McGill acquires personal archives of Jean Drapeau

McGill has acquired several dozen items from the private papers of iconic former mayor of Montreal, Jean Drapeau. The items are now on display in the Rare Books and Special Collections of the McLennan Library until the end of March.
Jean Drapeau was mayor of Montreal for 29 years.

As Christopher Lyons, Chief Librarian of Rare Books at McGill, was wandering through the rare books on offer at the recent Salon du livre ancien de Montréal at Concordia University, he spotted an album of photos of the construction of the Olympic Stadium.

The book seller told Lyons the photo albums were part of the personal library of Jean Drapeau, the iconic former mayor of Montreal and the very man behind the controversial construction of the Stadium.

In addition to photos of the construction of the Olympic Stadium there were books about Expo 67, texts of speeches given by Drapeau, and various forms of correspondence. Lyons says the 25 or so items McGill bought at the Salon du livre ancien represent a real opportunity to gain insight into the history of Montreal.

“Few of these items has been seen before – they are new to the world,” says Lyons. “For example, you can see this big collection of letters is entitled ‘Lettres de félicitations’ – letters of congratulations, or fan letters. Drapeau underlined in pencil the key lines of praise for himself and his administration. There is some marginalia and directives about what should be done in response to the letters. It tells the reader something about the man, that he would keep such letters in a bound volume, for posterity.”

Drapeau’s vision for Montreal was grandiose. On top of the Olympics in 1976, Drapeau oversaw the construction of a number of notable installations, including the Metro system, Place des Arts and Expo ’67.

One opponent called him “a combination of Walt Disney and Al Capone” and described his projects as circuses. Replying in typical Drapeau style, the Mayor said, “What the masses want are monuments.”

A not-so-positive item in the collection is a copy of the Malouf Commission Report. Albert Malouf was appointed to run a commission of enquiry into how the cost of the 1976 Olympics, and “the Big O,” went from an estimated preliminary cost of $120 million, to $310 million, to $600 million to $730 million…ending with the final tally at $1.3 billion.

“Here is an annotated copy of the Malouf Report, which Drapeau marked up with pencil, presumably to respond,” says Lyons. “He even put tabs into the book to mark pages that he thought were important. Ultimately, though, he did not respond to the Malouf Commission. And he went on to be re-elected one more time despite these staggering cost overruns.”

Drapeau was Mayor of Montreal for 29 years, from 1954 to 1957, and then again from 1960 to 1986. During that period he saw seven prime ministers and nine Quebec premiers take office. Born in Montreal in 1916, Drapeau died in Montreal in 1999, at the age of 83.

The Drapeau Collection will be on display until the end of March. Rare Books and Special Collections is on the 4th floor of the McLennan Library Building (3459 McTavish Street). They are open Monday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and everyone is welcome to come and consult the material (and all their holdings).