Past events

Hugh MacLennan Lecture 2017 -  Charlotte Gray: A Personal Portrait of Canada at 150 

April 27, 2017

Presented in partnership with the Blue Metropolis Literary Festival.

Watch a video recording of the lecture by clicking here.

Charlotte Gray's new book is A Portrait of Canada at 150.  Instead of talking solely about the book, she spoke of the importance of Canadian history to Canadians, and to her personally.  She asserted that Canadians know far too little of their history, perhaps because it contains too few high-drama events.  She referred to the last two CBC historical dramas: the 2017 series, criticized for inaccuracies, filmed from an anglophone point of view; and the 2000-2001 series just after the Quebec referendum by both Radio Canada and CBC, in a period of anxiety.  But then, forgotten.
Speaking to a full house at  the McGill Law School’s Moot Court, Gray noted that all historians see the past through the lens of their own time and referred to the current government's criteria for 150 celebration project grants:  the need to discuss Canadian history was not one of them. Yet history matters.  It makes us unique, examines our growth and changes as a society, our differences, what it means to be a Canadian.  Her illustrations touched on the Fathers of Confederation - all white males - to today, where a DJ from Kenya, Shad, is a Canadian celebrity; in art, the Group of Seven to today’s gay aboriginal artist Kent Monkman.
She talked about how she developed the concept and format of her Portrait of Canada. What aspects are unique and embedded in our national psyche?  She chose federalism, Medicare, geography, the arts as preoccupations, as important in past efforts to accommodate different points of view.   Of the nine great Canadians in her book whose stories exemplify the last 150 years of our history, she talked about Georges-Etienne Cartier (the importance to Quebec of a federal political structure), Margaret Atwood (Canadian identity), Bertha Wilson (the Charter of Rights and Freedoms).  She paid renewed attention to the treatment of indigenous peoples from first settlement to today and she chose Elijah Harper to represent the failure of the Meech Lake Accord by putting the spotlight on indigenous claims.   

She concluded that the importance of history was to give us a picture of where we came from:  to let us understand that modern mature progressive Canada has problems but is fundamentally sturdy. 

The lecture was generously supported by Donald Walcot.

F.R. Scott Lecture 2017 - Anna Maria Tremonti: It's Time to Take Our Journalism Back

February 15, 2017

Watch a video recording of the lecture by clicking here.

Excerpt from The McGill Reporter review of the lecture

Anna Maria Tremonti says it’s a great time to be a journalist. “Alternative facts” and “fake news,” she says, will lead to a search for the real stories. That will revitalize and relaunch the news media.

The award-winning journalist gave this year’s F.R. Scott Lecture, organized by the Friends of the McGill Library, before a crowded amphitheatre in the McConnell Building.

Tremonti has been host of CBC’s prestigious current affairs show The Current since its inception in 2002. Before that she reported for CBC TV for 19 years including two years with the The Fifth Estate and nine years with The National.

Tremonti pointed out to the crowd that journalists cannot take back journalism alone. “What are you reading and watching, and listening to – what do you click on your computer?” she asked. “Do you simply want your beliefs reflected back at you? Are you turning them over in your head and thinking about them again? Have you tried to think differently? If you aren’t actively engaging in the wider world, if you aren’t curious and seeking the truth, you aren’t helping. And we need your help. Because we need to take journalism back from those who would traffic in fabrication, back from spin masters of political public relations, back from those who deride facts to push their own interests and angry bias, and back from those who would push us toward the frivolous and away from the substantive.”

Talking about her career in journalism Tremonti said the once thick line between fact and fiction has thinned. That line is very important, she told the crowd. With the rise of “fake news” or “alternative facts” powerful people have been able to walk away from the consequences of what they say and do. When you are tweeting out your policies there is no critical follow up.

Tremonti attacked government and corporate secrecy, and gave an impassioned speech about the importance of long-form and in-depth journalism. She implored journalists to take back journalism by challenging their bosses, offering alternatives to fluffy and vapid stories, and demanding worthwhile assignments. The more substantive ideas “small-t trump the fluff” she said laughingly. Do the stories of substance and explain why they matter.

Ann Vroom, President of the Friends of the Library, talked about the importance of scholarship and independent journalism as ways to offset “alternative facts” in her opening remarks.

Andrew Potter of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada (MISC) talked about the decimation of the staffing of newspaper newsrooms at the same time as the rise of “fake news” which he called propaganda, or lies. Potter quoted from a poem by FR Scott entitled “Press Report” in which Scott lamented the coverage of something he had said. Potter reminded the crowd that a crisis of truth is not just a creature of our time.

