John McCall MacBain installed as McGill’s 20th Chancellor

“It is a torch that I intend to hold high as McGill embarks upon its third century. And what a third century it will be”
Ram Panda (left), Chair of McGill’s Board of Governors; Suzanne Fortier, Principal; and Michael A. Meighen (right), Chancellor Emeritus, applaud the University’s newly installed Chancellor, John McCall MacBainOwen Egan / Joni Dufour

And with two simple words and a wardrobe change, John McCall MacBain was officially installed as the 20th Chancellor of McGill University.

“I do,” answered McCall MacBain when, as part of today’s installation ceremony in Moyse Hall, he was asked by Ram Panda, Chair of McGill’s Board of Governors, if he promised “to fulfill the duties and obligations of the chancellorship.”

McCall MacBain then swapped his ceremonial red and white Honorary Doctorate gown for the black and gold gown of Chancellor. Principal Suzanne Fortier completed the ceremony by placing the Chancellor’s mortarboard upon McCall MacBain’s head.

“It is a singular honour for me to stand before you in this historic building as the newly installed Chancellor of McGill,” said McCall MacBain in his address. “And it is a great pleasure to return to this remarkable University where I spent my favourite years as a student and student leader.”

Long-standing ties to McGill

Originally from Niagara Falls, Ontario, John McCall MacBain attended McGill on scholarship to study Economics, graduating with an Honours Bachelor of Arts degree in 1980. During his time at McGill, he was deeply involved in student life, including serving as President of the Students Society. In his final year he was named Valedictorian.

McCall MacBain subsequently obtained a law degree from the University of Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, followed by an MBA from Harvard Business School. Starting with the acquisition in 1987 of classified publications in the Province of Quebec, he launched a successful entrepreneurial career as founder and controlling shareholder of Trader Classified Media which he sold in 2006. In 2007, he and his spouse Marcy McCall MacBain established the McCall MacBain Foundation to support initiatives in education and scholarships, climate change and the environment, and health and wellness.

In addition to serving as Chair of the McCall MacBain Foundation, Mr. McCall MacBain is active in many philanthropic and volunteer activities, including as a Trustee of the Mandela Rhodes Foundation in Cape Town. He is a Trustee Emeritus and Second Century Founder of the Rhodes Trust in Oxford, a Foundation Fellow of Wadham College Oxford and is the Founding Chair of the European Climate Foundation. He has continued to contribute his time to McGill, serving on the Principal’s International Advisory Board and Honorary Chair of the Made by McGill: the Campaign for Our Third Century.

‘A tireless champion of education’

McCall MacBain officially began his tenure as Chancellor on July 1, 2021, but COVID-19 made it impossible to hold the official installation ceremony.

“We are delighted to finally be able to come together to proceed with the official installation of McGill’s 20th Chancellor, Mr. John McCall MacBain, who has now been in office for almost a year. We did promise him that this ceremony would be held before the end of his term,” said Principal Fortier with a chuckle.

“The Chancellor plays a very important role in the life of McGill University,” she continued. “The Chancellor is the titular head of McGill and an ex officio member of the Board of Governors. He presides over all Convocation ceremonies and confers all academic degrees once they are granted by Senate

“McGill University is extremely fortunate to have John McCall MacBain as our new Chancellor. He’s a great supporter of the University, and a tireless champion of education and of its transformative power,” said the Principal. “The whole McGill community joins me in welcoming John to his new role.”

Praising those who came before

In his address, McCall MacBain paid tribute to the 19 Chancellors who came before him, singling out Michael A. Meighen in particular.

“I would like to express my thanks to Michael Meighen, my immediate predecessor who set a very, very high standard. He’s a model ambassador and consistently leads with his intelligence, integrity and grace… His calm reassurance has been invaluable and I wish him the best in his new role as Chancellor Emeritus. Thank you, Michael.”

Meighen served as Chancellor of McGill from 2014 to the Spring of 2021.

Embracing joy

In his address, McCall MacBain spoke about the advice he will offer graduating students in the coming weeks during Spring 2022 Convocation, particularly appreciating the “little moments of joy” that can make one cry with happiness.

The Chancellor talked about that singular moment for every person when a loved one graduates. “All those years of encouragement, of progress, of setbacks, of advice and of counsel… all those parts coming together as their daughter or son, granddaughter or grandson, friend or partner, stands to cross the stage to begin the next phase of their life…

“I recommend not to hold back on their joy, or on their tears, or of the breaking of their voice,” he said. “This is real life. Live the moment and let it happen.”

Trio of Honorary Doctorates

True to his word, the Chancellor let his own emotions show when, discussing the incredible story of Noubar Afeyan, co-founder and chairman of Moderna, and one of the three dignitaries who received honorary degrees as part of today’s ceremony.

“The recent pandemic has made Noubar such a good example of joy,” said McCall MacBain. “Just imagine… when he recognized after 15 years of research and work in a field of unknown possibility – when so many people had tried to second guess the route he had chosen – it finally came to fruition.

“Finally, after so many years, the FDA approved the Moderna vaccine for emergency use in the recent pandemic. I imagine Noubar took a moment to appreciate the joy of life itself,” said the Chancellor, his voice breaking with emotion. “From an Armenian immigrant born in Beirut, Lebanon, to Montreal Canada, as an undergraduate student with his friends here at the McGill Faculty of Engineering, to a savior of millions.”

Other Honorary Doctorates included documentary playwright Annabel Soutar and neuroscientist Charlene Drew Jarvis.

Holding the torch high

“Of course, the installation of a chancellor in a Canadian university would not be complete without a hockey reference, and today is no exception,” said McCall MacBain with a laugh.

“As many of you know in the Montreal Canadiens’ dressing room there is a quote from a classic World War I poem entitled In Flanders Fields. It is written by a Canadian Army officer, a physician and a poet and, McGill graduate, John McRae. “It talks about the passing of the torch. The line says “be yours to hold it high.”

“The honour of being Chancellor of McGill is being passed to me today,” said McCall MacBain. “It is a torch that I intend to hold high as McGill embarks upon its third century. And what a third century it will be… I intend to hold high this torch for excellence, accessibility, and inclusion at our great University and for celebrating the achievements of our students. It is a torch I intend to hold high for collaborative efforts with our community and to meet the many challenges facing the world. And it is a torch I intend to hold high to inspire our graduates around the world.”

Watch the video of the Installation Ceremony below