? How did you, what did you do for meals?

    25:49 Allan: Meals were very communal, so that was one of the, the most I think important part of, in that experience, like I think as Indigenous peoples, the community aspect. It wasn't just like, you know, everyone's– yeah, some people would do, would take their own individual, like, snacks. But when it came to the meals, people were coming together, they were cutting, they were chopping, “what do you need?” And then by the time we were done eating, then it was the cleaning, um, and everyone took their share. So, and that was something that was really important for all of us.

    [26:18] And I think it was something that was well understood, like I didn't, I didn't, you know, have to say anything, or none of us, it’s just everyone came together and just did what they had to do.

    26:27 Sheetal: And how was it funded?

    26:29 Allan: So first, it was funded by an Eberts fund, so we ac- First Peoples House has an endowed kind of, like, fund where they fund their activities, so they have access to that. Um, second, it was only for Indigenous students, so those who use this, th-th-the space. Um, um, and how it was advertised was through our Listserv, and when students self-identify as being Indigenous through the application process, then we get our list and that's the information that we disseminate.

    [26:58] And the reason why it's continued [indistinct], so, you know, it's still continued, you know, is because of the fact–of the success. People really enjoyed going out there, people loved it, and people who did it the year before were going to go again the year, you know, coming and then the year after, until they graduated, right? So I think that was really the key 'cause it was just like, people knew that they were going to have a good time. They, you know, we did a lot of fun things.

    [27:24] Um, you know, so it's funny 'cause you have the, the two lodges, but then in the back you have this additional space so, so it was kind of like, I'm sure in the summer i-i-it would be easier to, to, to move as opposed to like minus 20 weather, but you could open the back and then you can go into this other space which we, we’d use for, I remember, you know, one year, uh, Jessica Barudin did, uh, uh, yoga, so we did yoga, you know. And I remember one year that it was me and a few students, that we just started to do some work outs, so we were just doing some like pushups and like some [indistinct],

    [27:54] you know, we're getting the, o-o-our blood going and then, and then, I know there were, last year there were students who were really into games and they ended up making that a game space, where they were up till 3:00 a.m., um, uh, playing games. But what’s important to note too, is that it, that, this, that retreat was also, there was no alcohol involved, right? So that's something that’s important. But we made it so, where it was a respectful space where this is–there's no alcohol allowed in this space. So that we kept it really, we kept that intentionally dry, so.

    [28:25] I was gonna say something, And then the food that, you know, unfortunately we didn't have, we didn't do traditional food, like, that we would normally do at the House. So at the House sometimes will have traditional feasts where we had moose and salmon. I think it was just more for logistics of, of, of, of, just like, you know, there was always a pasta night, there was, you know, uh, you know, maybe like a big salad. I’m trying to think [mumbles] lasagna, vegetarian lasagna, we had, you know what I mean? So we, we made it very easy because it was a jam packed, uh, weekend

    [28:56] and we wanted to make it the easiest, um, kind of food. And like, at lunch it was kind of like, put all the stuff out for sandwiches, we made like a big like, you know, chickpea salad, and then, you know, and then people can eat whatever they want to eat, yeah.

    29:11 Sheetal: I spoke with Tanya, Paige and Allan about land ownership and a little about the settler timeline of the reserve. One principle that they all made clear was that the concept of ownership of land – the western concept as we know it today – is not one shared by Indigenous people.

    29:28 Paige: Well that’s it, right? Like we don’t own the land, but I think, you know, we would have used the land in different ways and felt connected to the land and known, you know, have known the land and used it for, you know, survival and, and what not. Um, so yeah, for sure it was [clears throat] you know, even though I was happy to have that connection through McGill,

    [29:58] it’s always complicated, right? Because I think I had conversations with other friends, with some, some of my friends who were Abenaki, who, you know, didn’t feel that connection to the place and, and were actually excluded and had to pay to get in there and, you know, so that definitely, um, leaves a bitter taste in your mouth and, you know. I think for a lot of Indigenous Peoples, like land is so important, right? Land, and language, and culture, and so,

    [30:28] if you’re not, you know, if you’re excluded from that, for sure, it’s not, uh, it’s not a good feeling, right? And so [gulps] I, I do remember also mentioning that, I think I wrote that, you know, I think I wrote to the Gault, just, you know, informing them that, you know, this is what community is saying and, and you know, what can we open up this conversation, what can we do to enhance people’s connection to, to that place that is likely very sacred and has a historical significance?

    31:02 Allan: [laughs] Where do I begin, right? Uh, [laughs] it's just one of those things where I think w-w-we see, you know, not we, but I think the Western view is land as, as property, as buying, as ownership, um, monetizing the resources, uh, you know? A-A-And in some sense, like as Indigenous people, like, we use the land as resources, but we used it for what we needed, right? It wasn't this like mass production of like, a-a-a kind of capitalism, you know, a-a-and, and for those that, that run,

    [31:34] you know, those types of operations gain th-the money a-and the resources as opposed to the rest of the population. You know, for us it was just we need it for ourselves and for the community that we were in, to sustain ourselves through the seasons and hardships of, of winter and summer, right? So it was our shelter, our food, and, and also how maybe some Nations even moved from different spots when the seasons changed, right? So for me, I think, there was that connection. I think there was always some sort of,

    [32:04] I wouldn’t say the term ownership, but an understanding back in the day of territories. I, I could say that where there was like, “here’s Miq’Mah territory, here's the [name, indistinct]”, a-a-a-and some sort of, kind of, you know, “borders” o-o-of where territories lie ‘cause sometimes different Nations were enemies, right? Um, but that would be, that would be it, there was nothing that was really drawn.

    [32:26] You know, as Indigenous people, like nothing is ours, I think in relation to the land, i-i-it's kind of a really kind of holistic approach. It's like we’re there as the caretakers and the land also care takes us, you know, of our needs. You know, for many of us, who, not all of us, but for some of us who grew up on the land, you know, wherever their Nations were from, it kind of resonated them t-to be, uh, in one with nature.

    [32:51] And it was always refreshing after, when we were coming back from the retreat, you know, to have had that experience, not just togetherness, as like a community, but also to be outdoors and to walk around. We would build a fire in the evening, um, ‘cause there was a fire pit, uh, we would take, you know, uhh, twice I took a walk up, all the way up to one of the top of the mountains during winter with some students, others would take hikes, there were some students who, who snowshoed. So, it was just an opportunity for us just to, to really

    [33:21] feel connected and feel that, I don't want to say the term ownership, but at least I think the word I would use is the connection t-to the land that we normally don't have downtown.

    33:33 Sheetal: Paige and I discussed Parks Canada and how Indigenous people now have free access to our parks.

    33:39 Paige: I think similar to, um, you know, I think Parks Canada has done, done work on that to improve access for Indigenous Peoples and on a lot of the areas under their, uh, mandate, you know. And so I think, yeah, I think that should be similar to everywhere, [laughs] you know [Sheetal interjects: Yeah]. Whether it's like a provincial park or a local park, or, you know, that's something that I think, um, at least, you know, at the very least, that that could be done.

    34:08 Sheetal: Yeah, I agree.

    [34:09] Paige is clearly forward thinking, and also partly responsible for McGill’s beginning of a relationship with the Abenaki. When she was head of First People’s House, she began discussions with the Gault Reserve about waiving fees for Indigenous people. Well, as of June 14th, 2021, and as part of its larger recognition and reconciliation mandate, McGill has created a partnership with the Grande Conseil de la Nation Waban-Aki, welcoming its Nation’s members to the reserve to practice cultural activities free of charge.

    35:00 Sheetal: As always, look to our show notes for additional material, such as timelines, photos, links to archival material, and more. Many thanks to our guests Paige Isaac, Allan Vicaire and Tanya Lalonde, and to our dedicated researchers Adria Secaraccia and Michelle MacLeod. We also thank former Director of the Gault Nature Reserve, Martin Lechowicz (letch-o-vitz), for all his assistance. Thank you to Professor Nathalie Cooke, Director of this project at McGill Library’s ROAAr team, and to Jacquelyn Sundberg, Associate Producer.

    [35:32] Our title song called Happy Sandbox was composed by Mativve and sourced from freesound.org. All composers are listed in our show notes. I’m Sheetal Lodhia, producer for this episode. Thanks for listening!

    Episode 2 - Meet Adria

    🔊 Audio icon Listen Now

    This is the first in a series where we get to know the people at ROAAr. The staff, archivists, librarians and students who sit behind the desk – or, in the case of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020-21, behind the screens. So let us introduce Adria Seccareccia, archivist/librarian with ROAAr.

    Since joining the McGill Library in 2020, Adria has worked on a number of projects, including a new web archiving project: McGill University Responses to Anti-Black Racism.

    Read more about it on the blog.

    Black Student Network logo next to text from the Web archiving project.
    BSN logo courtesy of BSN McGill (https://www.bsnmcgill.com/).

    For our first episode, The Gault Nature Reserve, Adria put together two timelines tracing the history of the Gault Estate as documented in the McGill University Archives. Explore her work in the episode 1 shownotes above.


    Host & Producer: Sheetal Lodhia

    Production and technical assistance: Jacquelyn Sundberg


    • Adria Seccareccia


    • Title song: Happy Sandbox, by Mativve, sourced from Freesound.org
    • End credits: Happy-music by monkeyman535, Sourced from Freesound.org


    Episode 3 - Meet Chris

    🔊 Audio icon Listen Now

    From human rights to library science, Chris Lyons is a man of many passions. In this episode, the head librarian at Rare Books and Special Collections talks about his unusual career trajectory, the books he read as a kid, his first encounter with library fines, and the perks of befriending librarians.

    This is the second in our series where we get to know the people at ROAAr. The staff, archivists, librarians and students who sit behind the desk – or, in the case of the pandemic, behind the screens.

    Explore Rare Books and Special Collections.

    Chris lyons standing on a mountain and in front of a river
    Chris Lyons hiking on a volcano in northern Sumatra, Indonesia. This was part of an overland trip across Russia and Asia in 1991 before he began working with Canadian International Development Agency


    Host & Producer: Sheetal Lodhia

    Production and technical assistance: Jacquelyn Sundberg


    • Christopher Lyons


    • Title song: Happy Sandbox, by Mativve, sourced from Freesound.org
    • End credits: Happy-music by monkeyman535, Sourced from Freesound.org.

    Episode 4 - Meet Lori

    🔊 Audio icon Listen Now

    From bookworm to archivist, meet Lori Podolsky, records manager at McGill University Library and Archives.

    In this short episode, Lori tells us why her neighbours were not too fond of her childhood reading habits, how she used archives for the first time while researching a measles epidemic and recalls the series of events that led her to study archival science.

    Explore the McGill Library's Archival Collections.

    At left, Lori as a child, kneeling and holding an open copy of Born Free. At right, Lori reading herself to sleep propped up in bed with an open book.
    Lori with a favourite book, Born Free. Lori tended to read herself to sleep, I think this action shot on the right captures her just at the magic moment between story and sleep.


    Host & Producer: Sheetal Lodhia

    Production and technical assistance: Jacquelyn Sundberg


    • Lori Podolsky


    • Title song: Happy Sandbox, by Mativve, sourced from Freesound.org
    • End credits: Happy-music by monkeyman535, Sourced from Freesound.org.

    Episode 5 - Finding Where We Belong; Indigenous Perspectives at McGill

    🔊 Audio icon Listen Now Part 1 🔊 Audio icon Listen Now Part 2 

    In this episode, current and former staff of McGill’s First Peoples’ House discuss the various hurdles faced by Indigenous students in higher education. Interviewees also share how staff and tailored programming provide much-needed support to students and help them build community, foster a sense of belonging, and achieve academic success. For today’s episode, we issue a trigger warning in that we discuss some sensitive issues pertaining to colonialism, mental health, and suicide.


    Get connected with First Peoples' House at McGill : https://www.mcgill.ca/fph/

    Today’s episode touched on issues of suicide and mental health. If you or someone you know is struggling, reach out:

    • Student Wellness Resources at McGill: https://www.mcgill.ca/wellness-hub/
    • KeepmeSAFE – 24/7 crisis line and counselling service available to all McGill students free of charge. Call 1-844-451-9700 (phone)
    • Talk to your Faculty Advisor about a leave of absence. This is an option, and you can return to your studies at a later date.


    Host & Producer: Sheetal Lodhia

    Production and technical assistance: Jacquelyn Sundberg

    Transcription: Labiba Faiza


    • Paige Isaac
    • Allan Vicaire
    • Tanya Lalonde


    • Title song: Happy Sandbox, by Mativve, sourced from Freesound.org
    • Sombre Piano, By LuckyLittleRaven, CC 3.0 , sourced from Freesound.org
    • End credits: Happy-music by monkeyman535, Sourced from Freesound.org.

    Full Transcript

    0:03 Sheetal: Welcome to Voices from the Footnotes, a podcast series presented by the McGill University Libraries’ ROAAr team. Each episode, we will explore some of the hidden histories at McGill, looking at places, people and artifacts. The library collections are rich and interesting, but this series flows from the silences also present. It is our desire to gather stories and share them. It is our goal is to highlight voices who have often been overlooked in histories and in archives. I am today’s host, Sheetal Lodhia.  

    0:40 Sheetal: Before we begin today’s episode, we acknowledge that McGill University is situated on the traditional territory of the Kanien’kehà:ka, a place which has long served as a site of meeting and exchange amongst nations. We recognize and respect the Kanien’kehà:ka as the traditional custodians of the lands and waters on which we meet today.  

     01:01 Sheetal: In today’s episode, we hear from former students and former staff of the First Peoples’ House at McGill. We focus on some of the barriers for Indigenous participation in higher education, and we celebrate Indigenous excellence. That excellence has had the opportunity to flourish and to thrive because of programs and practises put into place by Indigenous students and staff to support one another. For today’s episode, we issue a trigger warning in that we discuss some sensitive issues pertaining to colonialism, mental health and suicide. 

    01:38 Tanya: [Laughs] Okay, uh, my name is Tanya Lalonde and I currently work as the program coordinator for the Indigenous program [mouth clicks], uh, with the Undergraduate Medical Education Faculty, in the Faculty of Medicine, at the University of Ottawa [laughs]. There's a lot of words in this, uh, title [another speaker laughs]. I'm never sure which order to put them in, um, and I've just been working there since December. 

    02:08 Paige: My name is Paige Isaac. I am Miq’mah from Listuguj, Québec. I used to work at McGill as the associate director of First Peoples’ House and I now work for my community in Listuguj, as the Tourism Development Officer. 

    02:29 Allan: So my name is Allan Vicaire and I'm Miq’mah, from Listuguj, uh, Québec, and I used to work at McGill for nine years. So six years at the Social Equity and Diversity Education Office, three years, um, the head of the First Peoples’ House, taking the lead on that, and now I'm at Concordia working under, under the Provost Office’s Indigenous Directions where I'm working, working more, I guess on the overarching themes of Indigenous affairs on campus.  

    02:57 Sheetal: I wanted to give each of our guests a chance to speak freely, so, in fact there are very few edits and outside voices in this piece.  Our three prominent voices in this episode are Tanya, Paige and Allan. They are also integral to our episode on the Gault Nature Reserve, so look out for that. 

    03:15 Sheetal: I asked the three of them how they came to know about McGill. Let’s hear from Paige first. 

    03:22 Paige: Oh, it's so weird. I don't even know, to be honest. I think it was more Montreal. I think I wanted to, wanted to live in Montreal. I think I, I knew of McGill’s reputation as being a really good school. Um, but I think that's really it, like I don't think I, I don't think I did, you know, a university tour, I didn't consider any other universities. I mean, I think I tried to 'cause I was like, well, I should consider other universities, right? But I think McGill was always my, my top choice.  

    [03:53] I think for sure I wanted to go somewhere where I didn't really know anyone. Like I, I really wanted to test out, uh, and try out this independence. I think that was really, um, attractive for me, you know. I think a lot of my friends were going to universities in the Maritimes and I was like no, I'm going to head the other way [laughs]. Yeah. 

    04:17 Tanya: No! It, I had not ever heard of McGill and um [mouth clicks], I had a friend, uh, and it was her dream to go to McGill. She was always talking about it when we were, uh, young, young adults. Um, and I just thought it was like for really smart people, you know? And I didn't consider myself one of those really smart people, so I was like, it just didn't, you know, it wasn't like something I even aspired to. 

    04:47 Sheetal: Allan always knew about McGill, since he visited Montreal from the time he was little. When they all came to McGill in some form or another – whether as staff or student – each of them sought out community. And the one reliable place to find that was the First Peoples’ House. 

    05:05 Sheetal: How did First Peoples’ House, uh, play a role in your life when you were a student? 

    05:11 Paige: Oh, it was huge. It was, you know, that comfy place to go to in between classes, you know. It was basically a home away from home, it really was. Everyone there was really supportive and, you know, you can get a bite to eat, get a coffee, just kind of, you know, sit on the couch and, and meet other students. I think that was really crucial. 

    [05:36] Just like meeting other Indigenous students, feeling less alone at the university, yeah, you know I had tons of friends, but I think it, you know, there's something about making connections with other indigenous students that really, um, helps with your sense of belonging and, and connection and, and you know, I think it was really key, just creating those relationships and, and getting the support [unknown speaker interjects: “mhhm”]. Yeah, I think it really helped me through my studies, even. 

    06:03 Allan: ‘Cause I think I– with, with staff and faculty, they get really busy, and they'll come to the First Peoples’ House once or twice and then, even though [inaudible] there was always a commitment from a faculty member, Indigenous faculty member, but well I have to come in more often, I think just the way it is when you start teaching and when you start- have to do research and all these obligations and committees, you know, they'll come, then we'll see them during our kind of annual, you know, winter feast, they’re like “oh, I meant to come here more often”, and that's just the way it is. 

    [06:29] But for students, it's a 100%, like a doubt (down-?), like, I-I-I could say this like without, you know, any hesitation that students felt at home, who, who, who used the center or [inaudible] used that space because for that house, for them FPH, um, was their family and for many of them was attributed to at least one of their support systems to actually succeeding at the institution. Because, you know, McGill is very white. You know, you go into a classroom it's, y-you don't see much- many Brown individuals.   

    [06:59] Not to say that there's not many Indigenous people who, who, who don't have to look Brown. There was something that was not there i-i-in the way, in terms of Western perspective. And coming into the house was also I would say some, sometimes more of a, a therapeutic session where they can actually voice those concerns and it was a space that was very safe, because everyone understood what someone was saying, right? It wasn't new and they, a-and I think just having everyone's back and just like nodding  

    [07:27] and reassuring, you know, you felt really better going to the house and then once you enter that space, then you never left it until you graduated, right?  

    07:37 Paige: I've been connected to the First Peoples’ House, I would say since maybe 2005? Uh, even as a Concordia student, I was a summer student at the First Peoples’ House because they could- they couldn’t employ anyone. Um, and I already have that connection, I knew Waneek and I knew Courtney and, um, so the alumni from that time, 2005, to even today, they would say the house was just like, i-it's part of their, their story and their journey, you know, during their university life.  

    08:05 Sheetal: Waneek’s name will come up a few times in this piece. She was director of First Peoples’ House, has been a long-standing activist in the Mohawk community, and she went on to become an Olympic athlete.  

    08:17 Allan: It was just kind of like oohf [sound of relief]. My goodness, what happened at the, you know, Faculty of Law, the Faculty of the Education, or, this meeting in the Arts build– you know what I mean? It was something that was really like, oh, I like, I felt like I could like just like relax my shoulders, take a deep breath and feel more at comfort and do the work that I know I have to do, right? I know there's always stresses for meetings, um, but coming back to the, the space like was in some way a little bit of a healing. Didn't completely solve it, but it felt a little bit better.  

    08:50 Sheetal: Now, it may be difficult to imagine needing a safe space on campus, but when you hear next about some of the barriers to Indigenous participation, you may come to see why it’s necessary for such spaces to exist.  

    09:02 Paige: I don't think I realized like how much of a culture shock it was, like I don't think at the time I realized, you know, that I was kind of [laughs] missing the smaller connections, and you know, walking around a community and everyone knowing you, and, um, yeah. I, I think it definitely took a toll on my, on my mental health and things like that, but only, only when I thought about it and realized it after [laughs]. I think, uh, yeah, the friends I made, you know, I was able to like find my little place i-in the city [09:35] and in, in my surroundings while I was there. I think for us there's a lot of barriers to get to university, so I think like, getting to university, getting your degree, it's a huge accomplishment, um. 

    09:47 Sheetal: Could you describe some of those barriers? 

    09:50 Paige: Oh, it could be anything. It could be, you know, depending on where they went to school, access to different opportunities, poverty [laughs], you know. I think residential schools and colonization [laughs] has created many barriers to, you know, created cycles of violence, loss of language, um, you know all of that kind of has an effect on, on individuals, and, and communities, right? And so [inhales], yeah. 

    10:20 Sheetal: Yeah, yeah. 

    10:22 Sheetal: Tanya describes some of her own experiences and challenges. When she was young, she was in the foster care system, and at the same time, she went to college in Alberta. 

    10:34 Tanya: And I started going to college, but my care ran out on my 20th birthday, which just happened to be at the end of November. Um, and then you're just kind of left on your own, like all supports are pulled and you're just left to fend for yourself. And so, I tried to stay in, in, in university, um, but I just couldn't do it like I didn't have– and I really felt like that was a huge failure for so many years until I realized like what a difficult circumstance that actually was. 

    [11:09] Um, and so, and I didn't know, nobody had told me the rules of university, so I didn't know you're supposed to withdraw or do anything like that or that you could ask for help.  Um, and so I just kind of left, like I just didn't go back one day, and so [laughs] my transcript is, is, you know, all fails and things, and things like that, but it was because I didn't even know what the rules were.  

    [11:35] Um, and I just decided then that, well, I guess this isn't feasible for me, like this is not, you know, what's going to happen in my life. And, so I actually went into politics [laughs]. I ran in a provincial election [mouth clicks] when I was 20 years old, and I was running, uh, to advocate for youth and like having a youth voice, and Indigenous voices, and, uh, being a youth recently from care.  

    [12:05] So, I was advocating for issues like that. Um, didn't win, but it did give me an insight, a little bit, into how, uh, politics works and the difference that you can make when you get involved, I think. And so I got really involved in things after that. It was a really heavy time for Indigenous people in Canada. There was a lot of racism, uh, you know. There was a Prime Minister who didn't care about Indigenous issues, and so I decided that I would get involved. 

     12:36 Sheetal: Tanya talks about her experiences getting accepted as a student at McGill, and then talks about some of the challenges of her undergraduate years. This next section describes sensitive issues including colonialism, mental health and suicide.   

    12:51 Tanya: So my entire first year on campus, I was really walking around thinking it was a mistake, that someone eventually was going to tap me on the shoulder and say “sorry, like, you're not supposed to be here”. Like I really struggled with that, for my entire first year of university, just being like, pretty sure I’m not supposed to be here, I'm pretty sure someone somewhere [laughs] made a mistake, but I'm just gonna run with it. And so, my first year I really exhausted myself.  

    [13:20] I took five classes, I was really like trying to prove myself and I really felt like I was representing not just my community, I'm– I think I was like, my cousin and I were the two, um, to go to university in our family like the, the two first ever university students. And I think when you come to school as someone who is Indigenous or from a minority community, you sort of carry the weight of that with you, like trying to represent your entire community and your entire family and prove yourself and, also carrying that as a youth in care, because all my life I was told that, you know, youth in care don't graduate high school, youth in care, um, tend to drop out higher youth in care don't go to university and college. 

