The McGill book fair reaches its final chapter

The annual McGill Book Fair is a popular event for students, staff, and residents of Montreal. A large selection of over 50,000 books in a wide range of categories, from fiction to physics, delight book enthusiasts. However, this year’s event, which ran Oct. 16-18, is likely the last one ever at McGill.

The Book Fair started in 1971 as a joint effort from the Women’s Associates of McGill—an association comprised of the wives of McGill professors—and the Women’s Alumnae Association. Its primary goal is to raise money for scholarships and, at an average price of $3 per book, it has raised about $1.8 million since 1975. The funds are divided into three bursaries: The McGill Book Fair Bursary in Music for undergraduate students in the Schulich School of Music; the Jane B. Hood Bursary in English Literature, dedicated to the first and longest serving coordinator of the Fair for over 30 years; and the McGill Book Fair Bursary, which is for all undergraduate students.

Bursaries are vital for many students. Deanna Duxbury, U3 Arts, for example, believes that she would not have been able to pay tuition without the financial assistance the bursaries provide.

“I was working to pay my way, and the Book Fair bursary was so helpful.” Duxbury said. “[It] makes me want to give back.”

In addition to providing scholarships, the organizers of the Book Fair seek to contribute to sustainability and social equity. Books are available at a low cost and the remaining texts are donated to charities, providing information and literature to students and families with limited resources.

According to Susan Smith Woodruff, co-coordinator of the Book Fair, this year’s event was difficult to organize due to construction work being done at Redpath Hall.

“These achievements of the Book Fair don’t just come from getting books and putting them on the table,” Woodruff said. “There are a lot of details to deal with [….] This year, we had to rearrange everything that we would normally do in order to accommodate the dictates of the fire module from the construction being done next to Redpath.”

According to event organizers, the 2011 Book Fair was supposed to be the final iteration. Only a handful of volunteers were available to cope with the physical demands of hefting books and boxes, leaving more physical work on fewer shoulders. It was a unanimous vote among the team that they could not continue to host the event. However, two McGill graduate students, Fraser Dickson and Jonathan Haines, were determined to keep the Book Fair going, deciding to step in and organize the the event in 2012.

Following a hiatus in 2013 due to construction work on Redpath Terrace, the Book Fair reemerged in 2014. However, restarting operations posed significant challenges according to Anne Johnston Williams, one of the Fair coordinators.

“In 2014, people didn’t think it was going on anymore, so it was hard to get people back again,” Williams said. “The book dealers didn’t come even though we let them know.”

Due to required maintenance on the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems of the building, Redpath Hall will not be available to host the Book Fair next year.

“[Woodruff] and I are not doing it again, and we can’t have [Redpath Hall] next year as far as we know, and [it] is an ideal building to have it in,” Williams said. “The building may be finished next September, but we don’t know.”

According to Woodruff, the logistical burdens involved in the project are too heavy to make the Book Fair viable for next year.

“It’s bittersweet,” Woodruff said. “We’ve been so involved [that] it’s going to be hard not to have the book fair, but it’s also a relief because we have so many other things to do.”

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