Starting the 175th celebrations

by Diana Grier Ayton

With 175th Anniversary co-chairs Kate Williams and Derek Drummond presiding, the January 25 press conference kicking off McGill's year of celebrations was a distinctly upbeat occasion. Good news and good wishes came from Montreal's mayor and the event's three honorary co-chairs. A new campus landmark was unveiled and plans for an updated version of the 1991 Grow Home were revealed.

Principal Bernard Shapiro talked of McGill's "moment of birth" in 1821, when King George signed a charter declaring that McGill College "hereby is established, an university empowered for the granting of degrees."

The rest is, of course, history and the ensuing 175 years will be celebrated, but the principal said the anniversary will also be a time "to examine closely where we are going and what we want to be in the next century."

The honorary co-chairs for the 175th are McGill graduates Victor Goldbloom and Julie Payette, and Montreal jazz luminary Oliver Jones, who studied at McGill's Faculty of Music and received a Doctor of Music honoris causa at last spring's convocation.

Goldbloom, currently serving as Canada's Commissioner for Official Languages, quoted James Conan Bryant who said that "the person who enters a university walks upon hallowed ground," adding that McGill has contributed that aura to this city, province and country for a long, long time."

Engineering graduate and astronaut Julie Payette referred to herself as someone for whom "McGill has been a very special place. And I am a product still in the making as I struggle through my doctorate." Since 1993, Payette has been part of a research group studying the human/machine interface in space.

Saying she was very proud that the McGill logo is "recognized everywhere," she announced plans to take it even further. Describing the tradition whereby astronauts take a few special objects on space flights, Payette said, "I have already promised myself that I will bring a memento from McGill, the institution that made me what I am today."

Via videotape from Florida--and seated at a piano--Oliver Jones sent his regrets at being unable to attend the press conference. He said he was proud to be one of the honorary co-chairs and concluded his message with a little music.

Architecture professor Avi Friedman, chair of next September's Open House reviewed plans for the three-day event. Friedman also announced that a full-size demonstration house, "a relative of the Grow Home," will be erected on the lower campus by late August.

The current project is part of the School of Architecture's Affordable Homes program. The 1991 Grow Home attracted enormous attention from builders, developers and buyers, and hopes for the latest version are even higher. "We intend to break the housing sound barrier," Friedman declared, promising that it would cost less than $50,000 to build the home anywhere, including the cost of land. "We want to solve Canada's housing problems once and for all."

Special guest Mayor Pierre Bourque declared that "without McGill, Montreal would not have its heart," and that he fully supported McGill's efforts to increase international student enrolment, which had drawn some criticism in the press recently. He cited the opportunities that had opened for him during a recent trade trip to Asia due to contacts with McGill graduates.

"McGill does fabulous work in the world. You promote the true personality of this great city," said the mayor. Added Bourque "You are still teaching us," and he urged other Quebec universities to intensify their own international involvements.

The mayor also confirmed that the long awaited improvements to McTavish Street will be completed by September. The city will spend $1 million widening sidewalks, planting trees and creating a more pedestrian friendly thoroughfare.

A further campus enhancement to mark the 175th will be the addition of a statue of James McGill striding across the grounds near Burnside Hall, the site of his original farm property. A model of the bronze sculpture by artist David Roper Curzon was unveiled at the press conference with the news that the founder's full-size likeness will be installed at the Garden Party in June.