    [14:02] Um, and it's the same with Indigenous youth. I always had these stats thrown at me about Indigenous youth as well, um, that they don't finish high school, you know, that they, they usually don't go to university. [Mouth clicks] and so, I just remember there was a lot of pressure my first year to try to prove myself, and by my second year I completely burnt myself out.  

    [14:27] I ended up dropping out, um, the winter semester of my second year because I just couldn't do it anymore and now, you know– and I felt like that was a failure. But now that I'm older and I, you know, my kids are older, I'm like oh my God, I had a literal toddler and, I had two toddlers actually, and was going to school full time, I was involved in all these other things, like no wonder I couldn't handle it. 

    [15:55] Um, and so after that experience, I took school a little bit slower. I [inaudible], I just took, I think 3 classes a semester, um, and I really tried to like, enjoy the experience a bit more. 

    15:13 Tanya: Like there was a lot of times where I wanted to drop out, um, especially in the first year, where I just didn't think I could handle it. Um, and it wasn't so much the school work as it was the environment. Like, um, when we were learning about Indigenous things, like all the students would turn and stare at me or, you know, I was expected to be able to speak on issues, uh, that were kind of related to Indigenous stuff, like it was sort of like, “oh, you're Indigenous, like you should know all these things”, but I didn't.  

    [15:42] I didn't know, um, about a lot of things, uh, including some parts of Indigenous history, because we'd never learned that in school. Um, like the extent of residential schools or this thing called the 60’s scoop, like even though I was and had grown up in care and been a youth in care, nobody had ever named it for me, or had ever said that it was part of a larger system than just myself and my mom who, you know, we were taken away from.  

    [16:14] So, I found it also, too, like, very empowering, um, and also re-traumatizing like there's sort of like this mix of like, it felt good to finally be able to name things like the 60’s scoop or residential schools or see how that connected to my own circumstances. But it was also extremely emotionally draining, and, um, in some ways re-traumatizing, like seeing myself through the eyes of, of education I guess? 

    [16:53] [Mouth clicks] So I remember that being really tough for me and I think I sought counseling. Oh, and then, um, yeah, and then in my first semester of university, my best friend, the one whose dream it was to go to McGill, she committed suicide.  Um, and it was just like, the worst thing that's ever happened to me, even still, like it was just, it was awful, um, [mouth clicks] and I, you know, I had just moved to  

    [17:27] Montreal so I just had my husband and my kids, like I didn't really have anyone to talk to, um, and so I actually came to the school and was like I can't do this anymore, I, I don't know, I don't, I don't wanna live either, like I was like, really devastated. Um, and so they actually brought in the elder that had been part of our orientation week and he, he helped me so much like [cries] and, uh sorry, I’ll always be so  

    [17:57] grateful because[sniffles] suicide is something that happens to us a lot and so– but it had never happened to me, to- in someone that I was close to. And this, um, elder, like he sat with me and he just explained death [crying] and how people, you know, what happens after we die, um, and why people do this. 

    [18:26] And it was just, I remember just feeling such peace afterwards because, his words made so much sense. Um, and I think that's when I realized how important it was to have that kind of a connection. You know, if I was just some random student, like I don't think anyone would have taken the time to, to care for me in that way and I think that's a really beautiful thing about our culture, is that we, we care about each other. 

    [18:55] We care deeply, you know, and we have sort of this shared experience, and so we understand [sniffles] when bad things happen, um, because we've been there before and I think, I think that was, you know, obviously, like a very powerful thing for me, um, and I didn't end up dropping out. [Mouth clicks] I didn't, and, and also my cohort, after I found out, um, we had an exam, and I didn't know that you were allowed to ask for [laughs] a deferral, um, and nobody had, you know, thought to tell me that.  

    [19:32] So, I thought I had to write this exam, and I remember my friend from Kahnawake [cries] – I’m sorry, I didn't know that I was going to cry – invited me to her house to study, and she just looked after me. I just stayed at her house all night long, I couldn't sleep and so I was like pacing her house and she sent her dog to sleep with me and I was like smoking and like petting her dog and I eventually fell asleep and then we went to school, and I wrote the exam the next day and I ended up getting [laughs] like an A.   

    [20:05] Um, but I was so grateful to have these Indigenous friends who were part of my journey and who understood the pressure that we were under and also understood the circumstance that I had just experienced because, I mean[sniffles], yeah, like we've all been there at some point. Um, and just like the compassion that I was treated with, I think it showed me that, um, well I mean first I learned how strong I was [laughs].  

    [20:40] I learned that bad things can happen and you can keep going. And I also learned the importance of supportive relationships [sniffles]. And yeah, I think, I started thinking about it and how important that was and how important it was for other Indigenous students as well. 

     21:05 Sheetal: I asked Tanya whether her friend who had always dreamed of going to McGill ever got to go.  

    21:10 Tanya: She had actually moved to Montreal. So, um, you know I had come here by myself, I had started this life with my boyfriend, and now husband, had babies like almost right away and, um, she came out, but she had a lot of– and it was her dream to go to McGill and she was an amazing student. She was so smart. She was really, really smart.  

    [21:39] Um, but she had a lot of issues, like she had an eating disorder and she had, um– and it’s one of the most hardest, like difficult mental health issues to get help for because there’s a lot of denial and there’s- it’s also really hard to access, um, mental health support in Quebec [laughs] for, for anything. Um, and, yeah, and she just didn’t make it. 

    22:21 Sheetal: As we talk about challenges and barriers to Indigenous participation, in the same breath we must also honour Indigenous excellence. First Peoples’ House has been not just a safe space, but also a place that fosters celebration and the enabling of Indigenous excellence. Let’s hear about some of these programs. 


    22:43 Allan: We have a lot– there's now a library downstairs. There was always a library, I think what it, what it was before, it was just, uh, books were all over and then we kind of put all the books in one place. We bought more, uh, shelves, we actually used an app called, uh, Libby? I think that's what it is, where you can actually, uh, you download this app and you can categorize your whole library to see what you have and if you lend it out.  

    [23:10] And, um, that, that, that's it, so students using the library– I think one of the things that we needed to do though, which I didn't have time- 'cause we were, you know, in, in any job you have a few projects going and there's some that have to take the back burner and the next step of, of that was t-to buy more current books, right? Um, already it's great that the library exists at McGill where there's a lot of great resources, and I know that Nikki and a few other folks would [mumbles] I’ve always said that if you need more Indigenous books, we’ll order, order it, so we never, we've always had this support by the library. 

    [23:43] But we also wanted to just- had to h-have something added in addition to that in house, which would matter for students to have access, which is just important to say “you know what, just go downstairs and take a look what we have”. So, what needs to happen with that, that we need to update, um, they need to update the selection of books that they have.  

    24:00 Sheetal: Would you say that students, Indigenous students use the First Peoples’ House library more than they use th-the McGill libraries as a study space, as a [Allan interjects: “as a study space yes, but they-”] work space  

    24:11 Allan: Yeah, like I would say more for study, for study space and, uh, ‘cause when we had built that, that area downstairs in the basement, you know, it was a wonderful gift to have this beautiful table and these chairs, and then we have put a whiteboard where I would go downstairs like after work or at 5, you know, I would always do my rounds to clean up and tidy or just put things and, and students would use it, right?  

    [24:37] So we sit down and I could see, you know, uh, engineering or math equations on the whiteboard, uh, I could see some books were out 'cause some people would look, and, uh so it was a space that was always used for, um, studying. And it was greatly important because how it was divided was, in the main floor, it got a lot of, it was more busy in terms of like people were talking. So, people prior would then leave the First Peoples’ House to go find sanctuary in, in, in a quiet space, like the library to study.  

    [25:06] But then I think once we were able to revamp the basement when I first came, um, then w-we developed more spaces for quiet spaces. So that improved.  

    25:15 Sheetal: Other programs include Bannock Wednesdays, implemented by Paige, where people can come in on Wednesdays and have a hot bowl of soup and bannock. Paige also talks about High Performance Camp, which was started by former director of First Peoples’ House, Waneek, whom we mentioned before. 

    25:32 Paige: Um, I think it started out with a major focus on health sciences. Um, we kind of opened it up a little bit to other, other fields, but I think it was mainly about, um, sports, athleticism, health sciences. Um, it was um, [audio lags] encouraging First Nations, Inuit and Métis youth across, across, uh, Canada, who were, you know, interested in having that experience, like thinking about going to university, thinking about professional careers, and thinking about what it take- what are the skills necessary to, you know to, to do that.  

    [26:13]And so, it was founded by Waneek and so she, you know, as an Olympian, I think high performance was more of her lingo and so she was focusing on athletes who might not have been the best at school but could kind of, um, use sports as a way to, you know, learn about life skills and think about your career and, and apply those in various ways so it's developing this high performance mentality, I guess?  

    [26:41] For, for me, when I, when I inherited that program and, and continued running it, it was really just like, again, building community between Indigenous youth from, from across the from across Canada and, um and you know, pushing them to reach their goals, really, and introducing them to life [audio lags] the university and so, yeah, it wasn't necessarily high performance as it was just, you know [laughs].  

    [27:06] I don’t know, learning something new, getting out of your community and, and, and still yeah for sure, pushing forward to your goals and getting that support you need. 

    27:13 Sheetal: First Peoples’ House also organizes a graduation ceremony in addition to regular convocation for Indigenous students. 

    27:17 Paige: Yeah, so we would organize a dedicated graduation ceremony for Indigenous students at McGill. Um, we had these stoles or scarves made, um, as, you know, with the different symbols on them and they would wear that at their graduation. It was, you know, a meal and a celebration for graduates and their families.  

    [27:45] And so, right around convocation, we would try to, you know, pick a date that was sort of in the middle of all the convocations so that everyone, m- or most people could attend and, and it was a chance for, yeah. It was just like a nice celebration for graduates and their families to, you know, to get a chance to, have an opportunity to just like, you know, we [audio lags] celebrate their achievements and talk about their experiences, what they learn, what they hope to ach-, you know, do afterwards and, that's it.  

    28:30 Paige: Um, you know, I think it's a, it's a huge achievement to, to convocate from university, graduate with a degree and, and go on into your communities to become, you know, professionals, take on that knowledge and, and support your communities, and so I think it was really important for us to,  you know, to show our appreciation and respect and, and you know h- let students know how proud we were of their, their achievements.  

    [28:57] I think it was really just important for us to [laughs] distinguish them and celebrate them, lift them up and, um, continue to just build those relationships, I think. The graduation dinner became a, an annual thing. I think we, we were even trying to start an alumni, you know, reunion. We had a couple of those before, before, um, I, yeah and I think Allan actually kept up, kept with the alumni reunions.   

    29:26 Tanya: When it was time to like walk down the aisle and, and you know, for graduates- Indigenous graduates, I just started crying and I couldn't stop, like it was like, oh my gosh, like this is [sniffles], this is over now. This sort of, community, and it, like it's a very small community too. Like we all know each other, we all socialize together, we had, you know, been going on these retreats together [sniffles], uh, we'd all been involved in a lot of the same things.  

    [29:57] Um, so I was actually really sad when I graduated because I, it meant saying goodbye and it meant kind of striking out of my own and starting my new life as a university graduate and starting a career, and I think that that was something really really special and a lot of us are still in touch. Like a lot of us, you know, we still hang out, we still go to each other's houses, we still, you know, talk a lot, so I think a lot of those friendships are like, lifelong friendships, and I think that's just such a beautiful thing. 

    30:34 Sheetal: When Tanya was a student, she also accessed services on campus that inspired her to work at Mcgill, particularly at SSMU. 

    30:43 Tanya: So, I went to McGill to get my Bachelor of Social Work degree. I started in the fall of 2008. Um, and at that time I had a 1-year old daughter, 1 ½, and a 3-year-old son, and I was lucky enough to get a spot at the SSMU daycare on campus and so that made a huge difference in my life. 

    [31:11] I was able to come to school with my two kids, they were properly looked after, I got to see them every day on campus. It was just such a blessing and I realized like how important it was to have support on campus for families, um, so that kind of became something I was involved in, like right away just because I had two kids on campus.  

    [31:35] Um, and then I got involved in, uh, like First Peoples’ House and Indigenous issues and, and stuff like that, um, and then sort of towards the middle of my school career, uh, in 2011, um, I got pregnant. I found out that I was having my third child and so it sort of interrupted my university career for a bit. 

    [32:08] Um, but she was actually able– they had just built a nursery at that time. So I was really lucky, I would like, my baby was one of the first babies to go to this nursery that had just been built on campus for babies that were five months and older. And so I was able to continue my schooling and like breastfeed between classes.    

    32:29 Tanya: I was one of their, I think, first Indigenous participants, um, and so I stayed really involved with them after that, like speaking on panels and things like that. I was involved in, uh, speaking about Indigenous issues and advocacy and, uh, family issues. So those were kind of, [laughs] yeah. I don't know how I did it, like I had [laughs] you know, small kids, I had a baby and I was just, I just remember being busy, like all the time.  

    [33:00] If I wasn't busy with school and classes and homework, I was busy with the kids, and I was busy advocating and then I was busy, you know, just doing, um, all of those things, but they've all led me to, to good things and so I'm, I'm glad. But like now that I'm older I'm like, oh my God, like I don't have the energy [laughs] to like finish my work day, like I don't know where I had this energy, but I guess I did. [laughs]. 

    33:43 Sheetal: As always, look to our show notes for additional material, such as timelines, photos, links to archival material and more. Many thanks to our guests Paige Isaac, Allan Vicaire and Tanya Lalonde.   

    33:58 Sheetal: Thank you also to Professor Nathalie Cooke, director of this project at McGill Libraries’ ROAAr team, and to Jacquelyn Sundberg, associate producer.  Our title song called happy sandbox was composed by Mativve and sourced from freesound.org. All composers are listed in our show notes. I’m Sheetal Lodhia, producer for this episode. Thanks for listening! 

    Episode 6 - Meet Jacquelyn

    🔊 Audio icon Listen Now  

    Do you remember the smell of your first library? Jacquelyn Sundberg, the associate producer of Voices From the Footnotes, surely does! In this episode, she shares some childhood library-related anecdotes, what brought her to McGill, and how her love for stories led her to library and archival work.


    Jacquelyn Sundberg when she was about 2 years old.
    Jacquelyn as a young child, with her nose not far from the shag carpet.

    Explore More


    Host & Producer: Sheetal Lodhia

    Production and technical assistance: Jacquelyn Sundberg

    Transcription: Labiba Faiza


    • Jacquelyn Sundberg


    • Title song: Happy Sandbox, by Mativve, sourced from Freesound.org
    • End credits: Happy-music by monkeyman535, Sourced from Freesound.org.

    Episode 7 - Rencontrez Julien

    🔊 Audio icon Listen Now

    Quel est le rôle d’un archiviste à la référence à McGill?

    En écoutant ce balado avec l’archiviste à la référence Julien Couture, vous y découvrirez un travail plein de surprises. Branchez-vous pour des faits amusants tout droit sortis de nos depôts.

    What does a reference archivist at McGill do? Based on this interview with reference archivist Julien Couture, this job is anything but monotonous. Tune in for fun facts from the stacks. – Note – this episode is entirely in French.

    julien sitting at a table in a beer garden with drinks, pretzels, and friends
    Julien à Munich, en Allemagne

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    Animatrice & réalisatrice: Sheetal Lodhia

    Assistance technique: Jacquelyn Sundberg


    • Julien Couture


    • Chanson titulaire: Happy Sandbox, par Mativve, provenant de Freesound.org
    • Chanson finale: Happy-music by monkeyman535, Sourced from Freesound.org.

    Episode 8 - Meet Nathalie

    🔊 Audio icon Listen Now  

    Does your childhood library have a tragic story behind it? Nathalie Cooke’s does. We get to know the professor and associate dean of ROAAr in this episode, where she talks about her first library and her initial experience working with archives.

    Read more about Duncan B.C.'s former Chinatown in this article.


    Host & Producer: Sheetal Lodhia

    Production and technical assistance: Jacquelyn Sundberg

    Transcription: Labiba Faiza


    • Nathalie Cooke


    • Title song: Happy Sandbox, by Mativve, sourced from Freesound.org
    • End credits: Happy-music by monkeyman535, Sourced from Freesound.org.

    Episode 9 - Rencontrez Alexandre

    🔊 Audio icon Listen Now

    En écoutant ce balado avec Alexandre Soucy, vous découvrirez que parmi les employés, archivistes et bibliothécaires œuvrant pour ROAAr se cachent des parcours uniques ayant mené à travailler auprès des collections de l’Université. Pour Alexandre, ce fut d’abord la musique et la littérature .

    By listening to this podcast with Alexandre Soucy, you will discover that the employees, archivists and librarians at ROAAr have unique stories that have brought them to work with collections at McGill. For Alexandre, his journey so far was paved with music and literature. – Note this episode is entirely in French.


    Explorez | Explore More


    Animatrice & réalisatrice: Sheetal Lodhia

    Assistance technique: Jacquelyn Sundberg


    • Alexandre Soucy


    • Chanson titulaire: Happy Sandbox, par Mativve, provenant de Freesound.org
    • Chanson finale: End credits: Happy-music by monkeyman535, Freesound.org

    Episode 10 - Meet Leah

    🔊 Audio icon Listen Now 

    Singing in the stacks! In this episode, we meet Leah Weitzner, a former student staff member at ROAAr, and a talented singer. With a fascination for performance practice and an interest in music from between 1500 to 1700, Leah brought her skills, curiosity, and enthusiasm to ROAAr for the past three years. 

    Read more about Saints Alive, when Leah sang from a 500-year-old manuscript with a group of other McGill singers.



    Host & Producer: Sheetal Lodhia

    Associate Producer and Technical Assistance: Jacquelyn Sundberg

    Transcription: Labiba Faiza


    • Leah Weitzner


    • Title song: Happy Sandbox, by Mativve, sourced from Freesound.org
    • End credits: Happy-music by monkeyman535, Sourced from Freesound.org.

    Episode 11 - Generations: Part 1

    🔊 Audio icon Listen Now - First Half  🔊 Audio icon Listen now Second Half 

    What has changed since the 1940s for Black students and staff at McGill? In this episode, we talk with Beryl Dickinson-Dash (now Rapier) and two pairs of fathers and daughters who were students, faculty, or staff – or all of the above – at McGill. Hear about a lot of firsts and the unique challenges faced by Black students and staff in the first half of this two-part episode.

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    Photos of Beryl Dickinson-Dash and John Carlos, Tommie Smith, Peter Norman 1968.
    Left to right: Beryl Dickinson-Dash, news clipping from McGill Winter Carnival Scrapbook, 1949, MUA 0000-1898-1027C, Beryl Rapier Yearbook photo, 1949 (McGill University Yearbooks, Old McGill 1949), John Carlos, Tommie Smith, Peter Norman 1968 (Angelo Cozzi (Mondadori Publishers), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons).

    Further Reading


    Host & Producer: Sheetal Lodhia

    Production and technical assistance: Jacquelyn Sundberg

    Transcription: Labiba Faiza

    Research Assistance: Michelle Macleod


    • Beryl Rapier
    • Bradley Rapier
    • Prof. Emeritus Glyne Piggott
    • Adrienne Piggott
    • Ron Williams
    • Brittany Williams


    • Title song: Happy Sandbox, by Mativve, sourced from Freesound.org, CC BY 3.0
    • Transitions: Horn lilt 2 by contextcollapse, Sombre Piano by Luckylittleraven, Happy and Groovy by Tyops, all sourced from Freesound.org, CC BY 3.0
    • End credits: Happy-music, by monkeyman355, CC BY 3.0

    Full Transcript

    5 Generations in 80 years:

    Black Perspectives at McGill, from the 1940s to the 2020s

    PART 1

    Beryl – Beryl Dickinson-Dash (Now Beryl Rapier) 

    Bradley – Bradley Rapier 

    Ron – Ron Williams 

    Brittany – Brittany Williams 

    Glyne – Glyne Piggott 

    Adrienne – Adrienne Piggott 

    Sheetal – Sheetal Lodhia (interviewer/host) 

    First Half 

    00:02 Sheetal: Welcome to Voices from the Footnotes, a podcast series presented by the McGill University Libraries’ ROAAr team. Each episode we will explore some of the hidden histories at McGill, looking at places, people and artifacts. The library collections are rich and interesting, but this series flows from the silences also present. It is our desire to gather stories and share them. It is our goal is to highlight voices who have often been overlooked in histories and in archives.   

    [00:34] I am today’s host, Sheetal Lodhia.   

    [00:40] Before we begin today’s episode, we acknowledge that McGill University is situated on the traditional territory of the Kanien’kehà:ka, a place which has long served as a site of meeting and exchange amongst nations. We recognize and respect the Kanien’kehà:ka as the traditional custodians of the lands and waters on which we meet today. 

    Episode Intro  

    01:02 Sheetal: In today’s episode, we cover a rather large stretch of history—from the 1940s to the 2020s—hearing from 5 generations of Black students and staff at McGill. We hear from Beryl Dickinson-Dash (now Beryl Rapier), McGill’s first Black Carnival Queen, and then from two pairs of fathers and daughters who were students, faculty, or staff—or all of the above—at McGill.  

    [01:30] You’ll also get a small snapshot of Montreal through the years—many of our guests are Montrealers. You’ll hear about a lot of firsts and about unique challenges faced by Black students and staff. And this piece only just begins to tell the stories that deserve a place in our archives.   

    Beryl and Montreal in the 30s and 40s 

    01:51 Beryl: And I am Beryl Rapier. Uh, what more do you want to know? [laughs] I’m 92 years old, and I live in Las Vegas. I’m fortunate to still be here, all my peers are dropping off. 

    02:09 Sheetal: Beryl Rapier, her married name, was once Beryl Dickinson-Dash, a student at McGill. We were fortunate to speak with her and her son, Bradley, who arranged the Zoom meetup. Beryl became a sensation, both in Canada and the US, because she was—in 1949—McGill’s first Black Carnival Queen.  

    [02:33] We hope to have an episode dedicated exclusively to the Carnival Queen tradition at McGill. There is in fact a great CBC Radio piece with Beryl on her Carnival Queen experience. We will provide links to this in the show notes. But getting back to this episode, we spoke with Beryl about her experiences as a Black student at McGill and what it was like growing up in Montreal in the 1930s and 1940s. 

    03:01 Beryl: I grew up in a French neighborhood called Saint-Henri, well it was a French name, but it was Saint-Henri. And, um, there were just, uh, three Black families, really. Um, uh, my godmother lived on one street, my mother’s good friend.  

    [03:18] And I went to Catholic school. I went to, um, St. Thomas Aquinas. And, uh, we didn’t have middle school we just went elementary and then to high school. And then I went to D’Arcy McGee, and, um, I did my high school years there. And then I did a, uh, one year after high school at Marianopolis College, before I went to McGill, yeah. 

    [03:45] And, so, um, the, you know, where I, like I said, I was in a—we were in a French neighbourhood. So we, I kind of spoke French a little bit then, learning French with the kids, didn’t know how it was written but, you know, got your, just, just playing with children and, um, and that was it. And then when I went to, uh, like I said, when I went to McGill, I met my husband and we got married and, um, then went to Scotland  

    04:18 Sheetal: Bradley, Beryl’s son, will often prompt his mom during the interview to have her recount particular stories. 

    04:22 Bradley: Mom, tell them a bit more about those, about when you were growing up, those- the times you had and, like, it’s—[to Sheetal] she would, she’s told me so many stories of when, [Sheetal laughs] remind like, like just even when you were, uh, you know, just different time, like, you didn’t try to date someone or you had to take the bus and you cou-  you had curfews, and all those things. 

