Upcoming events

Friends of the Library 2018 Annual General Meeting & Celebration of the Friend of the Year

Monday, December 10th at 6:00pm 

AGM to be held in the Birks Heritage Chapel. A reception is to follow in the Birks Reading Room. Birks Building, 3520 University Street, 2nd floor, Montreal, QC H3A 2A7

Every Fall, the Friends of the Library holds an Annual General Meeting (AGM). The gathering is a way for the Friends to inform members of previous and future activities and connect with each other. The Friends also take this opportunity to celebrate and honour a Friend of the Year.

The Friend of the Year Award is bestowed upon individuals or groups who show an unwavering commitment to the vision, mission and goals of the Friends of the Library and McGill Library as a whole. We are pleased to announce that the 2018 Friend of the Year will be awarded posthumously to Blema and Arnold Steinberg. We hope you join us as we honour two outstanding champions of the McGill Library.RSVP required.  Click here to RSVP online or call 514-398-5711.

Recent events

Tom McCamus and Chick Reid (center) speak in conversation with Paul Yachnin (left) and Friend of the Library executive committee member and former chair Cecil Rabinovtivh (right).2018 Shakespeare Lecture | Our life in theatre: questions & answers with Tom McCamus & Chick Reid

On Tuesday, November 13, a great evening ofimpromptu insights on the world of theatre was had as Canadian actors and couple Tom McCamus and Chick Reid delivered the2018 Shakespeare Lecture.

The informalconversation was be led by Paul Yachnin,Tomlinson Professor of Shakespeare Studies at McGill University and Cecil Rabinovitch, Immediate Past Chair, Friends of the Library Committee.

This lecture was presented by theFriends of the McGill Libraryin partnership with theStratford Festival.

Generously sponsored byHilary Pearson and Michael Sabia.


Tom McCamus - Bio

2018 Stratford Festival: Stephano in The Tempest, Menenius Agrippa in Coriolanus and Gennaro in Napoli Milionaria! 16th season. Tom has spent 15 seasons with the Festival appearing in roles ranging from Richard III and King John to King Arthur and Captain Hook. He has performed in many theatres in Toronto and across Canada, most recently with the Groundling Theatre Company's productions of The Winter's Tale and Measure for Measure. Tom is also fortunate to have been a part of the Canadian film and television industry for many years, appearing in such films as The Sweet Hereafter, Long Day's Journey Into Night and Room. Last summer he returned to the Shaw Festival after an absence of almost 30 years but is thrilled to be back at the Stratford Festival with his wife, Chick Reid, and their four dogs.

Chick Reid - Bio

2018 Stratford Festival: Iris in The Tempest and Adelaide Schiano in Napoli Milionaria! 13th season. Stratford: Puck, Countrywoman, Cook, Grandma, Alice, Lady Markby, Abbess, Belinda, Inez, Old Lady, Margaret, Lucetta, Lady Capulet, Calpurnia, Margery, Vivian, Kate, Andromache, Miss Lucy, Maisie Madigan, Mimi LaFlamme, Lady Squeamish, Mistress Page. Elsewhere: Theatres across Canada and the U.S., including Shaw Festival (most recently Queen Charlotte in The Madness of George III), Theatre Plus Toronto, NAC, Grand, MTC, Neptune, Westben, Tarragon, Broadway, Actors' Theatre of Louisville. Film/TV: Most recently, Fairfield Road, Everything She Ever Wanted. Awards: Proud recipient of the 2013 Max Helpmann Award; Life Member, CAEA, 2018. Online: Et cetera: Ms Reid is an Adjunct Professor, teaching Shakespeare at Queen's University, lives on a farm with her husband, Tom McCamus, and breeds Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers.

F.R. Scott Lecture with Dr. Bernard Shapiro: Freedom of Speech in the Ivory Tower

Thursday, September 13, 2018 

Watch a video recording of the lecture by clicking here

Event summary by Bernard Shapiro

The F.R. Scott Lecture took place on September 13, 2018 in the Moot Court at the Faculty of Law. The evening began with brief words of welcome from Friends of the McGill Library Chair Ann Vroom and Trenholme Dean of Libraries Colleen Cook, who then invited McGill Principal and Vice-Chancellor Suzanne Fortier to formally introduce the evening’s speaker, Principal Emeritus Bernard Shapiro.

Dr. Shapiro started the sold-out presentation with (i) the citation of Section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms which provides that all Canadians have “ . . . the freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression . . . and (ii) the rationale for the freedom of speech as essential to democratic governance if citizens are to be able to express and expound their views. The lecture then explored both the possible limits of free speech (e.g., incitement to violence, lying and, more particularly, hate speech) as well as the importance of the responsibilities associated with this right.

With respect to the Ivory Tower, Professor Shapiro argued that freedom of speech within the university community was not so much a matter of legalities as it was of mission. If knowledge is to be produced and disseminated, dissenting voices must be not only be tolerated but welcome not only so that the university’s social purpose can be realized but also so as to avoid becoming captive to what some will see as a regressive status quo.

