Dr. Seamus Ross on McLuhan’s “Two Homes”

16Aug11

Marshall McLuhan plaque unveiling at 29 Wells Hill Avenue.

Earlier this summer, McLuhan100 unveiled a plaque in front of the now heritage home of University of Toronto Professor Marshall McLuhan (on June 27, to be precise).  The event brought the human side of this great 20th century intellectual to light, when three of the author’s six children gathered at their childhood home to unveil the Heritage Toronto plaque marking the house’s history, and tell stories about their dad.

Another highlight of the evening was a talk delivered by University of Toronto’s iSchool Dean Seamus Ross.  In it, he speaks of  McLuhan’s ‘other home’ –  The Coach House at the University of Toronto (also a heritage building) that still bears his name.  Ross stressed the importance of not only looking back to honour this extraordinary Canadian; but also looking forward to Toronto’s participation as one of the great cities in the new, interconnected world.  He then announced the University’s commitment to plans to renovate the Coach House and honour the intellectual legacy that McLuhan left behind.

Here is an excerpt from Dr. Ross’s address:

Here at 29 Wells Hill Avenue, a plaque in his honor helps to remind us all that McLuhan’s innumerable contributions to intellectual life in this city were made ultimately by a modest man—a quintessential characteristic of great Canadians. It is easy to imagine that, for years, McLuhan’s life centred on two houses: this personal one, where he and Corinne raised their six children, and another, more modest house at the fringe of the University of Toronto campus downtown – the petite Coach house, which still bears McLuhan’s name. In this centenary year, it is fitting that we look back and honor this extraordinary Canadian; but it is also fitting that we look forward to Toronto’s participation as one of the great cities in the new, interconnected world.

The other heritage building, The Coach House, is itself returning to vibrancy as a place where the lines of thinking and argument that McLuhan first charted can be taken up, discussed, and debated. We began slowly, last year (2010) with a truly outstanding exhibition by David Rokeby and Lewis Kaye that invited visitors to look into the Coach House against a backdrop of McLuhan audio and engage with visual imagery of McLuhan in his seminar space. This exhibition invited us to re-engage with McLuhan and his research Centre. Since late April 2011 Robert Bean’s installation, Illuminated Manuscripts, has been on show in the Coach House.  This exhibition welcomes visitors into the building to 27 June 2011 to investigate his ideas through how they are inscribed. Over the past two months I have dropped by on odd afternoons and chatted with some of the nearly one thousand visitors. Many of them invariably shared stories of the great intellectual excitement of discussions at such events as the now famous Monday Night Seminars or having conversations with the man himself.  The Coach House was a place of conversation as we are told by many of McLuhan’s friends and children, and so was this house here at 29 Wells Hill Avenue.

The University is committed to revitalizing the intellectual life of the other house as a central space for scholarship.  This fall we are relaunching the Monday Night Seminars with a range of distinguished speakers, commentators and moderators and have laid the plans for seminars in winter and fall 2012 and winter 2013.  The Faculty of Information at the University of Toronto has begun to reinvigorate our Program in Culture and Technology that includes his name, an honor Corinne acknowledged in a letter to the University in August 1980, saying Marshall “…is deeply cognizant of the single honour conferred by the University of Toronto in the establishing of a Program in Culture and Technology bearing his name.”   We are also raising funds to renovate the Coach House to make it a place fitting for conversation and scholarship.  The University, through its Provost Cheryl Misak, has committed the first $400,000 toward our goal of raising $ 1.5 Million.  The intellectual legacy that McLuhan left behind remains strong, as does the University’s commitment to it. McLuhan was a giant on whose shoulders we stand, a truly great intellectual of which the University is justly proud. As his dear friend and former University of Toronto President Claude Bissell said of him at the University’s remembrance service on January 29 th 1981, “McLuhan was a humanist in action – a humanist in the great Renaissance tradition, who not only argued that the humanities were at the centre of knowledge, but demonstrated in his own work that this was so.” His approach to scholarship is even more central today, and his ideas have come to shape what we are and in turn to be shaped themselves by what we have become.

Read Dr. Seamus Ross’s entire address here (pdf): http://tinyurl.com/3hf9c8t

 Dr. Seamus Ross

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