    04:37 Beryl: Oh, well, yeah, well, well we did. Uh, well, we were, we weren’t loose like you kids are now. I mean, we had to—[laughs] no, I mean really, we had to find a way home. I used to say to my m—my mother she used to give me a curfew [if] I was going to a party and I’d say, “but by the time I get there, I’ll only be there maybe a half—” 

    [04:54] “Well, that’s your problem. You have to be home by 10, or 11,” or whatever the curfew was at that time. But nobody had a car, I mean, I didn’t grow up with a car. I grew up with the streetcar and the bus and so, I mean, times were really different. Everybody knew nearly everybody that you visited, sort of. I didn’t go to anybody’s home that my mother didn’t know and, um, and everybody was like that, so it was— 

    [05:22] we had a small kind of community that was like friends, but more like family, and uh,  because that’s what it was. And as I said because I was in a French neighborhood, there weren’t, there weren’t many English speaking [people] in the, in the area so we just gravitated to the people who spoke our language. Um, like I said, I learned to speak French playing with kids, but it wasn’t proper French, I couldn’t even tell you how to spell the words,  

    [05:47] but, um, [laughs softly] but you know, that was it. And everybody walked to school and, uh, or took the streetcar home, you know, that’s how it was. And we went to the same church and, um, that was another gathering where I met different people. In fact, his [referring to Bradley] best friend’s mother, that’s how I became friends with her, from going to church and school like that, but that’s how you became friends. It was, I mean, it was so different, the dark ages. 

    06:15 Sheetal: Beryl shares with us that most of her friends and family came from meeting with other anglophones in her neighbourhood, or else fellow Black community members through her churches, where they had a close-knit group. 

    06:28 Beryl: It was the Union United Church, and, uh, it was, with the Black minister, and that’s where we went. I did go to two churches because we were brought up Catholic and I went to mass first and then went to this church, which the nuns didn’t like that, but I didn’t care. 

    [06:44] I did it anyway [laughs] because that’s where my friends were. And, um, but I would get in trouble nearly every Monday morning. They’d say, “oh, I understand you’re [indistinct] Sunday school over here.” I said, “well that’s not a bad thing!” [speaking as a nun] “Well, you’re not supposed to be doing that,” but I did it anyway. 

    [07:02] But, however, so, but that’s with the times, you know, that was our only really, um, even dances we had in the church, in the church basement, and you know, people—even the same Oscar Peterson, who became famous,  [Sheetal: Yes!] he started, he started there and his sister taught music lessons, you know. So, the community was small, you practically knew everybody, you know what I mean?  Everybody kind of, you know, [indistinct] “oh, that a dash kid” or “that’s a so and so kid.”  

    [07:29] So, that’s how it was, you know— 

    07:36 Bradley: And you were the oldest? You have to tell, tell what you— 

    07:39 Beryl: Oh, yeah. Well, I'm the oldest of four.

    07:41 Sheetal: As Bradley and Beryl mention, she is the oldest of four children. She told us that her mother was an only child, and didn’t want her children to grow up lonely like she did. When Beryl went to CEGEP, she went to Marionopolis College, which at that time was still a Catholic College.   

    07:53 Beryl: Well, it was a Catholic, [Sheetal: Mm-hmm] Catholic college and, um, nuns taught. There were nun- nuns and, uh, there were, um, lay- laypeople too, but they're mostly nuns. Um, w-well, actually I liked, I liked it there because it’s more individual, um, you know, but, um, I thought I needed to get somewhere where I can meet some guys or something because it was all women [Sheetal and Beryl laugh]. But, uh, yeah so I went from there then, yeah. It, um, and most of the schools were not, most of the schools   

    [08:30] I went to weren’t mixed anyway. There were all-girls schools, there were all-boys school, yeah. And even my high school was only girls, girls’ school—and the boys, and they didn’t even keep the boys, we didn’t go, we couldn’t even go to recess at the same time, [Sheetal: Oh!] we would, yeah. They kept the boys at a different time than us. It’s crazy, right?  

    [08:52] [Mumbles] Where was I? Completely different building, yeah, and separated the gate, uh, you know, the fence. It was quite different, we didn’t, I didn’t ever went to a mixed school [Sheetal: Okay] except University, [Sheetal: Till university]. Not until the university, you’re right. 

    [09:12] Well, I mean you didn’t, I mean everybody did the same, so we, nobody thought anything about it, you know. Even the Protestants, I mean, it wasn’t only the Catholics that did it, all the schools were like that. They, they were separated until you got up to maybe grade 12 or, you know, the Protestant schools were together, boys and girls. 

    09:32 Sheetal: It was at Marianopolis where Beryl first thought to apply to McGill.  

    09:38 Beryl: Oh, at Marianopolis I thought about it, yeah, yeah, I thought about it. I thought if I could be accepted, I’d like to go there, although it was more expen—I went to Marinapolis College because money-wise, you know, it was more, it was cheaper than going to McGill. And, um, my mother was an enterprising woman [laughs] because we didn’t have the money, and she went to the purser when we walked in, 

    [10:01] “I’m gonna pay you in three installments,” he was so shocked he didn’t even know what to say [clap] and, uh, because she didn’t have the fees to pay right up-front [laughs], and so that’s how I got there. 

    [10:13] And, um, at that time too, you know, there was a quota. So then they took so many from out of town, so many out of the town students, and so many local Canadian students as well, so yeah, so that’s how that kind of went, yeah, yeah, yeah. 

    10:34 Sheetal: When Beryl speaks of a quota, she means a quota of Black students, most of whom came from out of town. Out of a total student population of 8500 at McGill, there were only 150 Black students. Jim Crow laws in the US, which enforced a racial segregation, were never formally present in Canada and in Montreal. However, Black people, like Beryl’s father, held working-class jobs and lived only in particular neighbourhoods like Saint-Henri.  

    Intro to Fathers and Daughters 

    11:20 Sheetal: Beryl is kind of our grandmother figure in this piece, and the rest of our guests comprise two father-daughter pairs. We’ll go chronologically, beginning with Professor Emeritus Glyne Piggott and his daughter Adrienne Piggott who was both a student and is now a staff member at McGill.  

    11:32 Glyne: Well, my, my first name is Glyne and my last name is Piggott. Glyne Piggott. And, uh, what would you like to know? I was born in Barbados, uh, 70, 79 years ago. Uh, so I’ll soon be fourscore. Uh, uh, just a few months from now, I’ll be fourscore. Uh, I was educated in Jamaica. I went to the University of the West Indies for my undergraduate degree.   

    [12:03] And then I went to the University of Toronto for two graduate degrees, in Linguistics. Those are my—um, then I taught at the University of Western Ontario for, a year? In the Department of Anthropology. Why anthropology? Well, because I worked on Indigenous Studies. 

    [12:31] Uh, I worked on Ojibwe. Uh, that qualified me for teaching in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Western Ontario. So I taught there for one year, and then I came to McGill in 1973. 

    12:49 Adrienne: So, my name is Adrienne Piggott. Um, I’ve been a McGillian my entire life. I arrived on campus at 8 months old and pretty much never left. Um, I was raised in Montreal, uh, and have lived in the Montreal area my whole life. Um, I’m from a family of McGillians, so everyone in my family is a McGillian, with the exception of my boyfriend. Um, what else about me?   

    [13:20] Uh, I studied computer science and translation. Um, I’m currently employed at McGill as, uh, the Senior Advisor for Procurement and as the Co-chair for the Subcommittee for Racialized Ethnic Persons, and this past summer I was elected as Governor for Administrative and Support Staff. 

    13:37 Sheetal: Our next father-daughter pair is Ron Williams and Brittany Williams. Like Adrienne, Brittany was first a student and is now also a staff member at McGill.  

    13:48 Ron: Uh, Ron Williams, uh, class of 90, McGill, Bachelor's in Science, uh, major in Psychology. 

    14:00 Brittany: Yeah. Um, so yeah, my name is Brittany Williams, Brittany. Um, and I, for right now, am the acting Assistant Dean of Admissions and Recruitment at McGill’s Faculty of Law, um, which still feels very surreal to say, uh, because I graduated from the Faculty of Law two years ago, not even officially two years ago [laughs softly]. Um, I like to joke with like the ink’s not even dry on my degrees yet, um, and somehow, I’m ending up kind of on the other side of things. 

    Life in Montreal Continues 

    14:31 Sheetal: From Professor Piggott to Adrienne, to Ron and Brittany, we have snapshots of Montreal and McGill from the 70s, 80s, 90s and 2000s, until now. Unlike the rest of our interviewees, Professor Piggott moved to Montreal as an adult early in his career. His parents in Barbados were laborers and later immigrated to the US.   

    [14:58] Professor Piggott moved to Montreal after completing his PhD at the University of Toronto and after working at the University of Western Ontario. He arrived during the rise of Quebec nationalism, about a decade after the Quiet Revolution. 

    15:14 Glyne: So when I came, Quebec was, at the stirring of this nationalism was right there, and it reminded me a lot of the, of the initial phases when, uh, nationalism in Jamaica and in Barbados, when the independence movement that was sweeping the British, British Empire at the time. So I had an understanding and some empathy, 

    [15:45] uh, with the movement, uh, as it, as it developed in, in Montreal. Um, I didn’t know much about Quebec, but Montreal I knew. I, of course later, I, because I traveled a lot in Northern Quebec and Central Quebec, I got to know more of the community in Northern, Central Quebec, but initially, uh, I was, I had some understanding of the movement that was taking place in the 70s.  

    [16:18] Uh, um, I wasn’t here for the crisis in [indistinct], but I was here when the, when the Parti Québécois won the election in 1976. I was here for the referendum. Uh, uh, look, I had some understanding and some sympathy for the [movement]. I never engaged politically, but I did understand the movement. 

    16:46 Sheetal: How did people treat you differently in your sort of day-to-day home life compared with your McGill life, for example? 

    16:56 Glyne: Well, look, I think we, Black people everywhere, uh, experience forms of microaggression and, uh, people here, I, I experienced that, there’s no doubt about that. I experienced it at McGill, I experienced it in the community in Montreal. I, I was, uh, um, I, I was shielded somewhat, being an academic, and my own family was shielded a bit, being an academic,  

    [17:30] because we, the commun- the circle, then the social circle that we sort of moved around in was, was largely composed of fellow academics and professional people. That provided us with some insulation and we lived in communities that were largely, uh, not, uh, s- not the communities there that were predominantly Black. We lived first on Nun’s Island when we,  

    [17:58] that was fundamentally, that was certainly not Black when we lived there, we lived on Nun’s Island. Uh, uh, then we lived in, on the South Shore and, and we m-moved to a largely Québécois community. My neighbors were all Québécois, we interacted with them, we, but, uh, I, I experienced the same kind of microaggression. 

    [18:30] Sometimes you have to stand up for, but, ignore, ignorance sometimes, but sometimes you can’t ignore it. Uh, it’s a fact of Black life, that uh, in White communities, that, uh, regardless of who you are, no, no one recognizes you until you say, “well, I am—” and you, suddenly, there’s a slight change in attitude, because for some reason, being an academic, being a professor,  

    [19:00] uh, it brings out [laughs softly] some [indistinct] what you might, what you expect people would always have, that is this sense of, uh, humanity that would treat you, everyone with dignity and respect, but, uh, we were, we were shielded to some extent by [indistinct], or the environment. 

    19:20 Sheetal: Both Professor Piggott and Ron Williams’ family come from the West Indies, in fact. But Ron’s experience of Montreal was somewhat different, being born and growing up in Montreal, like Beryl. Ron’s parents were not well-off but were educated, they were teachers.  

    19:39 Ron: Um, I would say we, we had several different waves, if you will. Uh, because when I think of it, um, we were fr-, well, we were born in Montreal. My parents were immigrants from Trinidad, um, so we were first generation, if you will. Neither of them obviously spoke French when they came here. Um, so we grew up and, um, we grew up partly in, in, um, a lot in LaSalle, 

    [20:02] uh, a little bit of Montreal, but then a lot of formative years, if you want to call it that, in LaSalle. And, um, you know, by, by no means were we, um, you know, uh, well to do or anything even close to that. You know, it was tough. It was tough. And at one point my parents did get divorced, so it just turned a tough situation a little bit tougher, at, as it were. But, you know, um, we ended up actually later on moving from La Salle—and my mom was a teacher, 

    [20:31] so that, that runs in the family, we have a lot of teachers and professors in our family, and, um, she ended up, uh, moving us to the South Shore, in Brossard, which was like night and day when we look at, um, when we compare them to LaSalle. And when I, when we, when we moved there I actually, I mean, you know, the whole, a lot of the South Shore was like, you know, your parking lots were like, your driveway was like rocks, [laughs] 'cause it was very very new. And it was 76, the year of the Olympics, when we moved there. 

    [21:00] Uh, and I remember moving—so while we went to high school, we got bused to a high school in Greenfield Park, you know, so you, we did have other Black students. Where we were living, not so much. A lot of French, uh, a lot of Greek students and a lot of Armenian students in that area. Um, a lot of families in that area as well. Uh, but I remember we, and, but we went to, um, elementary school and one of the schools we went to was one my mum taught at, which was in Westmount. 

    [21:30] That was an [laughs] out, out, that was like an out-of-body experience. You know, [sighs] the kids, uh, many of them were not nice, they were not nice, a lot of them were not nice. They just, they did not have—the only people that they saw that look like us were maids and butlers and, and I kid you not. ‘Cause I—some of them who were, you know, nice enough to kind of, uh, hold out their hands, I, I went to some of their houses, and they actually did have maids and butlers, Black maids and butlers, and that’s, that.  

    [21:57] and The Jeffersons was basically the extent of their knowledge in terms of, like, knowing someone like that. Um, so, that was tough, and I remember, um, you know, um, since my mum taught at the school, so very often we would actually stay after school ‘cause she was finishing some of her stuff for school and so on and so forth. So, we took some time, we took, uh, piano lessons and things of that, that nature. We’d stay at school, get our homework done.  

    22:21 Sheetal: Through Ron’s mother, he and his sister had a well-rounded education, but it was not easy in Montreal, and their family had to endure their share of micro aggressions and larger threats. 

    22:33 Ron: Um, and there were times where, like, I even remember my, my sisters actually had to run and lock themselves—‘cause my mom used to keep her car door open, it was a yellow Volkswagen Beetle and, [laughs] clutch, thank you very much. She, she knew how to work her clutch. And, um, so she used to keep her car open in the days and I remember there were, there’s a couple times where they had to actually run and, and actually locked themselves into my mom’s car 

    [23:00] ‘cause kids were chasing after her and then she’d tell somebody, “go get my brother” kind of a thing. 


    Second Half 

    00:00 Ron: So I’d come and kind of save her from the angry mobs kind of thing. So we, so we, we went through that. We, we went through that and, you know, sadly, be-, you know, ‘cause there were racial issues back then and, um, but, you know, um, here we are. So, we’ve, so we, we, we’ve seen some things. Um, add it to the fact that, uh, my mom also was a school principal, eventually went on to be a school principal, and her French was, 

    [00:26] ‘cause she never learned it at school, obviously, she only started learning when she got here. And I remember I, I thought she was so brave, I remember, I think it must have been in the late 80s, I believe it was, when she actually went, I think it was Rimouski or Trois-Rivières, for a summer and took herself to learn French. So, she actually, uh, boarded with a French family there, uh, for a few months to get her French better, to learn better French, so, which was a shock [laughs]. And there was no English, 

    [00:57] even the movies, she went to French movies [indistinct], so she got a lot better in French as a result, you know, and it, and it helped her with her with her French, as it were.  

    01:04 Sheetal: Ron’s parents were heavily involved in the civil rights movement in Montreal, as were some of his relatives, including his father, who completed a PhD and then moved to the US to contribute and to teach there. Like Beryl, who was surrounded by notable Black figures, Ron met Black activists, athletes and academics through his parents when he was growing up. 

    01:27 Ron: Both, uh, both my, my dad, and, and, a lot of members of my family also, were also very much involved in the civil rights struggle, both here in Montreal and, um, and also in the US. So, a lot of those historical figures, we, we’ve actually met some of them, you know what I mean? [Sheetal: Mm-hmm] Which was, which was quite—and some of them, they have been to our house. And, you know, people that, people will say, “who is this?” And like, like Patrice Muhleman [sp?], uh, you know, Miriam Mekeba and her husband, Stokely Carmichael, and people like that, uh,

    [02:00] so we got to meet them. And I’ve even, even met John Carlos. Uh, but I don’t know, do you know who John Carlos is? 

    02:05 Sheetal: I don’t. 

    02:07 Ron: Okay. Have you ever, uh, you may have seen it in the, it was the 68 Olympics. There were two American runners that came gold and silver and then raised their fists in the Black power symbol [Sheetal: Yeah] and Black love. Number one was Tommie Smith, [Sheetal: Right] he got the gold medal. Um, and alongside him with his teammate, uh, John Carlos, who got the silver [Sheetal: Oh]. They did that, they got stripped off their medals, and were basically designated persona non grata in the US.  

    [02:37] And, he couldn’t even imagine, he got silver medal in the Olympics in 100-meter run, couldn’t even get a job as a gym teacher [Sheetal: Hmm] in the US as a result, getting blackballed for that. He ended up coming to Montreal, actually, at one point, he played for, a bit for the Alouettes, and during that time frame, that’s when he, he met my parents and my dad and so on and so forth. 

    [02:56] So, you know, uh, you know, my dad especially also very much involved, like I said, the civil rights and so on and so forth. And, uh, some of my, uh, relatives here as well, um, very much involved in that as well. And, you may have heard of the, the occupation of, uh, in Con- at Concordia, in the computer room. So, you know, uh, my dad was there, my uncle was, his, my uncle, his brother was there too as well, and a number of the people, so, you know, very much one of those things that were always part of our family and just, you just knew.  

    [03:38] Um, so we used to spend a lot of time in the US as well, 'cause we spent time with him down there. And, um, so you, you got to see another side from Canada. Uh, you know, you got to see the US, what was going on down there, as well. And, you know, and it was a very different context, because, um, here, for the most part, they’d only say things about you once you left the room. There, it was very in your face, the racism was very much, they were not shy, 

    [03:56] you know, to the point where like, you know, we, we, there, when we used to drive, we’d kind of dri- try and drive during the day, and not drive at night, when we went to the States.  Even when you go any- any farther South than, let’s say, Maryland, they would, like, you know, you’re driving the day and you pull over at night. If you’ve gotta go through like Georgia and stuff like that, forget it, that’s not happening, not in, not after sundown, ‘cause, you know, there was, all kinds of things happened and so on and so forth. And, we know people who’ve that’s happened to and so on. 

    04:25 Sheetal: You’ll remember that Beryl described the Black community as close-knit, for geographical reasons and because there were not as many Black people in Montreal. Even though Beryl’s parents weren’t “activists” they were involved in the Black Community and in helping fellow immigrants.  

    04:43 Beryl: So, it, that was always close-knit, and my mother was a very powerful speaker of her own. I mean, and she, every club she joined, she became the president. So, um, she was always involved with something. So, that’s, that’s how we got involved as well. And, um, and my father as well, he was, he worked on the railroad, but he became a union man helping  

    [05:09] underprivileged people. So, that was, you know, my life. That’s how it went, you know .  

    McGill in the Past 

    05:29 Sheetal: Each of our interviewees had a unique path to McGill. Beryl described a quota system for Black students at McGill. But on a day-to-day basis, in the mid-1940s, what that meant was that Beryl didn’t actually see very many Black students. Her community and sense of belonging came from elsewhere. This is what her routine was like: 

    05:50 Beryl: Well, I, I got up and took maybe three buses to get to school, and I had to walk up a hill to get to McGill, and took a lunch and, um, and you know, that’s the time when it, um, you know, Blacks weren’t, uh, just allowed any old where, so we always met in groups, had our lunch together and stuff like that, you know, we weren’t, 

    [06:20] yeah, we weren’t accepted. It was, it was sort of, what, what can I say, subtle, you, but you knew it was there, you know. It, it wasn’t like America per se and like I think America, you knew Blacks didn’t go here or there; there were certain places we knew we weren’t really accepted, but they didn’t really come out and say it, but, you know, you could sit there for hours and not be served or something like that. 

    [06:48] But, um, so it was different, it, it was really different and none of us pushed our way because we knew about it, you know, we all sort of kept together. And that’s why, I say, why I went, um, why I went  [trails off] why I went to the Black church, because I met, you know, other people, because at school there was no, um— 

    [07:17] Well, you never went to other people’s houses, you know, like how kids do now. You’re, you, it, it wasn’t done, it wasn’t done. So, you were, you made your own friendships and you went to school and did your stuff and did just, you know, you, you kept your place. You’d try to get a job, you knew why you didn’t get it, and things like that in the summer, you know, stuff like that. So that, that, that’s how it was. I mean, it’s a bloody long time and it seem like it hasn’t changed. 

    [07:47] So, um, everybody [indistinct] “Oh, it’s not like that.” I said, “no, you know, it’s, it’s still there.” I mean, [Sheetal: Yeah] maybe not as obvious, but it’s still there, you know. But, I mean, like, we knew it was there, so we just, you know, we just kept, we had our own groups that we kept together and then, like I said, at McGill there was about 6 or 8 of us. There were a couple of guys that were from South Africa, and I can think of a couple from some other places, and 

    [08:18] they kept with us. But, um—because that’s what it was.  

    08:23 Sheetal: I asked Beryl where she would sit in class and what kind of a student she was. 

    [08:26] Beryl: Well, you know, I found the classes were so big! [Sheetal: Yeah] So huge! Uh, I, it’s so funny when I, when this, um, competition stuff was going on, I had two Jewish guys who were in the same economics class as me, and they kept saying to me, “you need to come in late, you know, and not go all the way to the back. You need to come in late and walk right up to the front.” [Bradley: Make a commotion!]  

    [08:54] I said I’m not doing that and [the Jewish guys said] “yes, you gotta promote yourself, you gotta do that,” [laughs] and so, because I used to just kind of always be on time and just get in and sit in my seat, you know what I mean? Don’t make any waves. But anyway, I did that a couple of times, and of course, the professor called me out and he [one of the Jewish guys] said, “I told you, everybody knows who you are now.” [laughs] So, it, it, kind of worked. But, uh, no, I, I, we kept to ourselves, really. I mean, I just, uh, did my class, got my, 

    [09:24] you know, went home, did my stuff, and that’s how I was. I didn’t live close to the university. I mean, I had to take two transportation to get there, so, um, so that’s what I did. Walked home most times in, in the springtime more than the winter. 

    09:41 Bradley: And you loved math! Well you, the subjects you loved— 

    09:43 Beryl: Well, I, I, I—yeah, I did love math, I did math, I did love math. I didn’t love writing things, I never liked English projects and writing stories because, I, it’s always their opinion. I mean, if you, if they didn’t think you got the same thing from the same thing you read or what-, you know, “well that was not the point,” well, I don’t know, I got my own point, you know?  So, I always liked math because it’s a true thing, 2 and 2 is always 4, 

    [10:14] you can’t change it. Whereas people give you a point, a point about sociology or a book you’ve read or what you got from it, you know, so—I mean, I, you know, I still had to do it because you had to have certain subjects you had to take, but, um, yeah. No, I, but everything in my life I find was a great experience. 

    10:34 Sheetal: That’s Bradley again, Beryl’s son. And by the way, when Beryl refers to a competition, she’s talking about the Carnival Queen competition, in which she was the first Black Queen in 1949. But Beryl's love of math meant that she actually wanted to be an engineer. 