Thus, Free Speech, modern universities and democracies seem made for each other, each one playing a role in reinforcing the other two – at least in principle, assuming, of course that when ideas are openly debated and argued those doing so, do it not so much to win as to learn.

In practice, however, freedom of speech on university campuses is under stress, and the challenges to it include: (I) the decline of democracy in the face of populism, (ii) the speed in the development and spread of technologies, (iii) the increasingly frequent attempts to silence controversial speakers on campus and (iv) the collapse of the political middle and the increasing hyper-partisanship in public life. Citizens seem increasingly divided and decided, increasingly willing to speak but unwilling to listen and, therefore hungry for fake news and misinformation.

In terms of what might be done suggestions brought forward and explored included: (i) finding ways to bring student motivation and the university’s mission into sync with each other, (ii) curriculum changes that might focus more on the humanistic studies central to the formation of citizens capable of democratic self-government, (iii) adjustments by faculty to their approach to teaching that would more clearly recognize the wide differences between students in terms of the social and cultural capital which they bring to the educational encounter and (iv) the development of a “radical middle” to offset hyper-partisanship and avoid the “weaponization’ of free speech seen on both the left and the right of the political spectrum.

Lucinda Chodan, Editor in Chief of the Montreal Gazette, thanked Dr. Shapiro for his thought-provoking and timely lecture.

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

Hugh MacLennan Lecture | Murder for a Living with Louise Penny

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Watch a video recording of the lecture by clicking here

Event summary by Louise Dery-Goldberg

This year’s Hugh MacLennan Lecture was held on April 19 and was presented in partnership with Blue Metropolis International Literary Festival. The evening got off to a wonderful start with a warm welcome from Cameron Charlebois, Blue Metropolis Chair and a witty, gracious introduction by the Dean of McGill’s Faculty of Law, Robert Leckey.

New York Times bestseller Louise Penny then took to the stage and enchanted an audience of more than 450 people many of whom had read most if not all of her 13 novels. Although her books are murder mysteries, the title of her talk being « Murder for a Living » , there is much beauty, humour, kindness and joie de vivre in all her books. Everyone in attendance left understanding better the reasons why.

Louise Penny talked of her life candidly and shared how she decided to be a writer as a child of 8 years old after reading Charlotte’s Web. She realized the power of the word after losing her fear of spiders because of her love for Charlotte. 

She told a rapt audience how her newly single mother used the earnings of her first salary to buy a painting she saw every day on her way to work so that her children would have beauty in their lives. 

She also spoke of the many challenges she has had to overcome and the many miracles in her life. She considers the success she has come to know as a miracle and recounts how when her first books were published no one would come to see her on her book tours or worse yet once one sole person came. Those days are long behind her now that her books are translated into 35 languages. The  world has come to know and love the fictional town of Three Pines in the Eastern Townships, and its inhabitants. She wanted to create a village that she would want to live in with people she would want to befriend. Detective Gamache who always succeeds in solving the mystery while sharing his wisdom and kindness is based on her late husband, Dr. Michael Whitehead. She spoke of the miracle of meeting him and the tremendous support and encouragement he always gave her. She spoke of the richness of their life together and the love that sustained them  during the illness that eventually took his life. 

In answer to a question from the audience about what advice she would give a would-be writer she said « Be not afraid.  Don’t be concerned about getting published or whether other people like what you are writing. Just write for yourself ». This is what she herself learned from the creative people, poets, playwrights and artists she befriended when she moved to the Townships. She learned that trying and not succeeding was better than not trying at all. This is how she was able to overcome  the  fear of not succeeding that was paralyzing her when she first started out.

What we all learned from her that evening is that the « miracle » of her success has a lot to do with her talent, her intellect, her sense of humour, her generosity of spirit, her honesty and her strength. Louise Penny is a truly extraordinary woman who we hope to be reading for many years to come.

The event ended with a heartfelt and amusing thank you from Friends of the Library board member, Kate Williams, who hails from Three Pines’ neighbouring village of Sutton.

This memorable lecture was made possible thanks to the generous sponsorship of Friends board member, Donald Walcot.

Lecture | Marriage: Is it All or Nothing? with Professor John Lydon

February 5, 2018 

Event summary by Jewel Lowenstein

In anticipation of Valentine’s Day, Professor Lydon, Chair of the McGill Psychology Department, presented a lecture based on the 2017 book by Eli J. Finkel entitled The All or Nothing Marriage: How the Best Marriages Work.

Ann Vroom, Chair of The Friends of the Library, welcomed the audience which consisted mostly of young women. Did this subject scare off the men?