The Lecture was generously supported by the Honourable John Gomery and the Honourable Pierrette Rayle.

Exhibition: Every Stamp a Story

January 12 - June 28, 2017

McLennan Library Building Lobby and 4th Floor Lobby

EVERY STAMP A STORY brings together more than 200 natural history stamps from over 135 countries from the mid-19th century to the present. Their stories are astonishing, surprising, fascinating and often unexpected. They were selected from the more than 50,000 in the David Lank Collection, the largest such philatelic resource of any university, which is housed in McGill’s Rare Books and Special Collections. The exhibition gratefully acknowledges the support of the Friends of the McGill Library who have included it in their annual public program designed to foster knowledge and support for the McGill library system by students, alumni and the public at large.

David Lank joined the Desautels Faculty of Management in 1999. As Director Emeritus of the Dobson Centre for Entrepreneurial Studies, he taught MBA level courses in entrepreneurial start-ups, early-phase management and entrepreneurial leadership. In addition, he has designed and has supplied the major course content for several undergraduate courses, including Technological Entrepreneurship. As founder in 1968 and now Chair of Helix Investments, he has been personally involved in the venture capital funding of 147 companies as well as numerous other entrepreneurial initiatives. He was the curator of the touring exhibition Audubon’s Wilderness Palette -The Birds of Canada. He is a Fellow of the Explorer’s Club of New York, the Royal Society of Arts in London, formerly a Fellow of the Grolier Club, the American Antiquarian Society and the Angler’s Club. He was Chairman of the Atlantic Salmon Association for 10 years and was inducted into the Atlantic Salmon Hall of Fame. He has sat on the boards of Wildlife Habitat Canada and the Zoological Societies of Canada and Montreal, and was an Adjunct Curator of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. David Lank also served on the selection committee for the US Department of the Interior Duck Stamp competition, and on the annual competition of Wilderness Habitat Canada and La Fondation de la Faune du Quebec. He was also a director of Muséums de l’Histoire Naturelle de Montréal. Author of more than 40 books, his broad experience in wildlife art and cultural and conservation organizations led to his being named to the Order of Canada in 1996. 

Access a video recording of the lecture here.

"These stamps have stories worth hearing", McGill News, December 2016

"New stamping ground for postage artifacts at McGill University", CBC, January 14, 2017

Recap "Exhibit Opening & Lecture: Every Stamp a Story", Library Matters, January 23, 2017

"Every Stamp tells a story at McGill's McLennan Library", Montreal Gazette, March 7, 2017


Exhibition Opening & Lecture - Every Stamp a Story

January 12, 2017

Lecture by David M. Lank CM, F.R.S.A., F.R.C.G.S.

In its first event of the year, the Friends of the McGill Library presented David Lank, Director Emeritus of the Dobson Centre for Entrepreneurial Studies at McGill, who gave an illustrated lecture to introduce “Every Stamp a Story,” the exhibition of 200 stamps and related postal history material which forms part of the 50,000 natural history stamps in the Lank Collection.  Principal Suzanne Fortier acknowledged the presence of the Chairman of the Board, and other McGill and civic dignitaries before introducing the curator to the overflow audience. This collection, the world’s largest featuring birds, mammals and other wildlife, is housed in McGill’s Rare Books and Special Collections in the McLennan Library Building. The Exhibit will remain on display there and on the Mezzanine of the Library until May 14, 2017.

David’s main focus this evening was the stunning beauty of the artwork on natural history stamps and the unexpected stories behind each. He showed his enthusiastic audience Gazelles from South-West Africa, Woolly Mammoths from Moldova, Canada’s own Beaver (our 1851 3d stamp being the first in the British empire not to show Queen Victoria), a gorgeous impressionistic Wandering Albatross from the Terres Australes et Antarctiques Françaises, Dragonflies from Japan, Buffalo in the snow from Canada, Bald Eagles from Curaçao, a Peregrine Falcon (twinned appropriately with a stamp showing a jet) from Gibraltar, a Pelican from Albania, a Frigate Bird from the Gilbert and Ellice Islands, Chamoix from Liechtenstein, and many more. Some of his stamps showed not just the animal but also its habitat (Buffalo in the snow, Moose in wetlands, Trumpeter Swans along a northern river…). David introduced Lyse Rousseau, the doyenne of Canadian stamp dealers and the sponsor of the evening, and wildlife artist Claudio d’Angelo, who has painted the birds shown on many stamps issued by the Fondation de la faune du Québec, to the audience,

David also gave us a glimpse of the history of  postal systems, with actual 4,000-year old clay tablets from ancient Babylon,  from biblical times (see the book of Esther), to delivery by horse-drawn chariots in the Roman era, through privately run trans-border post by stagecoach in Europe (such as the service by the Taxis family as early as the 14thcentury), to the Pony Express in the western US, to pigeon post in New Zealand before Kitty Hawk, to delivery by zeppelin. In the early 19th century, when many postmen were illiterate, urgent letters were indicated by feathers affixed with sealing wax! The first adhesive stamp, paid by the sender (a radical improvisation at the time), was the imperforate British Penny Black of 1840, which is on display.