    10:53 Beryl: Yeah, and I, well, you know, I knew, I knew it was hard, um, for my par- for my parents to get money together, get me this, to go there, period. And, so I didn’t wanna fool around, no, no, yeah, yeah.  

    11:09 Bradley: But mum didn’t you want to, didn’t you say you wanted to be a certain, you were, you were hoping if you could have been a— 

    11:13 Beryl: Well, yeah. I, you know, at one time I used to say, “I’d like to really be an engineer.” 

    11:18 Sheetal: Ohh. 

    11:19 Beryl: And, you know, no, women weren’t, no, you’d just be a teacher or—you know, and I’m so, it’s so weird to me now how life is, you can, women can be whatever they want. I mean, [indistinct] it’s taken a long time, but yeah, there were certain, [noise] certain, uh, classes you couldn’t apply for. You, they weren’t going to let you go in there. Because I loved math and I thought, “oh, I probably would be an engineer or architect or something like that,” 

    [11:50] but knowing, well, you’ll be a teacher or a social worker or something like, you know, that was the deal. Is it like that now?  

    11:56 Sheetal: And, I had to admit to Beryl that it is, in fact, still like that now with low percentages of women in Engineering, ranging from about 12 to 22 percent. As we jump forward in time to the 70s and 80s, I asked Ron and Professor Piggott whether there were many Black students and faculty at McGill. 

    12:20 Ron: There were not, there were not many. I, uh, if they, if there were, you, you’d know their names. Even in the larger classes, there were not many at all. In, in scien- in the science, yes, because there just, there just weren’t a lot, th-there, there just weren’t a lot, um, there were so few. Now, in the, in the broader sense, you know, you, you knew some people, plus if you did other activities, you know, um, you can get to like some of the other, like the Black Students’ Association.  

    [12:50] You know, you knew them from that, plus, you know, I was involved in other things outside of McGill as well. So, you know, you, you, you know these people from there, so you do have that connection already before you even got to McGill. But, uh, there weren’t, there weren’t a whole lot.  

    13:03 Sheetal: Did your, did your friends know about, um, your parents’ activism and their role in, in the Black community? 

    13:13 Ron: Mm-hmm, yeah. It was something, it was one of those things that, you know, I, with them I could speak openly of it and so on and so forth. So, yeah, absolutely. 

    13:20 Sheetal: And, how were, how did they react to that? What were some of the, you know, were they supportive? 

    13:26 Ron: Yeah, and they had questions, ‘cause that was not their reality. ‘Cause when I, when I think about it, uh, one was, he was Polish and the other two were Italian, so that was not their reality at all. 

    13:40 Sheetal: I asked Ron what sort of questions he would get from his peers, and how they would react to his recognition and naming of racism 

    13:50 Ron: Uh, you know, they, they’d ask, like, “okay, so, you know, tell us how, you know, the fact that you—” ‘cause I talked to them, like, about, you know, what was going on, and so, things would happen and it’s like, [his friends would say] “well, but that doesn’t happen to us,” like, you know, so then I’d say, “well, yes. You know what? The difference is, is that, you know, um, you’re not perceived before you even hit the door. They can see me coming from a mile away. They, they don’t know anything about you, you know what I mean?” So, um, but they’re, you know, they were, they were supportive and,  

    [14:21] and they got it, and they got it because they, they saw some things as well, you know what I mean? So, they, they, they weren’t, they weren’t oblivious, that’s for sure. I mean, I had, like I said, I had some friends, but I couldn’t say that kind of, this is, this is my space and, and, and I feel like I belong here, I couldn’t say that. I, I did feel kind of like from, an outsider a bit. So, um, absolutely, I felt more at home, even despite the friends, I felt more at home outside of McGill, to be quite frank. 

    14:50 Sheetal: The idea of feeling at home in a space, or feeling safe in a space, will come up repeatedly with our interviewees. And some of what we will hear is hopeful. However, some of what we will hear is sobering. Professor Piggott began in the department of Linguistics and then went on to become the first Black Associate Dean of Arts. He was the only Associate Dean at McGill at that time, which makes his accomplishment all the more important, and also explains why he had so much on his plate.  At that time, there weren’t multiple associate deans as there are now. Note that some of the subsequent audio is a bit patchy in some parts, chalk it up to the side effect of working remotely. 

    15:35 Glyne: Well, when I came, uh, my department was very small. Uh, the Linguistics Department was started I think in 1967, I think? So, uh, so when I came it was just barely six years old. So, to a large extent, I helped to build the department. I think it is, um, I came, there were, this group of about six of us were—and now, you couldn’t recognize the department, it’s large now, it’s, uh, fif- twenty people, or so. 


    [16:10] It was very small [indistinct] [laughs]. So, I introduced, uh, course- several of the courses that were, that formed the core of the Linguistics program. I started, perhaps stupidly, because you spread yourself too thin sometimes because you’re con- people convince you that you can do a lot so,  

    [16:33] so I introduced courses in, in many of the core areas. I, other people were not as generous with their time [Sheetal laughs]. I [indistinct] a great deal of my time. 

    16:48 Sheetal: Do you think that some of that, you know, we, we talk these days about, um, the, the additional labor that Black and racialized professors have to, to take, and women professors, do you think that was part of it? 

    17:00 Glyne: Of course! And a lot—not because, no, some of it I admit I took on willingly. Uh, uh, but I think that, uh, the, some of the extra departmental, uh, responsibilities, that I took on largely, because of the need for a non-white face. And r-remember, at McGill in 19- 1970s, there, there were not that many Black professors. 

    17:35 Sheetal: [laughs] There still aren’t. 

    17:36 Glyne: And there still aren’t many Black professors. In fact I’ve, sometimes, at one point, I think a few years ago, I thought we had regressed. I actually said that I thought we had actually regressed, because I thought there were more when I came. And in that period out there, mid-70s or so, there were, there were Black faces around, Black professors [audio glitches] in the English Department. 

    18:09 Sheetal: Yeah. 

    18:11 Glyne: But [indistinct] they weren’t replaced [audio glitches]. They, they left and weren’t replaced, and I, I don’t know why I spoke up, uh, often about that. I actually reminded the, the university of its failings to actually, to cultivate a diverse faculty and then, um, every occasion, I, [indistinct] I did. 

    18:37 Sheetal: Yeah. 

    18:38 Glyne: Well, of course. Um, it’s, oh, I think now I can see a little movement, but that’s largely because of the, the larger social context in which we live, uh, largely driven by what happened last year, in 2020. 

    18:49 Sheetal: Yes. 

    18:50 Glyne: Uh, but I, I don’t know that McGill [unclear], it’s a very conservative place. Uh, I personally had a very, I mean, I was, I tried to make myself visible on campus. I did a lot of things, um, I, I was on the Senate, I was, I was Associate Dean of Arts, I chaired a number of committees. Um, uh,  

    [19:20] so I, I did a lot of things at the university, but that took me, that’s a burden that, uh, you have to carry if you are [audio glitches] part of such a small community. And they- the university wants to pretend that, in fact, that it has, uh, a sort of diverse face, and, [Sheetal: Yeah] but it, it really doesn’t, it never did.  

    [19:52] And, and I, I, of course, I could’ve refused anything, but, um, I thought if I, I didn’t want the university to, to be this bastion of whiteness only, so, uh— 

    20:07 Sheetal: How did you, how did you deal with, uh, pushback? You know, when you, when you would speak out about the, the paucity of, of Black faces on campus or, um, the need to diversify. Uh, how did you react to the pushback? 

    20:25 Glyne: Th- well, you know [laughs], there was no pushback, I mean, I was just ignored, maybe. I, the point is the university didn’t push back. You’ll never, I mean, I worked with a lot of principals and they were, and they, they brought smiles and they, they nodded understandingly and, uh, but they did nothing. Uh, uh, I commend them all, but, uh, they did very little, uh, to move, uh, the university [Sheetal: Right].  

    [21:00] Uh, but, uh, I had some allies. Uh, s-, um, I had, uh, good friends and some, some, uh, in the White faculty who would support me [noise]. Uh, but the university had a way of dealing with the lack of diversity, by actually w-, uh, sugar coating it. Uh, there was a— I, I don’t know if you’re aware of a requirement, that in the, that 

    [21:34] the federal government had imposed on institutions that got federal money, that they had to provide a report, annually, to, to show, uh, to r-, on the diversity of the faculty. [Audio glitches] Of course, the university would not, uh, would argue that it doesn’t collect data on, on, by race and [Sheetal: Yes] such.  

    [21:58] So, uh, I couldn’t know, but it would, uh, group all the Asians, and the Blacks, and the Asian South and [indistinct] in just, in one group and say, “see? We have x number of, uh, racialized faculty.” And it, it gives the, uh, an appearance of some, some diversity, and there is some diversity. But the truly, uh, marginalized groups, the Indigenous people and the Blacks, 

    [22:25] they’re, hmm, clearly not represented, but the university would find ways not to report figures.  


    22:33 Sheetal: We have learned that, in fact, data collection does occur at the university with respect to race and gender and ability, these days, but not all of that information is public. Many departments and faculties, such as the libraries, have initiatives to collect demographic data based on self-reporting. We’ll link to some of those in the show note. Stay tuned for part 2 of this series on Black History at McGill and in Montreal, as we move forward through the years until the present life at McGill.   


    23:25 Sheetal: As always, look to our show notes for additional material, such as timelines, photos, links to archival material and more. Many thanks to our Beryl Rapier, Bradley Rapier, Professor Emeritus Glyne Piggott, Adrienne Piggott, Ron Williams and Brittany Williams. 

    [23:43] Thank you to Professor Nathalie Cooke, Director of this project at McGill Libraries' ROAAr team and to Jacquelyn Sundberg Associate Producer. Our title song “Happy Sandbox” was composed by Mativve and sourced from freesound.org. All composers are listed in our show notes. I’m Sheetal Lodhia, producer for this episode. Thanks for listening! 

    Episode 12 - Meet Michelle

    🔊 Audio icon Listen Now

    What does an assistant curator do? Find out this week as we meet Michelle Macleod, assistant curator at McGill’s Visual Arts Collection (VAC) and a PhD candidate in Art History. We learn about her love for the city and photographs, her current research on 19th-century illustrated journals, and the benefits of digitization during a pandemic.

    Michelle at work at McGill, Concordia, and on the road abroad.

    Explore More


    Host & Producer: Sheetal Lodhia

    Associate Producer and Technical Assistance: Jacquelyn Sundberg

    Transcription: Labiba Faiza


    • Michelle Macleod


    • Title song: Happy Sandbox, by Mativve, sourced from Freesound.org
    • End credits: Happy-music by monkeyman535, Sourced from Freesound.org.

    Episode 13 - Meet Anna

    🔊 Audio icon Listen Now

    A cataloguing librarian with a love for medieval manuscripts, archives, and Star Trek’s Beverly Crusher. Meet Anna Dysert in this week’s short episode.

    Explore More


    Producer: Sheetal Lodhia

    Host, Associate Producer, and Technical Assistance: Jacquelyn Sundberg

    Transcription: Labiba Faiza


    • Anna Dysert


    • Title song: Happy Sandbox, by Mativve, sourced from Freesound.org
    • End credits: Happy-music by monkeyman535, Sourced from Freesound.org.

    Episode 14 - Generations Part 2

    🔊  Listen Now

    What has changed since the 1940s for Black students and staff at McGill? In part 2 of the Generations episode, we shift to more contemporary perspectives. We hear mostly from the daughters, Adrienne Piggott and Brittany Willians. They discuss community, belonging, and safe spaces on campus. The episode also focuses on the fight for equity, and the institutional challenges and obstacles that come with it.

    Brittany Williams
    Brittany Williams
    Brittany celebrating wearing a sweater that reads "black by popular demand."
    Brittany Williams, photo used by permission.


    Explore More


    Host & Producer: Sheetal Lodhia

    Associate Producer and Technical Assistance: Jacquelyn Sundberg

    Transcription: Labiba Faiza


    • Prof. Emeritus Glyne Piggott
    • Adrienne Piggott, Associate director, Faculty Procurement, McGill Univeristy
    • Ron Williams
    • Brittany Williams, Manager, Student Affairs Office, McGill Faculty of Law.
      • Note, at the time we spoke with Brittany, she was Acting Associate dean of admissions and recruitment for the Faculty of Law. She started her new position November first, 2021, read more about it here.


    • Title song: Happy Sandbox, by Mativve, sourced from Freesound.org, CC BY 3.0
    • Transitions: Horn lilt 2 by contextcollapse, Sombre Piano by Luckylittleraven, Happy and Groovy by Tyops, all sourced from Freesound.org, CC BY 3.0
    • End credits: Happy-music, by monkeyman355, CC BY 3.0

    Full Transcript

    5 Generations in 80 years:

    Black Perspectives at McGill, from the 1940s to the 2020s

    PART 2


    Glyne – Glyne Piggott

    Ron – Ron Williams

    Adrienne – Adrienne Piggott

    Brittany – Brittany Williams

    Sheetal – Sheetal Lodhia (interviewer/host)

    00:02 Sheetal: Welcome to Voices from the Footnotes, a podcast series presented by the McGill University Librarys’ ROAAr team. Each episode we will explore some of the hidden histories at McGill, looking at places, people and artifacts. The library collections are rich and interesting, but this series flows from the silences also present. It is our desire to gather stories and share them. It is our goal is to highlight voices who have often been overlooked in histories and in archives.

    [00:34] I am today’s host, Sheetal Lodhia.

    [00:40] Before we begin today’s episode, we acknowledge that McGill University is situated on the traditional territory of the Kanien’kehà:ka, a place which has long served as a site of meeting and exchange amongst nations. We recognize and respect the Kanien’kehà:ka as the traditional custodians of the lands and waters on which we meet today.

    Episode Intro

    01:08 Sheetal: Today’s episode is part 2 of a series on Black history in Montreal and at McGill, from the 1940s through to the 2020s. In our previous episode we heard from Beryl Dickinson-Dash, now Beryl Rapier, who was McGill’s first Black Carnival Queen. We also introduced you to a pair of fathers and daughters, Professor Emeritus Glyne Piggott and Adrienne Piggott and Ron Williams and Brittany Williams.

    [01:37] We haven’t yet heard much from the daughters, since we’ve gone mostly chronologically, but in this episode, they will take centre stage. We ended the last episode with Professor Piggott describing the university’s way of dealing with a lack of diversity. We also heard Beryl Rapier, Ron Williams and Professor Piggott touch on themes of community and safe spaces.

    [02:05] For the older generations, they found community largely outside McGill, through their parents, through churches and through community activities. And that’s where we will pick up today.

    [02:20] I asked Professor Piggott about his experiences at McGill in the Arts Building, when he was the Associate Dean, the first Black Associate Dean when there was only a single Associate Dean position.

    02:32 Glyne: The Faculty of Ar—Dawson Hall has a certain, uh, the building has a certain presence on campus. It's, uh, it's attached to the Arts Building. It's a, it, you, and, of course, when you're in there, you do feel, uh, that you're, you're at the heart of the university. So, I enjoyed the four years I was there.

    [03:01] Uh, I, I also, because of, uh, I made a lot of changes as a, during that period that helped me to, to actually even develop a sense of belonging in that community because I, I, I pushed a few changes that were embraced and—

    03:22 Sheetal: Tell us! Tell me about those changes, please.

    03:25 Glyne: Well, uh, right now, uh, well, this one, this change actually postdates my time as Associate Dean. But this, uh, multi-track program in the Faculty of Arts, uh, three of us are responsible for that multi-track program I developed it with, uh, Bruce Trigger] who is, uh, who was in the Faculty of, who was in the Department of Anthropology, uh, he’s unfortunately now no longer with us,

    [04:00] And Jim McGilvray, uh, who was in Philosophy Department. The three of us actually designed this new curriculum for the Faculty of Arts. And I, I had always had the sense that, in fact, that our, our education was not, was too focused in [indistinct], too focused on specialization, too focused on training people to do specific things, and too disciplinary oriented.

    [04:35] I wanted to give the students a broader education. I thought that the Arts degree should have some more dimension to it and was, it was there at the time, and we, so we, we, we decided to include the possibility of more breadth in the education, and also try to rule out the possibility of too much depth.

    [05:06] That, uh, because, uh, the undergraduate degree should be an education, should be a real liberal education. Um, so we tried and, uh, eh, succeeded. We convinced the university to embrace this new model of liberal education and there so, I am pretty proud of that particular legacy.

    [05:28] And there, there are a couple of things that I did when I was Associate Dean. Um, uh, s-, was to try to develop a little more outreach to the students who were struggling a bit, uh, because, for various reasons, to try to give them a way to, to continue their education, even though they were having some difficulties.

    [05:57] So the students who were—so what we tried to develop is a way to help students to navigate, uh, instea—because sometimes students, once they're failing at a place like McGill, they think that's the end. But we tried to develop some ways to help students who were—but some of the students, of course, were disadvantaged academically because there were disadvantaged [laughs] socially, so we have to,

    [06:27] so I, I, I made, I think I'm pretty proud of the effort.

    06:25 Sheetal: That policy became known as the Piggott year. It means that students can take a pause in their studies and come back if they need to, for whatever reason. Glyne found purpose and place during his time in the Arts Building. However, for Ron, the one space on campus where he experienced joy and fun was in the Chemistry Building.

    06:54 Ron: Uh, strange enough, um, in the s-, uh, weird, in the science building, because they used to have a ping pong table down there. Ah, [laughs] so we, we used to do a lot of hanging out down there with, uh, some of my friends. And some of those people, actually, I still, I'm friends with now, to the point where like, like, last, not, not this past summer, but I guess that would be 2019. We actually met up and, and played golf, uh, in the US, 'cause one of them lives in the US now, and he's got a,

    [07:17] he's got a second home down there, so we actually, and the other one lives in Montreal, but we’d always kept tabs on each other a little bit, but we always kind of kept in touch. But I'm, you know, so, but all from McGill, and another guy that-, and it was like a foursome that we used to hang around with. And, I would tell you that of the foursome three of the four were still very much in touch with. And all, and they're all from the chemistry days. Um, two of them are, one’s got his PhD in, um, Chemistry.

    [07:43] The other two have their Masters in, uh, in Chemistry as well. So, I guess it worked [Ron and Sheetal laugh]. And they're all gainfully employed, so.

    08:02 Sheetal: Both Ron and Professor Piggott paved the way for their children in many regards. In Adrienne’s case, as the daughter of a prominent Professor who was also the Associate Dean of Arts, she couldn’t escape notice.

    08:16 Adrienne: There obviously were profs who recognized the name and knew who I was, students less so, but professors, I would often get the question “are you Glyne's daughter?” Because I look like him and it's an unusual surname, so obviously people know, make the connection. If they see them, they know I'm his. We look alike.

    [08:44]: Um, but I mean, that, that I was more accustomed to because, I mean the, the, the world of sort of post-secondary education is fairly small, so I've been experiencing that from CEGEP. You know, I'd walk into classrooms in CEGEP and people would be asking the same question, you know, “do you know Glyne Piggott?” “Yes, he's my father.” Um, that would happen very, very frequently. So, I was, also, you know,

    [09:10] a number of people on campus had watched me grow up, so they already knew who I was just from the mere fact that I had been there [laughs softly] from before I was a student. They are, they are people who were, you know, associate provosts who babysat me as a kid, who braided my hair, so [Sheetal laughs] I was not a stranger to campus [laughs].

    09:30 Sheetal: And, with some time, the opposite happened.

    09:32 Glyne: Did she now tell you that I’ve become her, her dad. "Oh, There’s Adrienne’s dad.” [Sheetal: Yes [laughs]] “There he is.”

    09:42 Sheetal: [laughs] So the tables have turned.

    09:44 Glyne: I knew it would, and, uh, I remember introducing her to Heather Munro Bloom uh, when she was, uh, in her final days. A-Adrienne had just come to McGill, and I, I introduced her, but I told her that, uh, it won't be long before [noise] I'll be known as Adrienne's dad, and it came true.

    10:10 Sheetal: Adrienne, in fact, comes from a long line of McGillians

    10:14 Adrienne: My mother did her master’s in, uh, what was then called Library Science, it’s now called Information Science, and she did work, um, as well, uh, in the library school for a number of years. Um, so yes, literally my entire family [both laugh].

    [10:33] No one escapes, m-my niece is currently at McGill finishing her degree, she’s in her final year.

    10:40 Sheetal: How comfortable are you speaking about, um, difficulties Black students and staff experience on campus? You're on this com- committee, you're the chair of this committee.

    10:50 Adrienne: Well, I mean, for myself, one of the reasons I, I'm, I've taken on this role is that I, I probably feel more comfortable than most. There's the cloak of legacy, first of all, that I'm sort of shielded by, um, being my father’s daughter is definitely a coat of armor that I get to wear that many people don't. My father was an Associate Dean, he was Chair of his department for many years, he's well regarded and well respected at the university and that does offer me a measure of protection.

    [11:21] My mother, um, was president of the Women's Alumni Association. She had a stellar reputation on campus and that's an added layer of protection. It also helped tremendously that my current director is immensely supportive of equity work and values the work that I do within his team in what I call my day job and then, because I do good work for him in that regard, he's extremely supportive of, uh, giving me the room I need to do the equity work, uh, that I also do for the university.

    [11:55] So, I feel a measure of safety that I think a lot of people don't feel. Um, and I also think there's an advantage in that it's not my paid work at the university, so I can't get fired for what I do on the equity front. I'm not hired to do that work. I do it as a service to community that I think is important, that I value. Um, I also have institutional knowledge that I think is, uh, important to bring to these discussions.

    [12:24] Um, while I often joke that I, you know, that I was raised on campus, it's also true. I've seen the evolution, or lack thereof, uh, over these 40, what, how old am I? 48. So, you know, I've recognized it for th- most of my life, um, because I, I would come to campus almost every day as a child, um, so I witnessed, uh, both the work that my parents tried to do, because my father chaired the committee that I now chair,

    [12:56] um, he was also a harassment assessor, which I also was at one point. Um, I went to camp at McGill, I, I just, I've, I've lived in the institution, and I think that's useful to bring into these discussions because I do have a fairly clear sense of, of what has happened, what's been tried, how it's been received, um, the steps forward and the steps back that the university has taken.

    [13:26] So, um, I'm lucky that I have, uh, also a breadth [audio glitches] of sounding boards, if you will, because having had my entire family be McGillians and have a, [audio glitches] they've had a variety of their own experiences, so, um, my family still has traditional Sunday dinner, so on Sundays everyone gathers around the table, and that was an opportunity to actually bring issues to the table and have those discussions with

    [13:56] my younger niece who's, you know, what, 23 now and my father who's going to be 80 next year, and all of us at the table, presenting sort of our perspective on the various issues. So, not only do I have sort of th-the, the protection of the mantle of legacy, which is an important thing at McGill, but I also have that diversity of perspectives available to me at any moment because my entire family is McGillian.

    14:25 Sheetal: with this coat of armour, or mantle of legacy, campus was a different experience for Adrienne than it was for Ron, or Beryl or even for Professor Piggott.

    14:38 Adrienne: Well, obviously, having sort of two, [audio glitches] not to use the overword- used [overused] word, but intellectuals as parents. My first impressions as a child, as I came with the curiosity of a child, McGill was a fascinating place to me as a child. Um, and because, again, my parents were who they were, I was allowed to roam. I explored a lot while I was there. I would, you know, just disappear into the, the stacks in the university or I would, you know, explore labs, I, I ran around campus, like a kid.