Given that Professor Lydon’s research focuses on intimate social bonds, he was a well chosen speaker for this topic. He began by saying that working at McGill is most rewarding in terms of the level of student academic curiosity. He then turned to the subject of the talk and zeroed in on “commitment” and “intimate social bonds” from a 2018 perspective. He reminded the audience that U.S. studies do not reflect the unique “cohabitation” category so popular in Quebec versus formal marriage. He also pointed out that studies now need to include same-sex marriages.

Finkel, Professor of Psychology and Management at Northwestern University, states that marriage today is about self-expression, not so much about love. John Lydon pointed out that locally, certain factors may have contributed to that. Namely the pill and significant changes to divorce law in Canada in the 1970s. He gave examples of studies where the “expectations” of individuals differ in how much happiness they experience and the fact that they choose their partner, rather than have an arranged relationship, should reflect more happiness.

Lydon went on to define the difference between “love” – e.g. for a sibling and “being in love” with a partner. Nowadays, falling in love results in self-expansion. One’s sense of self grows and one’s ideal self is expanded. Lydon said formerly, meaning and purpose came from religion, whereas now this has been replaced by a relationship. One’s partner helps one to discover who one is. Personal growth comes from a secure attachment figure where there is a safe haven.  All relationships face difficulties but the good must outweigh the bad. If there is trust, each partner can feel secure admitting their weaknesses.

Is marriage about self-actualization? This lecture demonstrated that much research is being done which helps to find answers to the question of what makes a successful marriage.

Cecil Rabinovitch former Chair, Friends of the Library, formally thanked Professor Lydon. She welcomed his positive approach in light of so much negativity surrounding sexual harassment prevalent in the news currently.

Chris Lyons, Head, Rare Books and Special Collections, then briefly described the Pop Up exhibits complimenting this lecture. For the month of February, the displays feature items relating to love. Included are a 1900 cookbook with cocoa recipes, a John Ramsbottom 1939 stunning work with exquisite colored plates of pink roses after Redouté’s “ Les Roses “,  an early Descartes volume showing the physiology of the ventricles of the heart, as well as traditional Valentine cards collected over the years.

Annual General Meeting

December 6, 2017

Event summary by Cecily Lawson

The Friends 17th Annual General Meeting was held in the Colgate Room of the McLennan Library Building presided over by Friends Chair Ann Vroom. Following a review of the year’s activities and an explanation of the group’s expanding role in fundraising as well as advocacy, the Treasurer’s Report was presented by Don Walcot. This was followed by the slate of directors for 2018, which was approved by those in attendance.

The highlight of the evening was the presentation of the Friend of the Year Award to Cecil Rabinovitch, past Chair of the Friends of the McGill Library. In conferring the award, Honorary Board Member John Gomery remarked on Cecil’s outstanding leadership abilities, her longtime devotion to building cultural institutions in Canada, her passionate championship of the role of the modern library, and her deep appreciation of books and learning. Describing her as loyal, direct, honest, smart, witty and not afraid of a challenge, he noted her critical importance in making the Friends the vibrant organization that it is today and in attracting so many of the outstanding speakers to the Friends lecture series.

Trenholme Dean of Libraries Colleen Cook and Principal and Vice- Chancellor Suzanne Fortier added their plaudits on Cecil’s accomplishments and thanked her for her support of the Library. The evening finished with a lively reception to honour our award winner, celebrate a successful year for the Friends and welcome in the holiday season.

Lecture | Christmas Ain't What it Used to Be with Judith Flanders

November 15, 2017

Event summary by Frances Groen

The venerable Colgate Room of Rare Books and Special Collections was aglow in anticipation of the arrival of author Judith Flanders. A Londoner by choice, Flanders established her career as a journalist and editor, but then chose to ignore the cautious advice of a publisher not to quit her day job. Instead she launched a career as a writer of popular, scholarly histories on Victorian England. Creative fiction has not been ignored by Flanders who has also written a series of murder mysteries with Sam Clair as her sleuth. Flanders is well known for her knowledge of both violent crime and sanitation, or lack thereof, in nineteenth century London, so the audience was not certain how this special knowledge might fit into a talk on a Victorian Christmas.

The speaker did not disappoint!  We were treated to an original examination of Christmas traditions that supported the speaker’s view that Christmas has very little to do with Christianity or the Middle East. Christmas, as we know it, probably began as a Northern European tradition that developed over the centuries into feelings of nostalgia for a Christmas that never existed. Flanders offered ample evidence of this view by detailed examination of the many conventions that surround Christmas celebrations. She looked at food, drink, music, gifts and gift wrapping that began in nineteenth century. Drawing on her broad knowledge, she explained the development of gift wrapping as the result of the increased availability of commercially available gifts. When gifts were no longer hand made, at least the wrapping was done by hand!

The enthusiastic audience that filled the Colgate Room concurred with Chris Lyons, Head of Rare Books and Special Collections when he thanked the speaker for a fascinating evening. Guests moved to the reception and were enthusiastic to buy the Ms Flanders's book Christmas, A Biography, that is just released. 

See also: Past events