A recent treat for assistant editor Andrew Mullins, McGill News designer Steven McClenaghan and me was a tour through the Redpath Museum. Accompanied by photographer Nicolas Morin, we went on a scouting trip to plan our cover feature. We learned that the Redpath, like most museums, is an iceberg -- what you see on display is only about ten per cent of what's really there. Ethnology curator Barbara Lawson, MA'91, took us behind the museum walls -- literally, since exhibition space has been partitioned off over the years for storage -- to see some of the thousands of items tucked away. And what a fascinating variety there is, from armour worn by samurai warriors to Egyptian figurines from the time of the pharaohs.
As we gathered information for captions, another helpful curator, Ingrid Birker, told us that the museum's stuffed lion and gorilla had been killed and brought back from Africa by Duncan Maclean Hodgson. Hodgson was an important benefactor of the Redpath and a main exhibit gallery is named for him.
The era of hunting safaris in Africa is, of course, long past. When a museum like the Redpath opened in the 1880s, however, there was little thought given to the environment or to animal conservation. Naturalist and painter John James Audubon, the first person to band wild birds in North America, also killed thousands of them in the course of his work. According to David Lank, curator of an Audubon exhibit currently touring Canada, for each of his paintings the artist might kill dozens of birds to find a few perfect specimens. In his studio he would wire them into lifelike positions to create his meticulously accurate illustrations.
In Audubon's time some species of birds were so plentiful that flocks of them could cause an eclipse-like effect. The passenger pigeon, now extinct, was at one time so numerous that a single flock was once reported to take several days to fly over. How could such a vast resource ever seem threatened? The first recorded information on animal behaviour and migration patterns came from hunters. As Lank says, "More science was learned through the sights of a gun than through a microscope."
In my reading I discovered that sugar baron Peter Redpath built the museum for McGill principal William Dawson. Redpath was a great admirer of the brilliant Dawson who, in addition to administrative duties, also conducted research, published articles and books, and taught as many as 20 classes a week throughout most of his 38-year career at McGill. A highly respected scientist, Dawson was the only person ever to head both the American and British Associations for the Advancement of Science, and he also created the Royal Society of Canada. In recognition of his achievements he was awarded a knighthood in 1884. According to a biography by Susan Sheets-Pyenson, when Dawson retired from McGill just under a decade later, ten people were required to fulfil his various duties.
Replacing talented people is never an easy task. As mentioned in the last issue, Richard Pound, BCom'62, BCL'67, succeeds Gretta Chambers, BA'47, as chancellor, and will in turn be replaced as chair of the Board of Governors by Robert Rabinovitch, BCom'64, executive vice-president and COO of a Bronfman family management and holding company. He's well aware of the impact of budget cuts on the University and the resulting struggle to maintain quality.
"It's a tremendous balancing act," he said in a recent McGill Reporter interview. "We have to get the money." His advice? Don't wait for a crisis before going to the government. "Lobby, and lobby continuously. Lobbying is not a dirty word and it's here to stay."
A neighbouring university gives us a new vice-principal (academic). Physicist and mathematician Luc Vinet comes from the Universite de Montreal, and brings considerable experience in university-private sector collaborations. Vinet was the unanimous choice of the search committee and is equally certain about his choice to come here. "McGill is a great institution with a fantastic tradition. It should be cherished," he says.
And as the Faculty of Law introduces a revamped curriculum -- bringing civil and common law traditions even closer together -- they are also introducing a new dean. Peter Leuprecht, former deputy secretary-general of the Council of Europe, was finishing up two years as a visiting professor when asked to consider the post. Austrian-born Leuprecht, who speaks five languages, accepted the offer and says the Faculty's joint program and its bilingual approach makes McGill graduates "highly valued" as international agreements increasingly become the norm.
You'll find out more about these people and their job priorities in the fall issue. In the meantime, have a wonderful summer.