    [15:11] Um, It, it, it did strike me that we were unusual, but we had always been unusual, as a family. We lived in spaces where we were unusual, so it didn't necessarily click in my head as a little kid that this was odd, because being odd was normal. I went to private schools my whole life, where, you know, I was one of, you know, less than

    [15:41] less than a dozen kids who were k-, uh, children of Black families or, um, I navigated spaces where my experience was always unusual, so I didn't necessarily understand why that was not okay and why that was a problem when I was very small. But I was allowed to ask questions, certainly, about it. Like, where are the other kids? Where the other profs who look like you? Where are the other people who look like us?

    [16:08] Um, and, my parents were always honest, but also careful, because I think they understood that they shouldn't necessarily taint my perspective.

    16:19 Sheetal: Yeah, what, what did they say as, what were their answers?

    16:23 Adrienne: Um, well dad, dad's always been a, my dad is sort of my, my militant, you know, progressive, demonstrating Dad, 'cause Dad always fought for equity for everyone. Um, and so Dad would talk about how yes, it's true that we, there weren't a lot of us, but we're working to change that. Um, he also talked about the historical reasons why that was, so we understood things like segregation, and we understood things like the legacy of slavery

    [16:53] and why it was that people of color hadn't necessarily had even access to the, the required steps that would allow you to be in higher education. Um, I understood that my father's experience, in particular, was unusual. My mother came from a wealthier family, so her experience was, you know, in some, in some measure, um, influenced by having those resources. My mother’s father was wealthy, she had access to university more easily,

    [17:23] she had access to all of those things a little more easily, but my father's family was poor, and I mean developing world poor. So, it's not, it was definitely clear to me that his experience was already a, a very, um, a rare thing. Um, and you could see it on people's faces, because people were often surprised that he was who he was and had accomplished what he'd accomplished.

    [17:54] And he experienced that very firsthand racism, you know, the porters of McGill questioning what he was doing in the spaces he occupied. and we talked about those things. Um, but at the same time, having always been the Black child in the white spaces, that was sort of just what the world looked like. You always had to sort of explain why you were where you were,

    [18:22] because people didn't understand that it was fine that you were there. Um, and it's only as I got older that it really began to occur to me that this didn't make sense. The Black people I knew were educated and smart and, and, you know, capable, and it's only as, as I aged that I began to understand that there was more to it, there was a deeper reason why we weren't represented. Um, dad also worked on some of the more challenging equity cases across the spectrum,

    [18:55] not just for people of color, but, I mean, Dad fought for things like pay equity for, uh, uh, you know, female professors. Um, at the time at McGill, [laughs softly] the argument was made that because families don't depend on women’s salaries, it was acceptable to pay them less, so dad fought for that. He st-, [audio sounds weird here] he fought for things like, um, stopping the clock for grad students who [unclear] became pregnant because there's just the, you know, the fact of biology, our women carry the babies. It's just the way it goes, if you have a uterus, that's how biology works, and it's not fair that they're penalized,

    [19:31] um, on, on the grad clock. So, these are the kinds of things that he took up, but he also always was devoted to the fact that, uh, people of color were essentially always doubly burdened. Whatever the burden was, in addition to, it was always the burden of being racialized. Um, and while we weren't beaten over the head with it as children, we were always, it was never denied when we, when we encountered it, it was always, you know, made clear to us that yes, that thing you're feeling or the thing you're experiencing is real.

    20:07 Sheetal: Whereas Adrienne grew up on campus, Brittany Ron’s Daughter grew up knowing about McGill, but with a slightly different impression of it.

    20:17 Brittany: Um, so yeah, I grew up in, uh, LaSalle, uh, which is, I think, southwest, uh, Montreal. I, I like to call it like a mini Montreal because like Montreal has its different pockets and, um, quite a multicultural city, LaSalle has that as well. Um, and yeah, I loved it. I mean, you know, went to, the only time I really, I mean, I, I ventured out of the city obviously, but, um, went to, um, you know, elementary school, um,

    [20:48] and high school in LaSalle and then, you know, Verdun, which is right next to it, um, and really enjoyed, um, really enjoyed living there. I, I always said, I was like, “I'm gonna buy a house here one day,” but I don't know if I'll ever buy a house, so, [laughs] so, you know, I don't know if that's in the plan. But, um, yeah, I grew up in, you know, a huge family. Um, we all lived, at one point my, like, mother’s side of the family all lived on the same street. Um, so like, my grandmother,

    [21:17] like, when I was born, we lived above my grandmother, um, and then, like, moved, and I thought we were going somewhere far, we literally moved down the street, our postal code changed by one number. Um, and then my aunt moved above us. And then, you know, when my, another aunt, like, got married, she moved two streets up which was like, ouh. Um, you know, but yeah, I grew up around family, connecting with a bunch of people. Um, uh, like even our church was like

    [21:46] in Verdun, which was right next to LaSalle. So, I grew up in that, kind of, little pocket, um, and had friends at, at all four corners of the city

    21:55 Sheetal: And do you find thatwhere did, where did all of your friends and family end up? Did they all, um, what was the reputation of McGill among your family [Brittany: Mm-hmm] and, and where did some of the others end up?

    22:08 Brittany: Yeah. Um, so yeah, my dad went to McGill. He did a degree in BioChem. Um, I think he did a minor in something, and he'll probably kill me for not remembering, but definitely BioChem. Um, and so yeah, McGill was always, um, kind of on that, um, on my radar as a school that I knew. Um, and then, kind of, you know, going through things, you know, at school we had students, um, like student teachers from Mcgill's

    [22:36] Education faculty and stuff like that, so, I always knew McGill to be like a reputable school that, I don't know if I ever like, you know, dreamt, I don't think I was ever someone who like dreamt of going to X school. I was, I was more like looking past school to, like, what I was going to do. Um, but I think maybe, maybe at one point I felt like McGill was too fancy for me. Um, I mean, but here, I, it's obviously not, here I am now. Um, but yeah.

    23:11 Sheetal: Did you find that, that you were a little bit of a mentor too because you were a Montrealer? And I imagine, I mean, I know that so many students come from outside of Montreal, [Brittany: Mm-hmm] so you had the insider knowledge.

    23:23 Brittany: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I mean, like, yeah, I think a fair amount of people going, or, at McGill Law, are from Montreal. Um, but yeah, there are people from all over the place. [Mumbles] I think, I remember introducing myself in a couple of different spaces and saying, like, “if you need tips on poutine in this city, I'm your girl.” Um, and that was like my go-to, um, you know took many, uh, uh non-Montrealers through Poutine Week, um, in every year of, [laughs] uh,

    [23:53] of my degree. Um, but yeah, being connected to the city already was really cool to then, like, you know, you know, get to show people like, hey, just because you can't walk there from, you know, Milton Park, uh, to like school or whatever, doesn't mean there are not other spaces in this city that are worth discovering. Um, and so it was really, it was really great to be able to connect those two things and share my, you know, my love of my city with the people who I was, you know, sitting in class with every day.

    24:25 Sheetal: Both Brittany and Adrienne talk about the rarity of Black students in their programs and overall on campus.

    24:31 Brittany: So, um, I, I can't give you exact numbers. Maybe I can look it up quickly, but, um, in terms of like gender, um, split, I think, like, on like the traditional gender lines, um, I believe that there are more female-identified, um, people than there are male-identified. Um, but of course, you know we're, you know, we know and are learning more about, like, gender and things like that, so that is

    [25:00] a much wider spectrum then, then we know. Um, and then, you know, racialized people, um, make up, I am just like spit balling, but I, for sure, I think less than, less than 40%, probably less than 25%, but don't completely quote me on that. Um, and, uh, I mean, it, I would say the diversity of the class comes most from

    [25:30] like the diversity of experience. Um, and you know, kind of where people come from and, and what their backgrounds are before entering law school. I mean, not every person who comes through McGill’s doors as a student is going to end up being a lawyer in a big firm somewhere, but we want to make sure that every person is given an opportunity, um, to be able to take, you know, three to four, five years, um, to, to be able to, you know, like, leave with a, with a law degree and do something with that.

    [26:01] And so, I think it's our, you know, our duty to ensure that we're never, we never stop trying to increase the diversity of, of those classes. Um, I mean, it was interesting for me because I didn't have any, you know, other than the high school average program, didn't have a lot of experiences, or didn't have a lot of experience or knowledge about what law school is going to be like. And so, coming in, I didn't know anyone, um and, I mean, you know, like I said, I was treating it as a means to an end, so I didn't really intend on knowing anyone [laughs] very well or,

    [26:34] or, you know, kind of being involved in any particular way. But I think, I remember the first day, like our, like, Welcome Day, which was like August 30th and, like, for context, I had gotten in off the waitlist, and so, I had gotten in like 12 days before this date.

    [26:56] Um, and so yeah, the first day I remember I got there kind of early, um, and you were kind of, like, they gave you a name tag, and you were kind of like waiting for people to trickle in for like the day to start. And I remember sitting there being like I'm looking for other Black people at this time, ‘cause I was like, I feel like we can, there will be, you know, a relationship that can be formed on some basis there. So, every person that walked in I was like, um, “Hmm, okay. Hmm, okay. Hmm, okay.” Um, there wasn't, there wasn't many, [laughs] but

    [27:25] on that first day, I like met another Black student and then, like, uh, they had connected with two other students, and so the four of us were kind of like a pack for the first couple of weeks. Um, and then, the, kind of like, um, like, [frustrated sigh] déclencheur, élément déclencheur of me getting connected with, like, a ton of different spaces was clubs day, which I think was in our second week and it's like, the, you know, the atrium at the faculty, which is not a giant space

    [27:57] it's just like full of tables, with people soliciting you to join their clubs, and I just like put my name down at a bunch of different spaces. And so, at that point I was able to get connected with like upper years, with whom I shared something so there was, like, you know, the Black Law Students’ Association that I joined, the Christian Law Students’ Association that I joined. There must have been a couple, like, there must have been a ton of other things or whatever, and it was through that, that I kind of started to find my people, started to find my place, and realized that my place was, like,

    [28:27] everywhere, 'cause there were so many things to be involved in. I was like, I, well, I need to do them all. Um, and so, yeah, I ended up, like, finding some of my closest friends, um, in all of these different spaces.


    28:40 Adrienne: The difference for me was that I was in a field where there weren't many people of colour, um, and there weren’t many, many women of colour. I would get asked if I was lost, I would have course, I would have course numbers repeated to me as though I must not have understood that that was where I was [laughs] supposed to be. Um, you know, there was always this sort of surprise when I was like “yeah, no I'm, I'm not confused, this is what I'm here to do.”

    29:02 Sheetal: Um, but how many, how many racialized students in your classes? Was it a handful? Was it like, you know, one hand counting? Or—

    29:11 Adrienne: Oh yeah, one hand counting easily. And then when you want to reduce it to women, [Sheetal: Just you] two?

    29:17 Sheetal: Yeah, okay.

    29:19 Adrienne: Yeah. Maybe one other? I'm not even sure if one other. Me, often [laughs] Um, it, it's the kind of thing where you, you notice it and you try not to notice it, um, especially in those spaces, because there's such a desire to, to make you feel that you haven't earned your spot. So, you, you see it, but you try to sort of set it aside.

    29:53 Sheetal: Yeah. And, you know, would your classmates, when you had group projects and whatever, would they take your opinions? Would they—

    30:01 Adrienne: Well, the, I think one of the, one of the advantages – sounds terrible when you say it like that — was that I'm really smart, so most of the time it was, the bigger issue was people sort of stepping back and just letting me do the work, being like “well, you can do it.” So, group projects were more of me trying to coerce people into doing work, because they were like “well, if we don't do it, because she wants the grade, she'll do it”, which is true.

    [30:38] My nieces tell me that now, you know, my, my younger niece tells me the same thing. She's really bright, she goes through the same thing of people just sort of, knowing that if they coast, she wants a good grade, so she'll do the work

    [30:52] Even when I went back to do my, my certificate in translation years later, it was the same, There were very few racialized people, there were a handful of us. Um, most of the racialized people in my class were arguably the brightest people in the classes, and we ended up not only called on the most in lectures, but also doing most of the work.

    31:15 Sheetal: Yeah. Yeah, that doesn't surprise me. Hmm. How did you, I mean, because your experience is so radically different from many Black students who come to campus, you had already established, let's say, safe spaces, you know, your, your dad's office could be a safe space, your, your mom's office could be a safe space. Uh, did you have a sense that the campus was yours in a way that other students didn't?

    31:46 Adrienne: Absolutely, and that was something that I've always recognized, that my McGill experience will always be vastly different from the McGill experiences of the people who look like me. Um, it’s not so much that I don't know or understand, or even see, the things that other people around me are experiencing, but it's just, it, it is impossible for me to experience them in the same way. I'm, I'm too recognizable,

    [32:18] I'm too well known, I know the campus too well and the campus knows me too well. Um, you know, when I, even when I was interviewed for my job, I walked into that interview and the people who were supposedly on the other side of the table hugged me [Sheetal laughs] [laughs]. My experience is never going to mirror anyone else's, you know it's just not, not possible. So, I always keep that in mind, but I genui- genuinely believe that that privilege comes

    [32:55] with huge responsibilities. My, my campus experience as a student, as staff, um, as an advocate, as, you know, chairing the subcommittee, as an ally to everyone that I can be an ally to, I always hold that understanding, that I have a position of privilege that most people who look like me don't have.

    [33:30] There's also, I think, unfortunately, because our numbers are low, there's the problem of visibility [Sheetal: Yeah]. We are highly visible because we are so few [Sheetal: Yeah], um, and this is a problem that affects not only, you know, those of us who are sort of vocal and active and outspoken on campus, but it affects the quiet, unassuming students as well. Um, we've had students who report that they'll miss a class for, you know,

    [33:57] will miss one lecture for a reason, and then they'll, they'll go to see the prof at the next lecture to ask a question, and the prof will make a comment like “if you didn't skip class all the time, you wouldn't have these issues.” And they'll be just, you know, dumb struck because they think “I've only ever missed one lecture”, but they're noticed when they missed that lecture [Sheetal: Yeah] because there are only two Black people in that class, whereas if a White student misses a lecture, well there's 300 other Bl- White kids in that class,

    [34:29] so the student, the, the prof is not gonna notice. And they'll come, they'll come to us and say “I don't even know what to do with that. I, I mean, it seems pointless to argue that I don't skip class because there's no way to win that argument with—

    34:45 Sheetal: Without like an attendance call or something.

    34:48 Adrienne: Exactly!

    39:49 Sheetal: Yeah.

    39:50 Adrienne: So, it just sounds like I'm, I'm whining, or complaining when I have no mechanism to, to, to demonstrate that I attend all my lectures. But, it's that, the numbers being so low creates that s-, that, that, that impression that every time you speak, every time you don't speak, every time you do anything, someone is going to notice.

    35:11 Sheetal: Brittany shares a similar sentiment about responsibility, but she also describes the burden of being a “representative” member of your community.

    35:26 Brittany: Yeah, Black, Black, um, women, um, and like, women across the board, whatever our, um, we hold a lot. Um, and we are expected to do a lot without it being, you know, explicitly said. Um, and, you know, whether it is like outright, you need to do this, or like, and I, like, no one, no one else is going to do this, and so there is an expectation that someone is going to have to pick up the slack. Um, I think of, yeah, there's a, there's a lot there.

    [35:58] Um, and I, I definitely don't take for granted the space that I'm in and the, like, um, the places that I have been able to be, and I know that I'm only here because of other Black, um, cis and trans women who have, like, paved the way for all of the spaces I'm able to be in. But yeah, it, it, it is, it is a lot to, like, you know, want to be human, want to be flawed, want to, you know, be able to just, like,

    [36:59] experience a thing, but having the understanding that, like, oh, people are watching, people are looking, you know. And unfortunately, there are people who will write off communities or write off, you know, squads of people because of something I may do or not do.

    [36:44] Um, it's really interesting being a Black woman making decisions about admissions, um, because, I, you know, I have, I have like seen and experienced difficulties in the law school, um, context, um, uh, a lot of which came from, you know, peers of mine, who, you know, whomever let, you know, whomever, um, you know, said “yeah, admit” on their paper, like,

    [37:16] they were in my space, you know, and so—it’s not to say that, I mean, I'm not like not going to admit any white people [laughs] or like non-Black people, but like, it's a, it's a, it's interesting being in this space of, like, having it be such a, still a very clear memory of, you know, the like, like, ra-, like, you know racist experiences that I've had from people who, whose you know, um, uh, applications passed across, yeah, pass across the same desk that I,

    [37:45] you know, desk, you know, in quotations, “I work at” now. Um, and so yeah, it feels very important, very burdensome, very, um, yeah, it's important to, like, honor the space that I'm in, and also ensure that I'm, you know, creating a cohort that, um, is diverse in all of the ways, um, you know that is not only made up of one kind of person.

    [38:12] Um, yeah, it's, it, it is, it's a lot. It's, and I, I know it's, I know it's important, um, and so constantly, you know, I mean, giving myself grace to say that there's no way for me to know exactly how every person is going to fare, or what they're going to do in the classroom, you know, if I do let them in. Um, but yeah, being intentional about the fact that like yeah, as you know,

    [38:44] the admissions office is creating a cohort, is creating a group of people who are going to be working with each other and working with others in the, like, you know, in the legal profession and beyond, um, who will have, you know, McGill stamped on their CV or on their, um, on their diploma and, and just like yeah, giving, giving honor and space to that and, and doing my best to, to make as good of a decision as is possible.

    Positive Changes

    39:26 Sheetal: When we step back, we can see that between Professor Piggott’s time and Brittany’s time at McGill – that's from the 1970s until now there have been some positive changes, many of which were in fact implemented by Professor Piggott. I asked Adrienne whether she has noted any positive changes herself.

    39:47 Adrienne: It's a difficult question because, um, [pause] it's, McGill doesn't really make progress. I know it sounds terrible to say, but it doesn't. Um, so as an example, when I was much younger, there were more Black professors. There are fewer Black professors now. They're trying to change that obviously with the new hires,

    [40:14] um, but yeah, they, those, [laughs] that you saw more Black folks in actual tenure stream positions when, when I was a kid than you do now, um— some of them went onto, you know, potentially greener pastures, um, some of them retired. McGill is not an easy space [Sheetal: It’s not], it is systemically racist, and people get tired of that, [Sheetal: Yeah] understandably [Sheetal: Yeah]. It's a difficult place to thrive, yeah?

    [40:52] So, I understand that completely. Um, I, I, but I, what I can say, for example, is, um, I think one of the huge advantages I see are positions like the equity positions that have been created and certain people who've been hired, who are holding their ground, that’s really been one of the huge improvements I've seen. When I think of a person like Shanice, who is undaunted and who refuses to be silenced or put in a corner, that's a huge, huge improvement. She has changed, she has single handedly changed the landscape of McGill, um—

    41:38 Sheetal: I know, she brought about Black History Month, like [laughs]—

    41:42 Adrienne: And so many other things [Sheetal: Yeah]. I mean, she's just been a powerhouse. It's, it's been amazing. Um, and, so that is definitely a, a hugely positive change that I've seen.

    41:52 Sheetal: The Shanice Adrienne is speaking of is Shanice Yarde, Senior Advisor Anti-racism and Equity,

    41:59 Adrienne: Um, but almost like the pendulum swinging, there's this sense that she has also motivated the university to try and claw back the power that she's gaining. And when I say that, I look at things, for example, like, the difficulties we are having in, um, in, in mobilizing the eq-, the big equity committee, as an example. So, there's a, a project in the works now to change the format so that the equity chairs no longer get to participate in the actual equity committee. Um, so the equity committee will be held by the chair, the appointees from the various, uh, units, and

    [42:50] only one or two equity subcommittee chairs are- will, will be allowed to attend the actual meetings. So, like there's always a sense that as we try to step forward, the university claws back. You can think of things like the James McGill statue being installed with a celebration that was held in full period costume, with no acknowledgement of just how vile something like that truly is,

    [43:21] how offensive something like that is. Um, so, I think what I see in terms of positive change is the students are more mobilized and more vocal. I love seeing that, there's, there's a sense that students are recognizing the power they have, which I find absolutely gorgeous. Um, and I think that people are recognizing that they can bring change through that movement, through the students

    [43:50] being willing to champion ideas and, and, and, um, bring forward causes, I think that's important. Um, I think there, there are more and more staff members who are willing to take risks, to vocalize, to verbalize problems that we see, and I think that's really important. Um, so those things are hugely positive. Uh, definitely, obviously with, with the last 18 months and what's happened since George Floyd, things are moving.

    [44:19] Um, I'm, I'm a little nervous, I'm a little worried, but things are moving. I'm a lot nervous and I'm very worried, but things are moving. Um, having the, creation of the, of the caucus, the creation of the Black, um, Alumni Association, these are hugely positive things. But they're large— having Black Grad, Black Grad is a fantastic accomplishment. Um, even the little micro, incremental change we made to,

    [44:51] uh, um, course evaluations, where at least there's a mechanism to try to recognize how discrimination is impacting, uh, tenure and promotion for, for teaching staff, also really, really beneficial. Um, where I, I have concerns is there's an unwillingness to recognize the ways in which the institution is foundationally flawed, the things that need to change at its core to create real equity.

    [45:21] Um, when we, when I met with, uh, university advancement on, uh, on fundraising for the first Black Grad. In the meeting I had, there was first sort of confusion as to why I thought we needed to have this at all, and one of the reasons there was confusion was,

    [45:50] the person I met with said “do we even have e-, you know, enough Black students to make this worthwhile?” Like, and I thought, I don't know if you understand how problematic that question is on either end [clicking noise], that you don't know how many Black students we have is a problem, that you think there's a number that is too low to be worthy [laughs] of celebration.

    [46:21] And regardless of the number, if we had a lot, it would be worthy of celebration, and if we have a small number, it's worthy of celebration because there's a problem we need to address. But for them it was like, “why would we do this thing? What is the purpose?”

    [46:42] When they tried to cut Black History Month out of, out of the bicentennial, was another, you know— in this year, of all years, you would think that in the year where, you know, anti-Blackness is so prominent, we wouldn't actually have to make a case for why— even just the optics, I don't care what your actual reason is, just the optics of attempting to cut Black History Month out of the bicentennial was just not okay, yet we had to fight them.

    47:17 Sheetal: Adrienne, more than many, embraces with defiance some of the labels bestowed on Black people, especially, women – labels such as aggressive and difficult

    47:30 Adrienne: I wanted to put that on the name tag. I really wanted to put on my, my, hello my name is difficult and aggressive [both laugh] but, you know, this is where I wear the, sort of, the angry Black woman mantle proudly. I’m, I'm happy to be the uncomfortable presence at that table. I have no problem doing that, and not allowing things to move forward, I'll be obstructionist if I have to be to get things done.

    [48:00] Um, I did it as a subcommittee chair, when they left really important things off the agenda because it made people uncomfortable to talk about them. I would just commandeer the meeting. And [both laugh], you, you just, I, I'm not good at letting them get away with nonsense, so.

    Created Spaces: Thomson House, Coffee Klatch etc.