Michael Meighen, the Chancellor of McGill, thanked David, and introduced Robert Waite, Chair of the Stamp Advisory Committee of Canada Post. He explained the process for deciding on the design of postage stamps, and remains optimistic about the future of the traditional postal system. Mr. Waite officially declared the Exhibition to be open.

Access a video recording of the lecture here.

Annual General Meeting 2016

December 1, 2016

Presentation of the Friend of the Year Award to the Joan and Clifford Hatch Family Foundation.

The Joan and Clifford Hatch Family Foundation was named for an extraordinary couple who, counting 7 McGill graduates among their children and grandchildren, initiated parents’ giving at McGill more than 50 years ago by establishing the McGill Parents’ Fund in 1963. The Hatch children carry on their inspired philanthropy with this Foundation and continue to be great supporters of McGill. Gail Hatch Todgham and Mary Hatch were present to accept the award.

Click here to read an excerpt of the speech given at the ceremony by Friends of the Library chair, Ann Vroom.

Shakespeare Lecture 2016 - Graham Abbey: A Muse of Fire: the enduring power of Shakespeare’s history cycle. With Michelle Giroux.

November 15, 2016

On Tuesday evening, November 15th, husband and wife Graham Abbey and Michelle Giroux, two of Canada's foremost Shakespearean actors, transformed Leacock 232 into a Shakespearean lecture hall and stage. Mr. Abbey and Ms. Giroux have just completed performances at the Stratford Festival in Breath of Kings, a two-play six hour adaptation by Mr Abbey of four of Shakespeare's history plays - Richard II, Henry IV parts 1 and 2 , and Henry V; a project to which Mr Abbey dedicated himself for 15 years.

The title of this year's  Shakespeare Lecture (presented in partnership with the Stratford Festival) was A Muse of Fire, which as Mr. Abbey explained, reflects the passion and intensity of the history plays as a symphony of music telling interrelated domestic  stories of kings and queens  and common life.

The  domestic stories, Mr. Abbey told us, are the great draw of the history plays, dramatizing universal themes of enduring relevance; leadership and legitimacy, family and  crown succession, war and morality, revenge and honour.

The  classroom became a  vibrant Shakespearean stage as Mr. Abbey and Ms. Giroux delivered excerpts from Breath of Kings to illustrate, in the beauty and immediacy of Shakespeare's language, the themes which Mr. Abbey had described.

A Muse of Fire was sponsored by Michael Sabia and Hilary Pearson, and the Friends of the Library are grateful for their support.

Check out the McGill Reporter interview with Abbey by clicking here.

F.R. Scott Lecture 2016 - The Honourable Rosalie Abella, Supreme Court of Canada

October 19, 2016

The 2016 F. R. Scott Lecture was given on October 19 by the Honorable Rosalie Abella, Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada. McGill’s Principal and Vice-Chancellor Suzanne Fortier graciously introduced the guest speaker.

Moyse Hall was packed – it was a standing room only event with McGill alumni, students, and Friends – but listening to Justice Abella seemed, somehow, an almost intimate experience. Justice Abella actually appeared to be speaking one-on-one to each member of the audience, as if in one’s own living room. The speech itself – lasting a full hour – seemed to pass by in a matter of minutes, so rapt and attentive was the audience.

In her address, Justice Abella began with the challenge of re-thinking our system of delivering Justice in the light of the enormous social and economic changes that have been and are being experienced by all societies including our own.

Justice Abella then traced the history – all the way from ancient Greece through modern times - of the development of both civil rights and human rights, all of which contribute to the progress from which we all benefit of the “moral arc” toward a truly just society.  The speech was a real “tour de force,” quoting  – in each case entirely appropriately - not only the ancient Greeks but also the great American jurist, John Marshall, and the great Canadian legal scholar, F.R. Scott after whom this lecture series is named.

So attentive was the audience and so fascinating the presentation that the Question and Answer period might have gone on more or less indefinitely had not the Dean of the Faculty of Law, Robert Leckey, risen to thank Justice Abella and draw the evening to a close. 

The F.R. Scott Lecture series is sponsored by the Honourable John Gomery and the Honourable Pierrette Rayle.     

