Queen's University

Responses to "A labour of love"

Letters responding to “A labour of love,” Issue #4-2011, P. 14


So.... what status is given to the 321-page book I am currently reading and in my hands right now: Queen’s ­University at Kingston- The first Century of a Scottish-Canadian Foundation 1841-1941 written by D.D. Calvin and published by the “Trustees of the University Kingston, Ontario, 1941”?

Lloyd Leonard, Artsci'78, North York, ON

The Review asked Professor McDowall, Arts’72, MA’74, who is writing Volume III of the University’s official history for his response. Here is what he had to say:

“Yes, indeed, there was an earlier commissioned history of Queen’s. In the late 1930s, the Board of Trustees grew aware that the ­University’s 100th anniversary in 1941 was coming over the horizon. Although cash was scarce in those Depression years, a willing volunteer for the assignment was at hand: Delano Dexter Calvin, BA 1902, a local architect and scion of the Calvin family lumber company, which had based its prosperous operations on nearby ­Garden Island until the 1920s.

"Calvin, a member of the Board of Trustees, had already proven his literary mettle by writing an account of Kingston’s crucial place in the history of the St. Lawrence River, A Corner of Empire (1937), together with one-time Queen’s Classics professor T. R. Glover, LLD 1910 (perhaps better known for his biography of Jesus). In 1937, the Trustees commissioned Calvin to write the University’s centenary history, paying him $5,000 plus expenses. And Calvin efficiently delivered an eloquent romantic treatment of the humble origins and struggles of Queen’s to survive financial vicissitude. The University self-published the book, selling it to alumni and staff for two dollars a copy.

"Years later, Queen’s Canadian History professor Fred Gibson, BA’42, MA’44, LLD’91 (the writer of the official history’s Volume II in 1983), described Calvin as an “urbane and charming” writer. But the ­reality was that Calvin was not a trained historian and his inclination was to present Queen’s history in romantic and Whiggish hues. This was recognized in 1968 when Principals J.A. Corry, LLD’70, and John Deutsch, BCom’35, LLD’74, ­approved Prof. Gerald Tulchinsky’s proposal to apply the skills of a professional historian to the University’s fascinating evolution. By then, Queen’s boasted a well-organized university archives ready for systematic investigation. In this sense, the project undertaken by Drs. Hilda Neatby, Roger Graham, and Fred Gibson (all of whom are now deceased) was the first professional attempt to chronicle Queen’s history. But nobody disparaged the worth of Calvin’s earlier and very readable work; the Trustees in commissioning Neatby were quick to ­describe her challenge as one of ‘supplementing’ Calvin’s pioneering effort not ­replacing it.” – Ed.

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2012 Issue #1
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