    48:24 Sheetal: Where Beryl and Ron largely created community off campus, some of the changes that Adrienne mentioned have allowed for Black students to feel welcome in more spaces. Although there is no dedicated space for the Black Students’ Association – yet – there are events which create moments of, let’s call it space-making and senses of ownership. I asked Brittany to describe some of those spaces

    48:54 Brittany: Um, Thomson House, uh, has been such a, like, pillar of my law degree. So, Thomson House is a, it is like specifically for graduate students, um, you know, and a house that was, that was, I know, donated by a McGill alum, I believe. Um, and it's a place where—I mean, they have a restaurant, an amazing restaurant, that I think is subsidized by student fees, so everything is like delicious and also cheap. Uh, it can be an event space, I've gone to many a party, uh, in that space, um, space where people will,

    [49:30] Um, I think that they do events for like weddings and stuff like that. Um, but yeah, so it's kind of like a, it's a, a student hub for PGSS students, Postgraduate, um, Society Students. But as law students we got, um, even though we were technically undergraduates, we have it on our fee, so we got to partake, which felt very special. Um, and we used, we used that, that space [laughs] to our advantage, definitely.

    [50:00] Uh, a couple of my friends made a joke that our grad gift to, to McGill Law was going to be a crosswalk between the, [laughs] like, the faculty of McGill Law and Thomson House. Um, maybe it'll be, you know, something that I leave in a bequest or something from, for years from now.

    [50:20] Sheetal: Brittany also mentions the Legal Information Clinic, which is a pro-bono service that McGill offers to the general public.

    50:28 Brittany: The, like, Legal Information Clinic, which has moved around quite a bit. Uh, so when I started there it was in the, um, in the Shatner Building in the, you know, in the SSMU building, um, and that was a space, I mean, because yeah, like, I was, you know, with, uh, six of my colleagues and we spent a whole year working together, but that was definitely a space that I felt really safe and really, and able to like, yeah, uh, be that, you know, whoever I was on that day.

    50:54 Sheetal: And the next question is could you walk me through a really happy, joyful experience that you’ve had at, um, you know, on campus?

    51:05 Brittany: I think it would be, it was, um, Coffee House that the Black Law Students Association was hosting, and I want to say it was in my third year. Um, yeah, because in my 4th year, a bunch of people graduated and so that made me sad. But in my third year, like, all of my closest friends were there and like not only other Black students, but like students from across the board.

    [51:32] I got, um, a bunch of food from like my favorite Caribbean restaurant in LaSalle. Um, she gave us a great deal, uh, Caribbean Paradise, if you ever want to go and try it. Um, and so we had a bunch of foods from, you know, the places that I'm from, but also, you know, we had other people bring in foods as well, from the places that they're from. So we had, you know, from the Caribbean, Africa and things like that. Um, and so we got to like share food with, um, with our peers

    [52:02] who had like never experienced these things. You know, like, you know white people calling Jamaican patties spiced meat pastries. Um, so it's definitely different [laughs] for them, you know. Um, and just like amazing music, um, we had a, a killer DJ — and this was both in second year and third year — uh, a killer DJ and just, like, uh, like 4 hours of celebrating, like our Blackness, being able to take up space that like you know,

    [52:31] we, like, do feel good in, but like being able to be, uh, at least for that time, being, being that majority, um, I think in the, you know, in the years that I was in law school, there was a lot of really difficult things that were happening in Black communities across the world. So, being able to just experience, like, and experience and see like that Black joy. Um, there's a, you know, one of the pictures I was talking about is a picture of me with like a tin full of, of, um,

    [53:01] pholourie balls which are like Trinidadian, they are these like little, like, dough, spiced ball, they’re delicious. And I have a tray and I think with my head is thrown back and I'm like either singing or yelling, I couldn't remember [laughs]. Um, but I, I would like very much embody that space, where I just felt like super, like, free, just like vibing on, on that, like, connecting with other people like me but also connecting, um, those not like me to like the, like,

    [53:30] spaces and places that I am from and that my colleagues are from. Yeah, that was like, just like such a special and fun, um, and fun time.

    Hopes going forward: Conclusion

    53:43 Sheetal: Many would argue that 2020 was a watershed moment for a larger understanding of Black History and White privilege. And so, institutions like universities are faced with the opportunity to make important changes. We have heard about a certain kind of progress from our guests, and we’ve also heard them describe what feels like regression or roadblocks. Going forward, how do we retain Black staff and students, and how do we make campus a space for everyone to thrive?

    54:15 Brittany: Yeah, I mean, yeah, what a, what a question. Um, it’s interesting that it's always put on people of color to figure it out [indistinct] like no, no, no, no, no. I told you what the problem was. I cannot do this by myself. I was like, there is a system that's working here that needs to be dismantled and I don't have all the tools, so. Um, but I think, I mean above all else, there needs to be like a, a commitment to listen, um, to like,

    [54:46] you know, racialized people across the board. It doesn't matter if they have a PhD after their name or whether they, like, came to one, you know, class and audit, or whatever, like those experiences are all valid and so it's really important to be able to, um, get that wide range of, of opinions. And I think you know, in terms of like action plan to address, specifically around anti-Black racism, um, I think, uh, a good work was done to be able to

    [55:16] get that, would that, that vastness of, of opinions, but yeah, listening for sure. And it just needs to be, on top of listening, a commitment to, like, unlearn. Um, and to kind of enter a process, um, where there are no expectations of, like, how things are supposed to go or what the, you know, end result is going to be. Obviously, like you want to,

    [55:46] um, you know, if you're in admin or whatever, want to create a space, want to create a school, um, want to create like, you know, a, a life for the campus that is, um, inclusive across the board, uh, and it’s constantly committed to inclusion. But there can't be a like, “well we're going to have X, and we’re going to have Y,” especially coming from, you know, the people at the top. There needs to be that listening, um, and that commitment to just continue to do the work.

    [56:15] Um, it's really easy to say, like, “hey, we're going to commit to hiring X amount of professors and letting in X amount of racialized students.” But, like if you don't change the spaces that they're in, they're not going to stay, or at the [laughs] very least, they’re not going to have a great time. Um, and so, yeah, that, just that commitment to say like we're going to do this work and we're going to continue to do this work, we're going to, you know, admit when we were wrong. And it's not like, I think there's like a,

    [56:45] a misconception that like, all people, all people, um, want people who are like pushing, um, or championing, you know, equity and equality. All we want is for people to you know, ad-, you know, say like, OK, we did this wrong or whatever and, and be able to point the finger and be like “oh look, no you did this” [indistinct]. No, like there's a reason why we're in these spaces, we want to stay in these spaces, we also want to create a better space than when we left it. Um, and so it's not about

    [57:15] saying, like, “well, you need to do better,” and just finger wagging. It's about like, yes, you need to do better and, um, we, we’re saying that because we want this space, we want this space to be better for people like us who are coming through the door. Um, and so yeah, they're just, you know, it, yeah, in terms of like, you know, what McGill can do, um, it is, it is that listening and just like being willing to try different things, and being willing to, like, feel uncomfortable.

    [57:48] Um, and to be able to like get new results because you're not going to get new results using the same kinds of tactics. Um, but yeah, I mean I, the work is starting, the work is being, is being done and it just needs to be a contin- like, there is no end goal when you're working towards equity and equality, like it is a, it is a journey, um, without a destination. Um, but it means you're learning along the way and that, like is not, that it is incredibly, um, incredibly valuable.

    58:20 Adrienne: And, you know, regularly, people who've been through the subcommittee with me, who've worked with me on various things ask me, “why do you stay? Why do you stay, Adrienne? Why do you stay?”

    58:30 Sheetal: I was gonna ask you that, but I know you've been [Adrienne laughs] asked that a lot [both laugh].

    58:40 Adrienne: “Why do you stay?” [Sheetal laughs] I stay for two reasons. Reason number one is as long as we're a society that's going to value things like having a degree from this place, it matters to me that the people who come here don't leave here damaged. It, it bothers me that so many people who come through our doors

    [59:01] leave harmed by their experience, and if I can help them to navigate this space and, and, and survive this place, and somehow leave not broken, I, I feel a responsibility to do that because it's not their fault that the world somehow thinks having a degree from McGill means more than having a degree from some other place, but the world does it.

    [59:35] It, it's just, unfortunately that's the way it is. And, I at least have a measure of insulation from the damage this place can do, and if I can sort of cast that net over a few extra people, I'm happy to do it. The other reason I stay is if we abandon it completely,

    [01:00:00] then in some respects they win, there’s a, they, they get to once again claim that we're not good enough, that we're not strong enough, we’re not smart enough, we're not capable enough. And it's not true. It's just not true. Um, so, I mean, I stay mostly because I care about people and I care about, I care about people a lot, I care about people a lot.

    [01:00:29] It's funny 'cause I often say I don't like people, which is also true, but I care about people a lot [laughs]. And I think, I think we have to do better. And if I can help us do better, that matters to me.

    01:01:02 Sheetal: As always, look to our show notes for additional material, such as timelines, photos, links to archival material and more. Many thanks to our Beryl Rapier, Bradley Rapier, Professor Emeritus Glyne Piggott, Adrienne Piggott, Ron Williams and Brittany Williams.

    [01:01:20] Thank you to Professor Nathalie Cooke, Director of this project at McGill Libraries' ROAAr team and to Jacquelyn Sundberg Associate Producer. Our title song “Happy Sandbox” was composed by Mativve and sourced from freesound.org. All composers are listed in our show notes. I’m Sheetal Lodhia, producer for this episode. Thanks for listening!



    Episode 15 - Carnival Queens

    🔊  Listen Now 

    This episode we speak with royalty, McGill royalty to be precise. Step back in time to 1949, 1951 and 1958, as Beryl Rapier, Dorothy Baxter and Rae Tucker Rambally bring us back to mid-century McGill Winter Carnival days as they relive their experiences with the carnival pageant.

    newspaper clippings and black and white photos of carnival queens
    At left: Beryl Dickinson-Dash, 1949 Carnival Queen. Centre: Dorothy Baxter, 1951 Carnival Queen. At Right: Rae Tucker, Carnival Queen 1958, portrait from McGill Yearbook, 1958.

    Explore More:


    • Host: Sheetal Lodhia
    • Producer and Editor: Jacquelyn Sundberg
    • Transcription & Research: Labiba Faiza


    • Beryl Rapier
    • Dorothy Baxter
    • Rae Tucker Rambally


    • Title song: Happy Sandbox, by Mativve, sourced from Freesound.org, CC BY 3.0
    • Transitions: Horn lilt 2 by contextcollapse, Sombre Piano by Luckylittleraven, Happy and Groovy by Tyops, all sourced from Freesound.org, CC BY 3.0
    • End credits: Happy-music, by monkeyman355, CC BY 3.0

    Full Transcript

    Beryl - Beryl Rapier, née Dickinson-Dash

    Bradley Rapier - Beryl's Son, present at her interview

    Rae - Rae Tucker Rambally

    Dorothy - Dorothy Baxter

    Sheetal – Sheetal Lodhia (interviewer/host)


    Campus Queens


    00:02 Sheetal: Welcome to Voices from the Footnotes, a podcast series presented by the McGill University Libraries’ ROAAr team. Each episode, we will explore some of the hidden histories at McGill, looking at places, people and artifacts. The library collections are rich and interesting, but this series flows from the silences also present. It is our desire to gather stories and share them. It is our goal is to highlight voices who have often been overlooked in histories and in archives.

    00:35 I am today’s host, Sheetal Lodhia.

    00:40 Before we begin today’s episode, we acknowledge that McGill University is situated on the traditional territory of the Kanien’kehà:ka, a place which has long served as a site of meeting and exchange amongst nations. We recognize and respect the Kanien’kehà:ka as the traditional custodians of the lands and waters on which we meet today.

    01:00 Sheetal: In today’s episode, we will hear from royalty – three queens in fact, crowned right here in Montreal at McGill’s Winter Carnival Gala. The McGill Carnival first took place in 1948. It became a campus tradition, running for over twenty years. Each year brought competition, pageantry, sports, and community, making headlines on campus and beyond. The reigning queen passed her crown on to her successor, who was nominated by her peers and elected by popular student vote.

    01:38 We spoke with three women about their experiences as campus royalty, and their student experiences at McGill. We had the privilege of talking with the 1949 Carnival Queen Beryl Dickinson-Dash, now Beryl Rapier. And we caught up with two others as well – the 1951 Queen Dorothy Alexander, who was known in her McGill days as “Dusty Baxter”. Finally, we spoke with the 1958 queen, Rae Tucker, now Rae Rambally. I’ll let them introduce themselves.

    02:08 Beryl: And I am Beryl Rapier. What more do you want to know? [laughter] I’m 92 years old, and I live in Las Vegas.

    02:20 Dorothy: My name is, now, Dorothy Alexander. When I was Carnival Queen, I was in the second to last year of, uh, the, uh, engineering part of the architectural course, which had to be completed before you got in. So, it was kind of like a, a graduate school.

    02:47 Rae: My first name is Rae, R-A-E. My family name is Tucker, T-U-C-K-E-R. My m-my name, my married name is Rambally, R-A-M-B-A-L-L-Y. And, I was born in Trinidad. Um, what else do you want to know?

    03:31 Sheetal: The first official McGill Winter Carnival took place in February of 1948, with a full schedule of sporting and social events. Beryl became a sensation the following year. In 1949, she made history as the first Black woman to win a pageant of this kind in North America. There is in fact a great CBC Radio piece on Beryl’s Carnival Queen experience. We’ll put a link to that in the show notes.

    04:00 Sheetal: We spoke with Beryl, Dorothy and Rae separately, but their experiences with the Carnival nomination process were similar. In fact, none of our interviewees volunteered for this beauty pageant. Beryl, Dorothy and Rae were all nominated by men. I asked Beryl about how she got involved with the Carnival Queen process.

    04:20 Beryl: That’s another story, I was going with this guy and for his birthday, I gave him a picture. I'm not, my mother took me to a photographer and we had some, she was getting some pictures made anyway. And so, I gave him a picture for his birthday. And his birthday is in June, so I mean, I mean, I thought nothing of it and when, when school resumed, we went, our school started in October.

    [04:57] Uh, McGill always started in October in those days. Um, his roommate, again, there's another thing, I never went with a guy who had a car, who had his own place, or who wasn't living with his mother. I mean, you know, that, that, that was- were the times. Anyway, he was rooming with this other guy th- I think he was from Barbados, and they were both rooming together. Well, when this, um, uh, competition started, he [the roommate] took the picture,

    [05:30] his roommate did, and, and pres-, uh, entered it without my knowing anything about it. I'm coming to class one day and I see, um, hmm, I see these five, five girls’ pictures running these is the girls running for Carnival—no! No it was a bunch of girls, not only [Bradley: It was 20] 20, 25 or 26 or whatever. And I see m- I said, “gee that looks like my picture,” but I don't pay attention. I go, I, I keep going. and then I think.

    [05:56] And then I think, “no, but that is me!” And I go back, so, I, I say [laughs], “how did that picture get there?” And then in the, the McGill news it's saying these girls are running and what we're doing and we're invited to this Tea, so I go home and I say to my mother, I said, “can you imagine? Layton enters me into a Carnival Queen thing. I mean, uh, me.”

    06:26 Sheetal: For Rae, the experience was similar – she has a clear memory of the man who nominated her for the Crown.

    06:33 Rae: Who nominated me? [Laughs softly] The person's name, as I remember it, was Paul. He was not a student, he was a photographer, if I remember correctly, 'cause I had to dig deep into my memory bank to, um, to, because I asked myself the same question. Um, I remember him approaching me.

    [07:03] And he, uh, he approached me, I would think, at the beginning of my second year at McGill, which would be 1960, as I went in 59. And sometime, maybe around October/November, about this time of year, and he said he would like, you know, he would like to recommend that I run for Carnival Queen, and I said, “oh, nice!” I was 20 [laughs].

    [07:27] I mean, that was, that was very, that was quite a feather in my cap, you know, and I, I was quite, um, what's the word I'm looking for, uh, I was overjoyed. I, I, I accepted it graciously, as graciously as I could.

    [07:43] Now, the people who actually were nominated on who ran, I don- I know how I got in there, through this person, Paul, and, but, uh, and I was a student, and, um, it just rolled from there, you know. They would tell us, um, what to do, uh, where to go, which group, where we were being introd-, who, to whom we were being introduced.

    [08:13] We went around campus, and to all the different faculties, the Law Faculty, the Me- Medical Faculty. And h- I remember when we went to the Medical Faculty, my two brothers were sitting in the class, because I had two brothers who were medical students at the time. So, um, and you know, you introd— uh, we, but, but by then, the, the girls who were running for C— because it wasn't j- there were five of us, but out of, of, before those five, there were about 20.

    [08:52] And, we, it was an open thing, running for Carnival Queen.

    08:58 Sheetal: Rae recalls the selection process that took place at the Queen’s Tea, as it was called. Over tea and snacks, all of the nominees met with an intimidating panel of judges, who narrowed the candidates down to five women, who then became known as the Queen’s Court.

    09:08 Rae: Um, there was a Queen’s Tea that was held, where they made, uh, the selection of the five, from the 20. And, we met at, uh, Royal Victoria College, on Sherbrooke Street, and, which is now the Music Faculty, I believe. And, um, Muriel Roscoe was the warden of that, of the, um, of the Royal Victoria College, at the time.

    [09:46] And Royal Victoria College was the residence for girls who came from out of town.

    I did not live at Royal Victoria College, because we couldn't afford it. I came, and so my brothers, we invented a cousin, they found a cousin for me, a fam-, a relative, and, and, because we had to work, you know, do part-time jobs, and to earn some extra money, et cetera.

    [10:11] We weren't, we weren't wealthy by any means. I mean, we weren't poor, but we weren't wealthy. So that's, that's the kind of, um—so we met at Royal Victoria College for the Queen's Tea and five girls were chosen, and I was one of them. Yeah.

    10:30 Sheetal: Wow. [Rae: Yeah] Who were the judges?

    10:33 Rae: Muriel Roscoe was one of them, and I believe, the students who— because I've, you know, when it's happening to you, you're not necessarily analyzing what's going on in the background, [laughs] okay. So, but I think there were students who were on these committees, like the Carnival Committee, the Winter Carnival Committee, uh, choosing the girls, uh, organizing the voting, because it, it was done by vote, um, of the whole campus.

    [11:06] Everybody was involved. Um, so, so those were the people who were in the background, the administration of it, that's, which is something I didn't, I wasn't noticing it, or wasn't observant. I was too busy being pushed along from here to there, so, yeah. So, who were the people, yeah.

    11:29 Sheetal: I suppose I was wondering more whether they were, were they faculty? Or were they—

    11:33 Rae: No, I think it was students. The students ran different committees, different societies on campus. And as I was jogging my memory and looking back in the yearbooks, because I have the yearbooks, do you have them in physical form? They're heavy things [Sheetal laughs]. I have two here, and my legs, uh, I, I rested them on my legs and, uh, I could get a fracture from them. They're huge.

    [12:01] So, there were different, uh, groups, and committees, and societies on campus. And I think it was, it was a way of also getting students to, to run the, the, these societies, to understand how they're put together, and, uh, so I think those people were in the background. The blood drive, the, uh, the, um, the Flying Carpet, the Red and White Review, all those, um, it's students who were at the back.

    [12:35] McGill, I suppose, funded it. They were, they had, you know, they had funds from McGill to do it, but, um, the students did it, yeah.

    12:46 Sheetal: As Rae points out, it was students who organized the carnival events. Beryl recalls that students also led the campaigns to rally support for the Queen candidates.

    12:58 Beryl: It's so funny when I, when this, um, uh, competition stuff was going on, I had two Jewish guys who were in the same economics class as me and they kept saying to me, “you need to come in late, you know, and not go all the way back. You need to come in late and walk right up to the front.”

    13:17 Bradley: Make a commotion!

    13:18 Beryl: I said I'm not doing that! “Yes, you gotta promote yourself, you gotta do that [laughs]” And so—because I used to just kind of always be on time and just get in and sit in my seat, you know what I mean. Don't make any waves. But anyway, I did that a couple of times. And the professor called me out and he [one of the Jewish guys] said “I told you! Everybody knows who you are now.” [Indistinct]

    [13:36] [Laughs] So it kind of worked. And anyway, I did it once. I didn't, I mean, I didn't, that's not my style. So, but I, he, I got into trouble because he mentioned my— “You're late, Miss Beryl Dickinson-Dash!” So, he said, “Do you see what I said? Everybody knows who you are now.” [Laughs] [indistinct] So, so that's how that went, but I never thought in a million, or, a mill- I never thought that would happen, but it happened.

    13:59 Sheetal - Rae too found support from international and Jewish student groups.

    14:03 Rae: Um, I know I got the votes of a lot of the international students, the Jewish students, uh stuck with me. I only found— they org- they had a separate organiz- or-organization, um, uh, to, to, to promote me. And I think word of mouth and, uh, you know, talking to each other and, and, and, uh, and that was going on building up to the night at the Forum. So that’s, uh, that was how that, that worked out.

    14:38 Sheetal: Both Beryl and Rae described Montreal’s Black community as “close-knit” and “small.” Rae had definitely heard of Beryl.

    14:47 Rae: I've never met her, but I, I heard of her. She preceded me, and, but by, by nine years, I think.

    14:55 Sheetal: Okay!

    14:56 Rae: Yes, yes. When I came, uh, I heard that— and she came from Trinidad as well.

    15:02 Sheetal: Ye- her parents did, yes, exactly. [Rae: Yes!] Yeah.

    15:04 Rae: I've, I've, I met her mother, and I know her mother, because I worked in the, in the Montreal community, uh, during my days as a social worker in practice, and, and in the, and reaching out to the Black community in particular, and her mother was part of that. [Sheetal: Oh, that's so nice!] So, I've never met Beryl, but I'm, I know, I know, I knew Mrs. Dash, yes.

    15:29 Sheetal: In fact, Beryl told us that, um, [Rae coughs] the Black community is, was pretty tight knit because, [Rae: Yes] you know, so few people [Rae: Yes] and, and this is the, this is the case.

    15:38 Rae: And I was very much part of it during the years, first— well, as a student, not as a student so much, ju- ‘cause those were my student days. But after, when I was, uh, w-when I was practicing in social work, uh, that's when, you know, we were getting the Black community together, and identifying issues, and trying to deal with them, that sort of thing. Yeah

    16:02 Sheetal: Oh, that's really great.

    16:04 Rae: Yeah.

    16:05 Sheetal: Who, [Rae: And that—] who would have anticipated a connection already?

    16:09 Rae: Well, it's a small community [Sheetal: Yeah [laughs]]. Yeah, it’s a small community [laughs].

    16:14 Sheetal: Beryl grew up in Montreal’s Black community in Saint-Henri. Her father was active in the Railway Porter’s Union, and her mother was active in many Black community groups. The Queen’s Tea put Beryl quite far outside of her comfort zone, where she was the only Black student.

    16:32 Beryl: Layton enters me into a Carnival Queen thing. I mean, uh, me. We used to say in those days “coloured.” The color— “you know, I have no chance. I'm not going to—.” My mother said, “you paid your fees! we're going down there, we're going to get you a little outfit, and you're going to the Tea.”

    [16:50] But I mean, I was nervous. I mean, I was really, really nervous because they were all white and they were all very prejud- not all, but a lot, ‘cause a lot of them were making remarks. And, and it's so funny 'cause I mean, I took the streetcar and we all got there, there's no TV, there's none of that. There is somebody interviewing, um, you, like the radio, with his little mic thing or writing notes.

    [17:19] And, uh, and I'm, I, now, [indistinct] remember there was one guy, I think he was from The Star. And he said to me, uh, “you're a little nervous.” I said, “well, you know, I, I don't think they're liking me being here.” And he said, “you're, you're, you have every right to be here. Now cut that out, now you just hold your head up and walk.”

    [17:43] So anyway, they, they interviewed, they cut it down because there were about 26 of us to start, and then they cut us down to about 11. Well, the 11, they, um, interviewed us really h-harshly, you know, and, and, more in depth, I should say.