Anny Scoones Reading

May 10, 2016

On May 10, 2016, the Friends of the McGill Library were pleased to welcome an appreciative audience to a reading of Last Dance in Shediac, Memories of Mum, Molly Lamb Bobak.  Anny Scoones, the author and only daughter of celebrated Canadian artists Molly and Bruno Bobak, interspersed her touching and humorous stories with wry asides that added to the intimacy of the event. Molly Lamb Bobak, who lived from 1922-2014, was Canada’s first female war artist and much-loved by all who knew her, for her warmth and spontaneity as well as for her prodigious talent. The memoir describes some of the road trips which Anny and her mother took toward the end of the artist’s life and captures the immediacy and poignancy of those declining years. Images from the book and a presentation of the Bobak paintings in McGill’s visual arts collection rounded out the event.

Anny Scoones was raised in Fredericton, New Brunswick, has served as an elected city councillor, and now teaches English in Victoria, B.C. Last Dance in Shediac, published by TouchWood Editions, is her fifth book.

2016 Hugh MacLennan Lecture and Blue Metropolis First Peoples Literary Prize Event

April 15, 2016

On April 15, 2016 McGill’s Friends of the Library hosted the Blue Metropolis First Peoples Literary Prize Event at the 2016 Hugh MacLennan Lecture. Noted First Nations advocate and winner of the 2014 Governor General’s Award for English language fiction, Thomas King was the prize recipient and evening’s guest speaker. 

Friends of the Library Chair Ann Vroom welcomed everyone, followed by Blue Met Chair  Cameron Charlebois who pointed out that Montreal is on the traditional territory of the Kanien’keha:ka, which has been a meeting and conversation place for thousands of years.

As is traditional at worldwide literary events, there was a special Pen Canada Reading, this evening’s by Montreal journalist Mark Abley, to focus on the plight of an imprisoned journalist, in this case Raif Badawi in Saudi Arabia. The audience was invited to sign a petition at the end of the evening seeking his release.

Jason Edward Lewis, digital media poet and artist and Concordia University Research Chair in Media and the Indigenous Future Imaginary presented the  Blue Met First Peoples’ Literary Prize to Thomas King.

After a few words of acceptance, King was interviewed on stage by CBC Radio personality, Rosanna Deerchild, host of Unreserved. The warm and witty exchange touched on King’s childhood, the influences in his writing, and his interest in slices of everyday life rather than grandiose themes. He talked about his use of humour to disarm his readers and to open their minds to the discussion of serious issues.

The bantering back and forth between King and Deerchild made for a delightful evening for all who attended and gave them an insight into the background and interests of this noted writer. The evening was graciously sponsored by Don Walcot for McGill’s Friends of the Library and by the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation and the Chadha Foundation for the Blue Metropolis First Peoples Prize Event.

Click here to view the recording of the event.

The Golden Eagle Hunters: A Kazakh Photo Essay

An illustrated lecture by artist & photographer, Bonnie Folkins

March 22, 2016

Upwards of 150 people filled an amphitheatre in the Otto Maass Building on Tuesday, March 22, 2016 to attend an illustrated lecture by Bonnie Folkins, a member of the Long Riders’ Guild and a fellow of the New York Explorers Club, on the Kazakh Golden Eagle hunters. Following an introduction by Friends of the McGill Libraries board chair Ann Vroom, Folkins delighted the audience with a presentation of photos taken on numerous visits with the Kazakh people of Mongolia, a semi-nomadic group who retain the traditions of their ancestors, travelling in search of grazing land and water for their animals.

Folkins first encountered the Kazakhs of Mongolia on a trip to their part of the world in the far western reaches of Mongolia in 2007. She describes it as a life-changing experience and she has returned many times, capturing the people and their way of life in wonderful photos.

Outstanding amongst these are a series of portraits of the Golden Eagle hunters, men in the community who have kept up the ancestral tradition of hunting on horseback using trained Golden Eagles. The photos of these men in traditional dress with their magnificent eagles are arresting. So was the description of the process of capturing and training these splendid animals and the evidence of the affection and trust that develop between the hunter/master and his bird.

Folkins has ridden on horseback over 1100 miles in a single journey through Mongolia and over 2100 miles in two trips through Kazakhstan. She has lived with families as she worked to document their way of life. During this time, she has developed a respect and love for the open, hospitable, good and honest people of this nomadic community. Her descriptions of their dwellings, diet, handicrafts, their traditions and the ways in which they are adapting to the 21st century without losing their way of life kept the audience enthralled – as was clear from the prolonged question and answer period that followed the talk.

View some of Bonnie Folkins’ photos at: