Editor's Notebook

Editor's Notebook McGill University

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ALUMNI QUARTERLY - winter 2008
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Home > McGill News > 1999 > Winter 1999-2000 > Editor's Notebook

Editor's Notebook

Millennial mayhem, if indeed there is any, could be over by the time many of you receive your copy of the McGill News. As announced on our cover, this is not only a special anniversary issue, but also the annual worldwide edition, mailed to all alumni for whom we have addresses.

The arrival of 125,000 copies of the News at our mail house for sorting, labeling and bundling has the same effect as the python's monthly lunch -- it makes a big bulge and takes time to work its way through. We then reach Canada Post just as they are in the throes (or should that be throws?) of handling millions of holiday parcels. We thank you for your understanding if we're late reaching you.

In our Fall issue, we invited readers to let us know how they planned to spend the last night of the 1900s. According to recent media reports, people aren't making big plans. If it's a sign of anything, downtown stores in Montreal were discounting slow-moving evening gowns in November. However, one romantic and fearless grad, Yves Gadler, BA'84, MA'94, is definitely showing a little McGill moxie. He wrote to let us know that he's flying to Hong Kong where he plans to propose to his girlfriend on the stroke of midnight.

The job of putting together this anniversary compilation of the McGill News has been difficult. In one issue, I came across an interview with a newly appointed archivist who complained ruefully that he was discovering so much interesting material, it was impossible not to get sidetracked. We had the same problem.

It's been fascinating to learn that apple juice and Plexiglas were invented at McGill; that Sir William Dawson made it part of his job as principal to spruce up the scruffy campus and personally planted dozens of trees; that McGill had a collection of eccentric porters, one who was conducted through the streets by students in an annual coronation ceremony, and another who was known as "Shakespeare Harry" for the poet whose work he most often quoted -- next to his own.

The lecturing skills of Nobel Prize winner Ernest Rutherford are described by a McGill colleague, Classics professor John MacNaughton: "Radioactive is the one sufficient term to characterize the total impression made upon us by his personality. Emanations of light and energy, swift and penetrating, cathode rays strong enough to pierce a brick wall, or the head of a professor of Literature, appeared to sparkle and coruscate from him all over in sheaves."

Stephen Leacock was remembered at his death in 1944 by professor of Economics John Culliton: "Professor Leacock was not a legend on campus. He was the campus. Never too hurried, never too busy to give his time, his knowledge and his attention to any student." Leacock headed the editorial committee of the News in its early days and often lobbied gently in its pages for a residence for male students. (Royal Victoria College had been built for women in 1900.) "It would not be at all difficult to establish residential dormitories at McGill. The writer of this editorial is certain that he could at any time take an afternoon off and arrange the whole thing."

The News has also published the views of writer and teacher Hugh MacLennan on the threat of nuclear war, excerpts of love letters to his adored first wife, Dorothy Duncan, and a review (favourable) of his first novel, Barometer Rising. But not all criticism was weighty; for instance, the magazine once examined the book Meet Mr. Hyphen -- and Put Him in His Place.

Especially touching are the magazines from the war years. In issue after issue, there are photos of proudly smiling young men in uniform, listed as either killed or missing in action, few of them older than the students who surround us today.

The history of McGill as reported in the pages of the News is in many ways the history of Canada. This is no ivory tower, but a community as affected by economic upturns and downturns, by war, disease, and by social and political trends as any other. However, a university of the calibre of McGill has the intellectual resources to adapt to change, to allay fear with knowledge, to propose solutions to societal problems, and to train the people to help carry them out.

We hope you enjoy looking back as much as we did.

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