    [18:00] And so, um, then they said, “well, you know, you know what you're here for, and we have to call, we have to call the numbers for the five of you.” Well, you know, my, I had a hyphenated name, Dickinson-Dash, and so I was up there too in the alphabetical order. So they said, um, “Beryl Dickinson-Dash!”

    [18:30] I thought, “no, it couldn’t be.” They called me, they c- and then they called these other four girls, and they said, “the five of you now will be running for the Carnival Queen. Well, I mean, I mean, I, I, I was ecstatic, and I remember I didn't even wait to go home, that was the first time I ever phoned my mother on an outside line, I called my mother.

    [18:55] I said, “mother can you believe this? I am going to, I, I’m going to probably be one of the ladies in waiting” never thinking I'm going to win anything. Nothing like that, nothing!

    19:07 Sheetal: The process for all three of our guests was the same. After nominations and selection at the Queen’s Tea, the McGill student newspaper published photos of the five members of the Queen’s Court. After that, the campaigning started. The student body had the chance to vote for their Carnival Queen. Like Beryl and Rae, Dorothy Alexander – Dusty – was nominated by one of her peers. She swept the podium with a record voter turnout in 1951.

    19:37 Dorothy: It wasn't my idea at all! Um, I was in, then, as I say, in the Engineering Faculty, and they got their— and of course, I knew a lot of people studying Engineering, all men. Um, and I have to admit, one of them—and it, and it may have been John Jonas, or among them—uh, said,

    [20:07] “look at the size of the engineering, uh, school! We could easily get our Carnival Queen in, because we'll all vote for her” [Laughs]. And so, not that I'm ugly, [laughs] but I'm afraid the year of 51, the other girls didn't have much of a chance, and I, I have read, just recently, since I've known you, and kn-knew that, um, I was going to talk to you,

    [20:40] there was more voting that year. More, more people came out to vote, and they were all engineers [laughs].

    20:50 Sheetal: So, you stacked the votes, as engineers.

    20:54 Dorothy: I will dare say that the whole engineering school that voted, voted for me because that gave them some, uh, je ne sais quoi [laughs]. Engineering is, some—well, well, those boys were all there to become engineers, and some of them became very good ones.

    21:52 Sheetal: Just like her classmates, Dorothy’s campus life was busy. She knew from day one that she was going to be an architect. She found support from her classmates, but she also had local connections. She moved to Montreal from the South Shore to study at McGill, so friends and family were not that far away. In contrast, Rae came to McGill as an international student, following in the footsteps of her two older brothers. For both women, the experience of the pageant was a change of pace from their busy lives on campus. Rae, in particular, was active in student groups.

    22:29 Rae: I was involved with the West Indian Society. We had a West Indian group.

    Um, we, I was involved with the, the Flying Carpet, which was a multinational, um, show that was put on. You know, the Chinese group, it would be an African group, it would be a Caribbean group, it would be, um, you know, uh, an Indian group. Uh, so, uh, and I actually, I think I was president of one, 1959, I was president of the Flying Carpet.

    [23:09] There was the Red and White Review as well, and I was trying to remember the name of the one that I was involved in, and for the life of me I can't remember it, and I couldn't find it, um, in, in the yearbook. But, uh, so, the Choral Society, I sang in the Choral Society, uh, the Red and White Review, the Flying Carpet, the West Indian Society, uh, those were the ones, and that was enough, I could tell you. That was enough.

    [23:52] I was, uh, [laughs softly] I was very busy, and it did impact negatively on my studies [laughs softly]. I was fortunate to graduate. You know, as I look back—and I have a granddaughter who is at McGill right now—and I look back and think, the amount, the number of activities I was in, and the, um, and I worked part time, I, you know, I did babysitting, I did, uh, I worked for Bell.

    [24:23] It was called Bell Telephone at the time. Because I had French as one of my, my, um, the languages I studied, I was able in those days to land a job, part-time job, evening work, at Bell. So I'd do 4 hours and go back to my studies. So, I was, I was stretched pretty thin. And, um, it impacted negatively on my, I barely made, I barely graduated. I was a much better student second time round, 'cause I did go back to McGill many years later.

    24:55 Sheetal: And that was for your social work.

    24:57 Rae: That was for the, for my master's. Had a lot of difficulty getting in because it came back to haunt me. My marks weren't good enough and social work was, uh, they would, they had just introduced the master’s, the BSW and, and the MSW. And, there were lots of people who were applying to, because it was a, in the old days, like nursing.

    [25:23] You know, it was a, it was a nice profession to, to, to enter, to be. So, I, um, but I did get in. I persevered, took extra courses, brought my marks up, and, and got in and got my masters. But I was a much better student second time around because there was no playing around, I had a family by then [Sheetal: Mm-hmm]. And a mor- and a mortgage, as I like to tell people.

    25:51 Sheetal: Like Rae, Dorothy was busy as an undergraduate too. She was a part of a Greek women’s fraternity

    26:00 Dorothy: Uh, well, [clears throat] I was in Kappa Alpha Theta, which was on that street that runs down the side of the university. You know, it's like a big block of property, and the first street that happens—I don't happen to remember its name—uh, was where the fraternity houses were located.

    [26:26] And I don't know if the other women’s fraternities called themselves fraternities or sororities, but our, uh, Kappa Alpha Theta was a fraternity. We were all brothers.

    26:41 Sheetal: Wow.

    26:43 Dorothy: It, it was a social gathering place, you know. We had meetings, we had things that, uh, we were concerned about. Uh, I don't remember one of them [laughs], but, uh, we, we tried to do some good, progressive things [notification sound]. It wasn’t just, sort of, balls and, uh, dances, and.

    27:14 Sheetal: How many of you were in it? How many of you were in this, uh, fraternity?

    27:18 Dorothy: Oh, in the 20s. 20 odd.

    27:24 Sheetal: And were you close with each other?

    27:28 Dorothy: We certainly all knew each other. We were in, of course, we were studying different things. I was the only architect, um, which impressed everybody [laughs] [sighs].

    27:44 Sheetal: It's still impressive. There are still very few women in engineering and architecture.

    27:51 Dorothy: Well, I think in the States there were probably more women. But it's, in Canada, it was, uh, definitely not, uh, such a good idea, because we also had to work in the summer and polish our, whatever we could, main- namely the drawing. But we had, we had to get experience in architect’s office

    [28:22] And the first o-office that I went to just said, “we don’t hire women!” [laughs] And, uh, I ended up, uh, working for Canadian Car and Foundry, in the drafting room. And I was drawing aeroplane wings [laughs]. And, so, it was a, a while before I got into a, a real architect's office.

    [28:53] I, I, then the next year, uh—no, I, I worked for Bechtel, um, uh, doing drawings. Uh, they are a large engineering firm, they certainly still, still exist, and they are, I would believe, inter- international.

    [29:16] Well, I only had to work for them for two years, [noise], and they were very nice to me. Now, that's the differen—I mean, they ed-, they helped educate me, uh, in drawing. And, uh and I became a, a nice, a good draftsman.

    [29:42] We also had, in the summer, one year we had a survey school. That means you go out with the transit, and, uh, learn how to, uh, lay out land. So, we were kept pretty busy. And the people in my architectural class and my professors were—I was just one of the boys [laughs].

    30:16 Sheetal: Did you feel like they, they—when you say you were one of the boys, uh, were you the only woman there?

    30:24 Dorothy: Yes, in my class.

    30: 26 Sheetal: Yeah.

    30:27 Dorothy: Um, but the class was only 12 or 13.

    30:32 Sheetal: Okay.

    30:33 Dorothy: It was very small. And it w—it had its own little Victorian building, so it was like working in a converted house. It was all the early, the early years. I guess they have a big architectural school building now.

    30:52 Sheetal: The architecture school now has a beautiful new building, but other things about McGill have not changed at all. Men still outnumber women in the STEAM streams. But campus groups are still crucial ways for students to connect with one another. This is particularly true for international students like Rae. She arrived as a McGill undergraduate from Trinidad at age 20. The following year she was crowned queen of a Winter Carnival. She had never even experienced winter before she came to Montreal.

    31:26 Rae: No, no. I had never experienced winter. I, I always tell the story of—okay, we in the Caribbean, our education, we learned about winter, we learned about spring, whereas in the Caribbean we have literally two seasons: the rainy season and the dry season.

    [31:51] Uh, so now, uh, you know, but our education taught us about—is it Woods, what’s the, uh, who talked about the, the sea of golden daffodils? And I remembered as a 12/13-year-old, trying to imagine what a daffodil looked like, a sea of golden daffodil. Well, we had bougainvillea and, uh, not daffodils, but we didn't learn about, well, we lived with bougainvillea, we learned about daffodils.

    [32:21] So, uh, the Canadian winter, again, it would have been an academic exercise, something you learned from a book. Um, something you imagined. Uh, and I remember my very first winter. I was walking along with a couple friends, a couple friends I had made, uh, we took the same classes, and it was about November and, you know how the season changes, and you can feel, you can feel snow in the air.

    [32:54] And I remember we were walking along just outside the Milton Gates, going up the hill, and, um, she suddenly tapped me on my shoulders and she, and she pointed her finger up in the sky, and I said, “oh, snow!” [laughs] And that was my first experience of snow, ice falling from the sky, [laughs] you know. That was, uh, so, I'd had no exper-, I, I didn't know how, well, you learn how to dress, people have coats.

    [33:24] My brothers saw to it that I had the right attire and, um, uh, but you know, I, you know, getting the winter boots and the, the, the gloves and the mitts and the whole 9 yards.

    Yeah, so that, I had no experience of winter, except from a book, or may- maybe even a movie.

    And we, you know, I'm, we're going back a very long time for me, uh, even movies.

    34:44 Sheetal: The Carnival Queen was crowned every year at a gala. In the early years of the pageant, this gala was held on ice at the Montreal Forum, the famous home of the Montreal Canadiens Hockey club. The gala drew in celebrities and university VIPs like Cyril James, the principal of McGill. While there are photos, news clippings and memorabilia in the McGill archives, these women remember what it was like to be on ice at that moment. Beryl recalls the role that Camillien Houde, the mayor of Montreal at the time, played in the ceremony.

    35:26 Beryl: You know, it was at the Forum in Montreal and of course it was on ice so they had built this, um, big sleigh thing, you know, they I was on top and the four girls like that [gesturing around her]. And so, um, they, they, it was at the, um, Forum?

    35:48 Bradley: I think so. About 8000 people there?

    35:50 Beryl: Well, what, yeah, where, where they skate now, where they do all that, it was the Forum. Yeah, it must have been the Forum, right there on, um, Atwater. Anyway, they went, put the place in darkness before we were coming out and of course it took a while. Well, what had happened: Mayor Houde [Camillien Houde], who was a very heavy man, was going to crown me and they had built these step—I was up and the girls were on either side, and so they had built these steps for him.

    [36:25] He stepped on the first two and broke them! So they [wheezes] had, they had to try to fix it because people are out there waiting for me to come out. Well, I didn't come out, we didn't come out for a while. And my mother, my poor mother, she said, I was, she said, “I thought they’re trying to take away my daughter [laughs softly] and trying to kidnap her or do something with her, it’s taking so long to—.” She was so nervous that they took so- we didn't come out for so long [laughs].

    [36:45] But that’s what happened with the, with the, with the sleigh thing. That, it was funny because, I mean, he was a big man, you remember a picture of Mayor Houde [asking Bradley]?

    37:00 Bradley: [Indistinct]

    37:01 Sheetal: I've never seen what the mayor looked like at that time. I’ll need—I'll look it up!

    [Bradley and Beryl’s voices indistinct]

    37:05 Beryl: Yeah, yeah, look it up, he's, he's, he’s really, really a big man.

    37:09 Bradley: And then the Prime Minister was there.

    37:10 Beryl: I saw the prime minister,

    37:12 Sheetal: Wow

    37:13 Beryl: Yeah, he, he’s ni- he was a very nice man, yeah. Yeah, I have pictures in, in my scrapbook, they're all in there, all, uh, all those pictures. Oh yeah, it's a time of my life, but listen, [claps] so long ago! [Laughs]

    37:29 Sheetal: Dorothy too recalls Mayor Houde at the coronation. She was on the ice for her entrance, in a float, with the other members of the Queen’s Court. She remembers impressions of the Forum, full of friends, fraternity sisters, engineering students, and family – along with the funny slip-ups that occur at every major event.

    37:49 Dorothy: I dare say they were there. It was very hard, with, looking at Mayor Houde [laughs]. And, uh, and the girls were on, you know, the corners. I saw, I saw the backs of their heads, and, and one of them was, uh, was behind me. Um, yes, it was a, a very exciting time,

    [38:20] but not the kind of exciting night that you remember the details of, just, just the, uh, lit- funny little things that happened. And one thing was I k- I kept hearing someone calling my voice, and my cousin, who had come all the way over from Saint-Lambert—he was my older cousin—to s- to say hi [Sheetal: Hmm] and to watch.

    [38:51] Uh, at that point, we were—I think there was a hockey game, and then we were walking on the mountain in the dark, and just generally being paraded around. Well, how far my memory [both laugh] goes back on the subject of the McGill Winter Carnival 1951, I wouldn't be too sure [laughs]. I mean, I do remember it, but not the, I don't remember the crown being put on my head, but it was all so crazy.

    39:28 Sheetal: So it makes me think that they did something different every year?

    39:33 Dorothy: Yes, well, th-this, uh, float was pulled across the ice, and, uh, that was not a good idea [laughs]. Uh, there were men in tux-, uh, McGill men in tuxedos, pushing this float, which tipped, and everybody was laughing. And, uh, a very interesting thing is behind me, beside, there was a woman behind me, uh [it] was mayor Camillien Houde.

    [40:10] Have you ever heard of him? Yeah, he was the biggest rascal [laughs]. Suitably, I'm sure. Suited and seated [laughs]. And, and he was having the time of his life [laughs] and laughing and saying things to the audience. I guess that was a, an opportunity for him to, uh, get some prime time [laughs].

    40:46 Sheetal: According to Dorothy, Camillien Houde, the mayor of Montreal, was a burly Frenchman, with a permanent smile on his face. He was mayor of Montreal four separate times between 1928 and 1954. There was also, according to many, a great deal of corruption during that time. Montreal’s finances were in terrible shape. In 1939, Houde became notorious, openly opposing conscription, with a public statement published in the Montreal Gazette. This earned him a 4-year term in an internment camp at Petawawa and put an end to his term as mayor. Despite this, he was back in office, and gladhanding all around by 1951, when he crowned Dorothy Queen at the Montreal Forum.

    41:37 Dorothy: Well, there was corruption, but he was a, a very burly Frenchman, always with a smile on his face. He, uh, he enjoyed himself [indistinct]. In the first place, he was in power for years and years. Years and years!He was a young man, started—he was a, quite an old man, uh, the last time I saw him, in 1951. So, I don't know whether that's legal in Montreal or where they have term limits now.

    42:30 Sheetal: Rae describes the process of shopping for her dress and her winning night.

    42:36 Rae: That was, that was all organized for us. What I remember is we, we were told where to- we had to go to get the dresses. It was on Park Avenue, Lower Park Avenue, going towards, between Sherbrooke Street and what's the next one? Milton and above.

    [43:00] Uh, there were lots of stores, fur shops, uh, that sold furs, that sold dresses, uh, that, and we, I remember going to one of those to get the dresses. Uh, and you'll see the dresses are all the same, they're designed the same, so it was the same, it was the same store that provided the dresses, and they were rented. They were not bought, ‘cause we had to return them.

    [43:27] Um, uh, the fur stole, 'cause I have, I just saw myself in a fur stole, and um, that was, that was loaned, on loan, and uh, and we had to return those, yeah.

    43:42 Sheetal: Actually, that's really wonderful, so that, you know, that the, the store had a program set up with McGill so that you didn't have to [Rae: That's right, that's right] pay out of pocket.

    44:00 Rae: I don't think I would have been able to afford the dress. I, I would have had to choose between the dress and a winter coat.

    44:07 Sheetal: Yeah

    44:08 Rae: And I know what, what I would have chosen.

    44:11 Sheetal: [Laughs] Yeah.

    44:12 Rae: Practical, yeah.

    [44:16] The night of the Carniv- of the, of the crowning was a very interesting experience.

    We got our dresses, we were told where we had to be, I think I took a taxi.

    I didn't have the same support system that the local girls had. The other four all had their families here, and that makes, uh—you know, things like the clothes you wear, how you dress, um, you know, jewelry from your aunt or your sister, your family, I didn't have that.

    [44:50] But you know, one or two of the students were really very kind and loaned me stuff. And, um, so we, we were told we had to go—it was done at the Forum, the c-crowning was done at the Forum.

    [45:07] And, we got there, and we were shepherded to the area where the hockey players went. It's, it's a basement area of the, of the Forum, and we sat, we sat, um, you know, all dickied up, and our dresses, and, and prettied up. And, there was a game going on, and then a show going on.

    [45:35] So, you know, this went on for like a couple hours almost, and we were at the back. We—again, how it was organized, I remember we were, they designed something that looked like an igloo. It opened out with four flaps, like this way, and that way, and that way, and there was a seat in the middle.

    [46:05] And just, we, we sat and we chatted. We were very cordial, we were very nice, and, um, I, [laughs softly] I learned a lot about how to be, how to compete and be nice at the same time [laughs] when you don't really feel that way, but I learned that. So, we sat and talked, and the t- we were told what time we would have to, to go out on the ice.

    [46:39] And just before we went out onto- it was time to go out on the ice, we were told who, who the winner was. So, the five of us are in this room, and we each went and sat into our igloo, and then they closed it. It's like a leaf, you know, where you t-, it, uh, they closed it, and we were pushed onto the ice and positioned.

    [47:11] And while we sat there, leading up to it, you know, the ceremonies and, I don't know, which group did what and won which prize, and all that sort of thing leading up to it, and ours was the last, the crowning of the Queen was the last, um, uh, event, the last on that, um, agenda. And I know that a lot of the Caribbean students and other people came to the Forum that night.

    [47:47] Of my two brothers, one could not attend [laughs] because he was so scared. Because what was, what I was doing, what was, what I was entering, and what was happening was not something that normally happened in Montreal, in those days. And my oldest brother, he couldn't come, and he didn't come.

    [48:12] And I know all the students, the Black students, the overseas students, they, um, they, they, all, the, the Forum was, was full, and I didn't realize how full the Forum was until we opened the igloo. So, they started with the runner up number five. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, yeah. Runner up number five, and then, you know, big applause. Four, big applause. Three, big applause.

    [48:41] Two, the place exploded, because there was just one person left, and, that was it. And I was crowned by the Principal and Vice- and Vice-Chancellor of the university, Cyril James. Um, and I remember going back home that night—I, t-the applause just seemed to, to go on for an eternity [laughs].

    [49:10] That's, I, I was 22 years old. Can't really believe I was ever 22 [laughs]. My granddaughter is 20. Yeah, uh, it was, it went on forever. And I think, after Beryl, I broke a barrier, I, you know, um, that night. But what, what was interesting was that it was by campus-wide vote.

    [49:40] Um, so that's, uh, that was how that, that worked out. And then of course we got presents, and jewelry. I still have a mother-of-pearl something bracelet and [noise] necklace, I still have it, you know. Um, and, but then I was gone, for ten years, and that’s basically the story.

    50:10 Sheetal: The legacy of the Carnival at McGill is much more than the tangible objects and records that survive in our archives – the programs, pins, photos, and news clippings. Each year, a cohort of talented women were in the running for the crown. The student body rallied around them in a show of school spirit that we rarely see today.

    50:33 But what happened after the fun and festivities were over? Stay tuned for further episodes, where we hear from each interviewee about their experiences after the pageant and their studies at McGill.

    51:03 Sheetal: As always, look to our show notes for additional material, such as timelines, photos, links to archival materials, and more. Many thanks to today’s royal guests Beryl Rapier, Dorothy Alexander and Rae Rambally. Beryl is featured in another episode on Black History, please check it out on our website.

    Thank you to Professor Nathalie Cooke, Director of this project at McGill Library’s ROAAr team and to Jacquelyn Sundberg, Associate Producer. Our title song “Happy Sandbox”was composed by Mativve and sourced from freesound.org. All composers are listed in our show notes. I’m Sheetal Lodhia, thanks for listening!

    Episode 16 - Life After Coronation - Beryl Rapier 1949

    🔊  Listen Now 

    So what happened after the fun and festivities of McGill's winter Carnival were over? We hear from Beryl Rapier, Carnival queen in 1949, about her experiences after the pageant and her time at McGill.

    Explore More:


    • Host & Editor: Jacquelyn Sundberg
    • Producer: Sheetal Lodhia
    • Transcription & Research: Labiba Faiza


    • Beryl Rapier
    • Bradley Rapier


    • Title song: Happy Sandbox, by Mativve, sourced from Freesound.org, CC BY 3.0
    • End credits: Happy-music, by monkeyman355, CC BY 3.0


    00:08 Sheetal: Welcome to  Footnotes– The ROAAr podcast where we explore the stories in and around the McGill Library and Archives.  Nothing is off topic.  

    We share stories from our collections, that are off the wall, out of the box, off the shelves, from us to you, wherever you get your podcasts. We have short pods like this one, called footnotes, and longer pieces, called Voices from the Footnotes. Look for these on the website. 

    [00:36] Before we begin, we acknowledge that McGill University is situated on the traditional territory of the Kanien’kehà:ka, a place which has long served as a site of meeting and exchange amongst nations. We recognize and respect the Kanien’kehà:ka as the traditional custodians of the lands and waters on which we meet today. 

    00:56 Jacquelyn: I'm Jacquelyn Sundberg, associate producer for the podcast and today's host. We're catching up with Beryl Dickinson-Dash, now Rapier, who won Mcgill's Winter Carnival Queen pageant in 1949 as an undergraduate student. She was the first Black woman to win a pageant of the kind at the time. You can hear about her experiences in previous episodes. Today we're hearing about her experiences after she won and where she went after her time at McGill. You'll also hear from Beryl’s son Bradley Rapier and our producer Sheetal Lodhia in this episode as well. 

    01:34 Sheetal: When you won the Carnival Queen, did it allow you to travel to other cities in Canada? 

    01:42 Beryl: Not really, no. I mean, I, I had gone to Toronto but, um, no, I didn't. I, well, I, I used to go—my father worked on the trains. I went a couple times on the, I loved—went to Vancouver couple times. You know, it was different. 

    01:58 Beryl: You didn't go and stay with people, like, people, you know, they didn't do those things, And my parents were from the West Indies, so their culture, you know, they kept their culture. You just didn't do that. Then this, you come home for your own- sit in your own house and have your own meal. You don't just go hanging out, you know, that, that was what it was and they, they kept to that for quite a while. So, you know, life is quite different now. 

    02:26 Beryl: Uh, uh, uh, I, I'm sure you know [laughs]. 

    02:30 Sheetal: [Laughs] Yeah. 

    02:30 Jacquelyn: So, you did though get to travel. You went on this trip down to West Virginia after the Carnival Queen. 

    02:38 Beryl: It was—no not by McGill, it was sponsored by the American folks. They—I stayed with the Dean and his family. And they, they—and I took a girlfriend with me, my friend Bella. And, uh, we were at his house and I went to the convocation. I was a guest there. And they had a couple teas for me, and it was very neat. It was n—all those people were very, they were all Blacks Americans, you know, thought it was such a great thing. 

    03:10 Beryl: So they, yeah, they did more, they did more there than Canada. Oh yeah, Canada, it's over. I mean, I know at one time this, it's over already. I mean, when I was going through my mail, they wanted it over, it was taking too long [laughs], you know. It happened, and of course, McGill got tired of it afterwards because they said, “well, you know, come on now, we had the contest, it’s, it's over now.” And they kept, 'cause they kept calling me to pick up this mail. 

    [03:41] 'Cause this, America took it up because, you know, it was big news for them, a-and for us as well. So yeah, it went on and went on and went on with the mail and I got mail from everywhere. I got from soldiers, from overseas, from everybody. So it, it, it, it really mushroomed, but it was really a surprise to me. I mean, no, I never thought for a minute. In the first place I would never done it.  

    [04:11] I mean, but that's how it went, yeah. And, and, and like I said, America, true to form, the university, um, invited me to a convocation. Yeah, different people called me afterwards and wrote their own articles, you know, 'cause it was, well, it was a time, you know, when it was, it was history, definitely, you know. 

    04:35 Sheetal: What was the strangest request that you got? 

    04:38 Beryl: Oh, I got proposed to, I mean, with people I don't even know, I mean, [laughs] a guy from Britain used to write me regularly. And I think he wanted me to marry him, and I didn't even know, I mean, he only knew me from seeing the picture, that's ridiculous. 

    04:55 Bradley: What I loved about those, those, they were so, um, they were so pleasant. The letters, they were like, Dear Beryl, If you would be, do me so kind as to allow me to meet you and...It was just so, um, [Beryl laughs] it was beautiful, like, these, you know, obviously [..] so civil, what’s the word I’m looking for, cultured, I don’t know the word. 

    [05:15] But just, uh, definitely not like now, you know [laughs]. 

    05:18 Beryl: No, not like that. 

    05:19 Sheetal: No! No sliding into the DMS with, you know [laughs]. 

    05:22 Beryl: Yeah, yeah that's right. Everything in my life I find was a great experience. I mean, I charted it down [laughs] as an experience, you know. And then as I said, I went to Scotland soon after I got married, so, um, spent seven years there. So, I've, I've lived in a lot of places, yeah. 

    05:45 Jacquelyn: So tell me about moving to Scotland, did you fly? 

    05:50 Beryl: No, no, no. 

    05:51 Sheetal: By boat. 

    05:53 Beryl: Boat, took a week. 

    05:54 Sheetal: And, and I bet [in] Scotland there were even fewer Black people there than in Montreal. 

    06:00 Beryl: Yeah, but you know, uh, yeah, very few, yeah. Um, but I found when they got to know in your little neighborhood, they were pretty friendly. I mean, sometimes they, some of them were [indistinct] I couldn't understand them but, um, and then I went to work there. Um, I worked for some accountants, um, I was the only Black again. And they never, they never had anybody in there like me. 

    [06:31] I mean, that was an experience, but the guy who—again, I got, I went to- for this job because my husband’s books were costing so much money, I said, “we have no m-, we have, we, I got to get a, get a job.” So I went to this British Rubber Company, it was called, and they were hiring and when I got there, the guy was so rude. He said, “oh, you have to take an exam!” 

    [06:58] I said, “Okay!” And so, when I went in, they, they were already doing the exam, and he gives me this- these papers, and I'm doing, and it was math, and math was my subject. I thought, “oh, I fooled you.” And he came and got my paper first. I was there late, and he came and got my [paper] first. Anyway, he left and went outside to make a phone call and it turned out, when they took me up to this big office, 

    [07:26] and I'll never forget this guy, Alec Robertson, and he said to me, “do you think they're prejudice here?” Oh I said, “I don't know, but I don't, I don't think that personnel guy [laughs] likes me, that's for sure.” So he said, “well, I want you to know he just called me to tell me I have a girl here, she aced the exam, you know, but she's colored, you know. And I said, then what color is she, pink?” 

    [07:48] And so he, he was, my mentor [indistinct]. He would say to me, “if anybody makes you feel uncomfortable, you just let me know.” And, and it was, it was hard in the beginning. I know a lot didn’t like me there 'cause I was the only Black person there, with like a hundred, you know, all kind of accountants, all kind of people working there. And I did a lot of math work, which I loved, but, um, yeah, no, they didn't see many, no, many. But they're, they're, they're, um, you know, the British or, or I should say England, more England, it's really more proper than Scotland. 

    [08:27] Scotland has a lot of their own traditions, but when you go to, when you go to England, I mean, really very proper, you know; the afternoon tea and this and that, and you dress for every occasion, and all that kind of stuff. But it was, it was fine, it was fine. [Clears throat] I mean, uh, it, it was hard living in Scotland, they were still in ration books when I went there in 1950, they still had ration books, yeah, till 19—’cause I said to one guy, “I thought you guys won the war,” he said, “oh, [laughs] yeah, but we still have ration books, yeah.” 

    [09:03] They had ration books in 1953, yeah. But, but that was another experience. It was, uh, I was there for seven years. I only travelled by boat. 

    09:14 Jacquelyn: When Beryl was nine years old, she sailed to Trinidad with her younger brother, who was seven at the time. They went to visit their grandparents. 

    09:23 Beryl: When we were coming back, 'cause 1939, the beginning of the war. And, oh, my brother and I, well, he was scared. I mean, I was a little, but I had to be a little big sister. We slept with our, uh, the life jackets. The portholes were all blacked out because it was beginning of the war. They were, they were bombing the ships, that was in 1939. So, that was really interesting [claps]. Yeah, I lived through [claps] a lot and I'm still [claps] here [laughs]. 

    09:55 Sheetal: [Laughs] Well, that's why we want to learn from you. 

    10:00 Beryl: Yeah. 

    10:02 Sheetal: Look to the show notes on our website for additional material and to explore the projects that the ROAAr team has been working on. Our title song called “Happy Sandbox” was composed by Mativve and sourced from freesound.org. You can find all the credits in our show notes. Thank you to Professor Nathalie Cooke, director of this project at team ROAAr, and to Jacquelyn Sundberg, associate producer. I'm Sheetal Lodhia, thanks for listening. 


    Episode 17 - Life After Coronation - Dorothy Baxter, 1951

    🔊  Listen Now 

    So what happened after the fun and festivities of McGill's winter carnival were over? We hear from Dorothy Baxter, Carnival queen in 1951, about her experiences after the pageant and her time at McGill. 

    Dorothy Baxter, Carnival Queen 1951. McGill Yearbook.

    Explore More


    • Host & Editor: Jacquelyn Sundberg
    • Producer: Sheetal Lodhia
    • Transcription & Research: Labiba Faiza


    • Dorothy Baxter


    • Title song: Happy Sandbox, by Mativve, sourced from Freesound.org, CC BY 3.0
    • End credits: Happy-music, by monkeyman355, CC BY 3.0



    00:08 Sheetal: Welcome to Footnotes– The ROAAr podcast where we explore the stories in and around the McGill Library and Archives. Nothing is off topic.

    We share stories from our collections, that are off the wall, out of the box, off the shelves, from us to you, wherever you get your podcasts. We have short pods like this one, called Footnotes, and longer pieces, called Voices from the Footnotes. Look for these on the website.

    [00:37] Before we begin, we acknowledge that McGill University is situated on the traditional territory of the Kanien’kehà:ka, a place which has long served as a site of meeting and exchange amongst nations. We recognize and respect the Kanien’kehà:ka as the traditional custodians of the lands and waters on which we meet today."

    00:56 Jacquelyn: I'm Jacquelyn Sundberg, host for today's episode. Today we're catching up with Dorothy Alexander, 1951 McGill Carnival Queen, who won the pageant when she was an undergraduate architecture student here at McGill. You can hear about her experiences in the pageant in a previous episode, but today we hear about where she went after her studies and her time in the winter throne.

    [01:19] She was known as Dusty Baxter during her time here, and she traveled internationally after she met her husband here in Montreal. Her professional archives are now at the University of Virginia, which is in fact how we got in touch with her. In the records there, the name Dusty is noted in the biographical description. I'll let her explain that nickname.

    01:40 Dorothy: Well, my parents both died young. And, uh, and after my mother, uh, left this world, um, I was given a dog [laughs], a Cocker Spaniel. Her name was Dusty. And then, when I was [audio glitches] aunt in Lethbridge, Alberta, now deceased.

    [02:08] Um, I took Dusty with me. But then I came back east again, to be with another family member, and, uh, I couldn't take her. So, I kept the name Dusty probably until, uh, somewhere in the thir—when I was thirty,

    [02:31] because I didn't like it that, u-upper class women all had dreadful “Mimi,” “Baba,” “Booboo” n-names, you know. And I don't put Dusty in with that, but I did not, I wanted to use my, my given name as a, a working person.

    02:58 Jacquelyn: you mentioned you went to Okinawa? How long did you live there?

    03:04 Dorothy: Not quite a year. Uh, my husband worked for a still extant and very powerful firm called Skidmore, Owings and Merrill. All the principles are dead now, but it was such a, you know, they had such a grasp on power that [laughs] they chose not to change the name. So, Skidmore, Owings and Merrill was working for the military,

    [03:37] uh, building a part of the military o-operation in Okinawa. And, uh, it's the only time I ever had a maid [laughs]. We had, uh, an, an Okinawan girl assigned to come to our house every day and sweep it [laughs].

    04:03 Jacquelyn: [Laughs] That must have been an experience. Also, you went straight from your McGill undergrad to Japan, at a fairly interesting time of—

    04:12 Dorothy: Yes, it was, it was. I, I think it was partly pulling me away, but I assumed I'd get right in there into an architect's office and it wouldn't make any difference, because it didn't make any difference. Um, but yes, I was married in Japan. Uh, and, uh, then we went right off to our

    [04:44] little, kind of, cabin for- which they had for, uh, people who were working s- in Skidmore, Owings [and Merrill]. Any family got a, got a little cabin. And my husband went to work every day and I learned how to drive a car [noise], went to the beach, you know. O-Okinawa would make a very—it's still in, there's still a US imprint, a big one.

    [05:14] And the Okinawans themselves, uh, comment about it, that they've been occupied by some foreign power, since forever, but they have their own government too. When we got back from Okinawa, I worked every single year of my marriage. Then I got divorced, and after that I've been working all my life, as an architect first.

    [05:46] I, when I was married, later, and I practiced in, um, San Francisco, both in my—I had my little one-person office, first, it was in the, kind of, garage, under the, it was a, a room underneath the carport because we were on a hill.

    [06:12] And then I found an office. Uh, an unbelievable, sm- small office, big enough to put my drafting table and, and my drawers of drawings, which we were doing there. Um, well, it—both in doing my own work, once I got going, I, got going in the, in, at, on the West Coast, and there they are much more open, in California.

    [06:44] And, uh, it, it was pretty well, like, like a single architect tends to get, um, uh, eccentric clients. But I also worked for a builder, and he was just interested in that I should squash his buildings onto—there's lot of hilly country out there, in San Francisco—that I, uh, “just one less pier, one less concrete pier” [laughs] to save money, but those were fun. They didn't have a client.

    [07:23] But I had one client who was, well, I had two old millionaire clients. One of them was crazy as a coot, and the other one said to me, “I hired you because I knew you worked for Bill Wurster, who was one of the prime architects and also Dean of the Faculty [audio glitches] of Architecture at, uh, the University of California.

    [07:56] Um, and he said, “I knew you’re [audio glitches] well trained” I did so many schemes for his, it was a c-complete house. It wasn't a remodel. I think, uh, I think I must have done 7 layouts [indistinct]. And now I'm, of course, pretty old, uh, and the, it's easier—I have a, a photography agency.

    [08:27] I do, um, a lot of photography which I would call, uh, is obs- people who have character [laughs], not famous, necessarily. But I did also photograph a lot of famous people because I worked for what's called the Academy of American Poets, which is in New- in New York.

    [08:57] I worked for the Municipal Art Society, uh — all on freelance basis — and also for the, uh, Academy of Arts and Letters, which has, it’s like the French Academy, onIy it's the American Academy. And I, I met and photographed, uh, many, many people. I was also known as a very good architect [laughs].

    [09:27] People wanted to hire me. I moved eventually to New York, but there, I really had my own firm, and I had, uh, clients who were, uh—well, that's all in my biography, which you can find.

    09:50 Sheetal: Look to the show notes on our website for additional material and to explore the projects that the ROAAr team has been working on.

    Our title song called “Happy Sandbox” was composed by Mativve and sourced from freesound.org. You can find all the credits in our show notes.

    Thank you to Professor Nathalie Cooke, director of this project at team ROAAr and to Jacquelyn Sundberg, associate producer. I’m Sheetal Lodhia, thanks for listening.


    Episode 18 - Before and After Coronation – Rae Rambally

    🔊  Listen Now 

    So what happened after the fun and festivities of McGill's winter carnival were over? We hear from Rae Rambally, Carnival queen in 1958, about her experiences both before and after her time at McGill.

    women in a ball gown
    Rae Tucker in coronation gown, 1958. McGill Yearbook. McGill University Archives.

    Explore More


    • Host & Editor: Jacquelyn Sundberg
    • Producer: Sheetal Lodhia
    • Transcription & Research: Labiba Faiza


    • Rae Rambally


    • Title song: Happy Sandbox, by Mativve, sourced from Freesound.org, CC BY 3.0
    • End credits: Happy-music, by monkeyman355, CC BY 3.0


    00:08 Sheetal: Welcome to Footnotes – The ROAAr podcast where we explore the stories in and around the McGill Library and Archives. Nothing is off topic.  

    We share stories from our collections, that are off the wall, out of the box, off the shelves, from us to you, wherever you get your podcasts. We have short pods like this one, called Footnotes, and longer pieces, called Voices from the Footnotes.  Look for these on the website. 

    [00:36] Before we begin, we acknowledge that McGill University is situated on the traditional territory of the Kanien’kehà:ka, a place which has long served as a site of meeting and exchange amongst nations. We recognize and respect the Kanien’kehà:ka as the traditional custodians of the lands and waters on which we meet today. 

    00:56 Jacquelyn: I'm Jacquelyn Sundberg, associate producer for the podcast and today's host. We hear more today from Rae Tucker, now Rae Rambally, who won Mcgill's Winter Carnival Queen pageant in 1951 as an undergraduate student. You can hear about her memories of the pageant in our previous episode Carnival Queens. Today we're hearing about her experiences after she won and where she went after her time at McGill. You'll also hear from our producer Sheetal Lodhia in this episode as well. 

    01:26 Rae: I grew up in Trinidad, I arrived at McGill at the age of 20, [Sheetal: Okay] so I am, I, you know, like I, I feel Trinidad in my bones, and I've gone back every year or every other year since, so, since, you know, I became an adult and graduated and, yeah. 

    [01:45] Looking back, I, when I came to McGill, because I had two brothers who had preceded me — one by about three years and one by two years — uh, they had been sem-, they were semi-established by the time I arrived, so they set me up. 

    [02:05] I knew I had to go find myself accommodation, a room somewhere in, in the ghetto area, what they call the ghetto, or, I don't know if they still call it the ghetto. Um, I lived on Sainte-Famille, uh, in a rooming house, I had a nice landlady, so I, I walked to my classes. But the group, my brothers belonged to a group of students, Caribbean students, from Jamaica, from Barbados, from  

    [02:35] Trinidad. And we gathered together, there were parties, endless parties. You didn't have to have money, uh, not even liquor, coke, and, and, and maybe some cheap wine, uh, if, you know, some cheap wine and, and music. And they rented an apartment at 3602 Durocher Street, which became  

    [03:05] famous because that's where all the parties were. And the nurses came and the, the, the, the, the other students heard about it and they came, and the police came too.  But the police— oh yes, [laughs] every so often, because it was really, very noisy, they were all good kids because they were all, all attending classes during the daytime, but, and all away from their families, and it was one way of surviving, just being with each other. 

    [03:35] So, I came into this group and joined this group. I didn't live at that address, I lived up on Sainte-Famille, but, uh, I had my lunch at the, at the house. We got together at Christmas time. Parents sent out- sent up care packages for their children, uh, we learned, uh, I watched— those who knew a little bit about cooking, they, they bought a turkey, uh, they cooked a  

    [04:05] turkey, they learned stuffing, that's where I learned to do stuffing, and, and it was Jamaican stuffing that I learned, and I come from Trinidad [laughs]. So that was the kind of atmosphere. For the Caribbean students — and I suppose for other students from other countries as well, because there were a lot of international students — at Christmas time, the CBC invited us down to its offices, to, to send 

    [04:35] greetings to our families. So, and we each had about, oh, I would say less than two minutes, to, to say hello to your aunt, your uncle, your mother, your father, your cousin Henry, everybody. And, and you say, you know, we're having, we're, we're, we're, we're enjoying our studies, we're studying, we're doing quite, we're studying very hard, you know, we would [laughs]. And at Christmas time, because I was also, I'm, in Trinidad, when my brothers were here, 

    [05:05] before I came to Canada, when, you know, you sat and, and waited for this, um, the broadcast to come over and you know you heard your name on the radio, that was a really big deal. So, so that was, that was, the CBC was involved in that way to help us send greetings at Christmas time. And, and that's how we, we kept our spirits up. Summertime, we found work. 

    [05:35] I got work with Bell, which paid very well, even in those days, and for a student. We had no loans, uh, I mean, McGill gave grants and loans, bursaries, but it wasn't much. Couldn't do, couldn't do much with it, so we learned how to, how to survive. And we didn't get loans from the government, that's for sure, because we weren't eligible for it. Um, where should we go from here? “What did you do after graduation?” 

    [06:05] I got married at, at Divinity Hall just up the street and we left for England. So, I spent ten years in England. Um, my children were born in England. I taught school in England, in, in the South, in London. So, you know, I, I, I was part of that system for 10 years and, uh, I, I did, uh, an external diploma at the London Sch- at the, at London University, in Social Work, 

    [06:35] because we got married in such a hurry that having graduated with a bachelor's degree, I was going to do a master's in Social Work, and they didn't have the bachelor’s, they, they later brought in the bachelor’s. I was g- it was a degree and the next was the master's, and I, I just left and went to England, got  

    [07:05] married and went to England, so, a-and came back, as I said, 11 years, 12 years later. So, I came back, I got an, I did the- my master’s, my, I brought up the f- m-my children, we, they grew up, and I was restless. I didn't feel fulfilled in, in the work, well, not the work I was doing, it's, it's the structure I was functioning in. I, th- I think it was more that. The nurses, uh, you  

    [07:35] hear it from the nurses, they're tired, and it's the conditions and that sort of thing. It was, it was along that level. I've always been an ambitious person, but you know, we ran into the, the subtle racism, you know, something just isn't happening, and you wonder why. You start asking yourself why after a while. But I was very involved with the Black social workers in Montreal while I lived here, before I went to Barbados. 

    [08:05] Um, we called it the ABHSW, which was the Association of Black, um, Black Social Workers, and, um, we got involved with McGill School of Social work, um, we were involved with, um, the foster parent programs that they had. Uh, we, we questioned why so many children from the Caribbean, in particular, ended up in foster care.  

    [08:35] Um, still happening with the disadvantaged groups, but, um, these, this was, as a result of, of people not having a support system that helped them. And it was easier to take the children into foster care than it was to support the families, to keep the children.  Um, and I think this still is happening today. I don't know if s-, if it has changed within the Caribbean community,  

    [09:05] and of course, people have problems with their children, you know, um, and, and it's what they do, how they survive, how they see it through with their children. Um, I applied, I started looking outside of Montreal and I ended up in the Caribbean. And, again, that was quite an accident. So, I did a full circle from the  

    [09:35] Caribbean, to M—to Canada, to England, back to Canada, then to the Caribbean, and then back, back to Canada, where I am right now, talking to you. Um, I taught social work at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill campus, in Barbados. I trained the social workers, um, because they were evolving, social work as a profession was, was evolving there. Everybody was doing social work. The policemen did it,  

    [10:05] the firemen did it when there was a fire, the priest did it when, [laughs] everybody was doing a, a, they did a bit of social work, and I remember cringing after going through two years of hardcore studies at McGill. So, I, I was visiting Barbados and I thought let me just have a look. 

    And I called up the university, and I didn't know how they were structured, I asked if there was, who was head of the  

    [10:35] social work faculty, uh, there was no faculty. Uh, there was one person that—they were just starting up a social work department and I, I thought, I, I persuaded the, the person who was in charge to meet with me because I was leaving to return to Canada I think in two or three days' time, and he saw me. He met with me, and I told him what I did in Can-, in Montreal, and he gave me a, an application form, just in case. And I got on the plane, and we came back. And, I think I sat on it for a while, and I think it was the day before the due date that I — I didn't have a fax machine — I went to my brother's office and asked him to fax, fax it for me. 

     In the meantime, I continued working, and I really put it at the back of my mind. And one day, I,  

    [11:35] I was working at a CLSC here in Montreal, and, um, I was, I came home, I was making supper, and the phone rang, and my husband answered it, and he said “Rae, it's for you. It's the university.” And I thought, oh, they're calling to tell me no. And I got to the phone, and I was told “we'd like to offer you the job.” And that changed my life for  

    [12:05] eight, ten years, because I, I had to think very carefully because I had a family, and a very strong family. I couldn't just walk out like that. I had to get permission from everybody, and my children were, they had gone through university and everything, my daughter was extremely, [crying] she was extremely supportive, and at 53, I went back to the Caribbean, where I spent eight years at the, at Cave Hill campus, uh,  

    [12:35] and retired, and came, and decided that was it. So, since then, I’ve been involved in bringing up grandchildren, and I lost my husband about, I have to get this in, about five years ago, after almost 60 years of marriage [Sheetal: Oh]. It was a long marriage, and a very good marriage,  

    [13:05] and we produced two children, and I have three grand- lovely grandchildren, and my friends, and, you know, I belonged to a Caribbean group, and we all are retired, and we go to lunch, and, uh, uh, and all those people came to Montreal or to Canada around the same time that I did. So, they're all people in their 80s. We talk and we have a good time, you know. And they have, you know, I think of the problems I'm seeing happening in Montreal, it's not that we didn't have problems, but it was a smaller society.  

    [13:35] It was, I would not say a less political society. Because in those days, there were two programs: you came as a student, or you came as a domestic. But, you know, the students and the domestics, uh, we, we, we integrated very well, and we got al-, uh, because those who came as domestics didn't get in, didn't qualify to get into the program, but they were very ambitious people.  

    [14:05] I know one person who became head of banking in the firm she worked for. It was a French/English problem there, and we, we were brought in, they gave us the opportunity to come to university if we qualified for it, if we could afford it, um, and that's how, that's how we got here. We weren’t into the politics of it. I think we were too concerned about whether we would be able to stay.  

    [14:35] Immigration, immigration issues rather than, uh, rather than politics. If you were lucky enough to be granted, um, landed immigrant status, that was the, um, but those people, of, there, there’s a, there’s a solid group of Caribbean older people. I don't know. At, at my age, I can hardly climb the stairs now. I'm grateful that I still have my memory, because that's part of, that's a big part of our problem these days. 

    15:05 Jacquelyn: Rae’s memory is sharp as a tack. It was a joy to hear about her experiences. An enormous thank you to Rae Rambally for sharing her story with us. 

    15:18 Sheetal: Look to the show notes on our website for additional material and to explore the projects that the ROAAr team has been working on. Our title song called “Happy Sandbox” was composed by Mativve and sourced from freesound.org you can find all the credits in our show notes. 

    [15:50] Thank you to Professor Nathalie Cooke, Director of this project at McGill Library’s  ROAAr team and to Jacquelyn Sundberg, Associate Producer. I’m Sheetal Lodhia. Thanks for listening!   



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