Canadian classics come to Queen’s

Famed author Robertson Davies’ collection set to be displayed in library

Associate University Librarian Barbara Teatero shows pieces from the personal collection of Robertson Davies.
Associate University Librarian Barbara Teatero shows pieces from the personal collection of Robertson Davies.

Queen’s library has expanded its specialty holdings by acquiring the personal collection of Canadian writer, critic and journalist, the late Robertson Davies.

Davies, an Ontario native, studied at Queen’s University in Honours English as a special student because he failed the math portion of the entrance exam. While at Queen’s he was an active writer for the Queen’s Journal where he authored a column called “The Book Shelf.”

He wrote a number of Canadian classics, including the renowned Salterton Trilogy based in a university town inspired by Kingston.

“I first heard of Kingston as a child reading Leaven of Malice,” Principal Daniel Woolf told the Journal via e-mail, referring to the second book in the Trilogy. “I’m thrilled Robertson Davies’ library is coming home to the place he called Waverly University.”

Associate University Librarian Barbara Teatero said the collection includes books that Davies himself had written, as well as books that he collected over time.

“Many of the books are annotated in his own hand and a number are presentation copies to Davies from notable authors,” Teatero said, adding that many of the items Davies acquired were from his stays in Britain. She said the collection will appeal to graduate and undergraduate students, as well as researchers.

“I have had the pleasure of showing some items from the gift portion of the collection to several faculty members in the English department who are very excited about the collection and say that it will be a tremendous resource for their students,” she said.

The collection is relevant to so many different people because it is so broad. It includes books on theater, history, plays, music, literature, criticism and drama.

The collection is not limited to books either, Teatero said. There are programs and posters, as well as other pieces that either stand alone or complement the collection.

Teatero said the collection became available a year ago when antiquarian and Davies’ personal friend Hugh Anson-Cartwright contacted Jane Philips, the collection development co-coordinator.

Teatero said Anson-Cartwright had sold Davies many of the books in his collection over the years and felt it important to keep the collection together rather than selling the pieces individually.

“Mr. Anson-Cartwright knew that Queen’s has a strong Canadiana collection and contacted us to see if we would be interested in acquiring Davies’ library” she said, adding that the next step was to receive a list of items in the collection to look for duplications.

Teatero said that the list contained over 6,000 items and was compiled by Jennifer Surridge, Davies’ middle daughter. “While we knew that Davies’ copies would be very special in their own right, I was surprised and delighted to see that many of the items on the list were not already represented in the Library’s collections,” Teatero said, adding that the collection was funded by the Chancellor Richardson Memorial Fund.

“When the opportunity arose to acquire Davies’ personal library, we applied for and were grateful to receive support from the Fund,” Teatero said, adding that a portion of the collection was a gift from Anson-Cartwright, which includes a number of unique items that can currently be viewed in QCAT.

Nonetheless, the whole collection is not online yet.

“The cataloguing for QCAT is a time-intensive and costly process, so it will be quite some time before it is complete,” she said. “Over the summer we will be unpacking more than 350 cartons of books, and will be shelving the collection in the order of the original list compiled by Jennifer Surridge, which represents the room order in which Davies’ kept the collection in his home.” There are currently plans to launch an official event in the fall to thank Mr. Anson-Cartwright and the Richardson family for their generosity, she said.

Professor Brian Osborne, Chair of the Chancellor Richardson Memorial Fund Committee said the addition of the collection to Queen’s Library is a great opportunity for the university.

“Simply put, the collection is the working library of one of Canada’s top intellectuals and cultural figures” he said.

Davies was the first Canadian to become an Honorary Member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. He was also the founding Master of Massey College, a residential college for postgraduate students of University of Toronto. “It is a rich and valuable collection and a major addition to the several other authors’ collections held by Queen’s Archives and Special Collections,” Osborne said.

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