McGill Bicentennial celebrations draw to a close 

McGill musicians raise the roof to wrap up the University’s 200th birthday party  
McGill musicians performed Beethoven’s 9th Symphony to mark the end of the University’s Bicentennial.Tam Photography

After almost 19 months of special events and initiatives, the official program commemorating McGill’s founding in 1821 reached its grand finale at the Maison symphonique de Montréal on October 23, where around 2000 faculty, staff, students and alumni were treated to a spellbinding performance of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 by the McGill Symphony Orchestra, Schulich Singers, the McGill Concert Choir and the McGill University Chorus. 

In her welcoming remarks, Maryse Bertrand, Chair of McGill’s Board of Governors, made it clear that the Bicentennial was as much a celebration of the people who make up the McGill community as of the institution itself. 

“McGill’s greatest strength has and will always be its people,” Bertrand said. “Our community is made up of global talents, who educate, innovate and enrich society. This concert is an opportunity for the McGill community to celebrate the brilliant contributions made by students, faculty and staff, alumni and supporters, and to enter our third century together.” 

Bertrand’s words were a bookend to a celebration launched on March 31, 2021, by then-Principal Suzanne Fortier, who at the time described McGill’s founding as “opening an exciting new frontier of learning and discovery.” 

“Few institutions will have the opportunity to mark a 200th anniversary. Even fewer can claim the impact on our world that the people of McGill have had throughout generations,” Principal Fortier said. 

A true team effort 

In his invitation to the concert, Interim Principal Christopher Manfredi recognized the efforts of the team behind the Bicentennial celebrations, whose carefully laid plans had to be largely rewritten when the COVID-19 pandemic struck in March 2020. 

“A special thank you is owed to Gérald Cadet and the members of the McGill Bicentennial team who have worked tirelessly, amid challenging circumstances, to offer us a period of celebration that most befits our great University and community,” Interim Principal Manfredi wrote. 

Catching his breath after six years’ intense work planning and overseeing the celebrations, Bicentennial Director Cadet credits his dedicated team and the strong participation of the entire McGill community with making the commemoration a success. 

“The fact that we were able to do the Bicentennial despite this world-changing pandemic is something I’m super proud of,” Cadet says. “It was a total team effort from the Bicentennial team with the support of all the faculties and units at McGill that came together.” 

Bicentennial highlights

At the top of his list of favourite Bicentennial moments, Cadet names the night in May this year when four of McGill’s five astronauts – and Canadian astronaut Marc Garneau – came together to share their stories of space exploration. The MADE in Space panel was part of Space Week, a Bicentennial signature event highlighting the contributions of the McGill community to the space and aerospace fields. 

Cadet was especially pleased to see students playing a leading role in so many Bicentennial initiatives, pointing to two examples that also illustrate a thematic emphasis on sustainability: the impact200 Student Sustainability Challenge and the construction of the Bicentennial Sustainable Stage at Reford Gardens by students from the Peter Guo-hua Fu School of Architecture and the Schulich School of Music. 

A legacy for the next century 

True to its mission to honour the past and look forward to the next century in equal measure, the Bicentennial celebrations will leave the community with mementos to cherish and initiatives to build on for years to come. 

The students who developed award-winning impact200 projects will continue to receive support through the Dobson Centre for Entrepreneurship to help identify next steps for their innovative ideas. And, historians will be able to discover what 50 of McGill’s top researchers thought the future would hold thanks to a digital time capsule capturing their responses to the question: “What will be the biggest change in your field over the next 25 years?” Five of these videos will be released at Homecoming each year for the next 10 years. 

Well-deserved recognition for quiet achievers 

But, for Cadet, perhaps the most poignant memory of the Bicentennial was the appreciation expressed by recipients of Unsung Heroes of McGill nominations. More than once, Cadet experienced goosebumps reading the thank-you messages from faculty and staff whose colleagues had shone a light on their contributions to shaping the University community. 

Among them, Nancy Nelson, Undergraduate Student Adviser in the Department of Biology, wrote: “I am honoured and humbled. It gives me so much satisfaction every day to be able to help our smart and engaged students. I am so lucky to be able to spend my days problem-solving and putting out fires.”  

Watch the Bicentennial recap video below