New Exhibit: Two Rings Don’t Make a Right

While February may be the month of love, a history of marriage laws in Canada demonstrates that love and marriage don’t always go hand in hand. In curating the Gelber’s new exhibit: Two Rings Don’t Make a Right: The Historical Development of Marriage and Divorce Law in Canada, we at the Gelber learned a lot about the hard won rights Canadians have made towards both marriage and divorce. This exhibit showcases stories, legal history and publications dating back to 18th century Canada and 16th century Europe; we could not resist including some European content as a precursor to the Canadian legal system.

We are also excited to once again host a library touch table as part of this exhibit. In addition to our display cases of materials you can enjoy an interactive visual presentation designed by Sonia Smith. These informative slides provide historical context for many of the items found on display. Included in the display are several important Canadian, UK and French statutes related to both divorce and marriage law. 

While curating this exhibit it was fascinating to see the changing perceptions of married life. We found several volumes from early 20th to late 19th C which provide extremely detailed and shockingly dated instructions to women on how to ensure a successful marriage. One of the most aesthetically beautiful works on display which was loaned to us by the Osler History of Medicine Library, and includes a hand-written note from a 16th C Dutch father giving his son permission to marry – at least marriage without parental consent is one right Canadians did not have to fight for! 

Witchcraft in the Law: Exhibit

If you haven’t seen it yet, there is one month left to check out the current Gelber exhibit: Witchcraft in the Law. This exhibit, which has been in place since October 2022, highlights rare materials collected from the Rare Books collection here at the Gelber, along with materials from ROAAr and the Osler History of Medicine Library. 

(Lisa Barrett, Nahum Gelber Law Library, 2022)

This was a very fun exhibit to plan and we all learned a lot about the history of witchcraft in the law! Many of the materials displayed in this exhibit are first hand accounts and perceptions of witchcraft throughout history. There are books in this exhibit dating from the 15th to early 17th century, in which we see fearful rantings about the influence of the devil and witches and their evil ways, including descriptions of exorcisms, how to detect witchcraft and of course witch trials. As we move to the later publications you can see a change which happens in the late 17th century – suddenly the discourse is much more logical and centered on disproving these superstitions about the existence of magical powers in any corporeal sense. The timing of this transition of thinking is why we see fewer cases of witchcraft in Canada, the country was still so sparsely populated in the early 1600’s, and your neighbors were often your lifeline, so you’d be shooting yourself in the foot to accuse them of witchcraft. However, there are still a few cases, in fact mostly from New France. 

(Lisa Barrett, Nahum Gelber Law Library, 2022)

One such case from New France is the legend of Corriveau, which is one of Quebec’s most popular witch or ghost stories. Marie-Josephte Corriveau was convicted of murdering her husband in the mid 18th century. Original descriptions of the case contain incredibly verbose language, describing her as evil and wicked and theatrically claiming she took delight in the murder. Corriveau’s rather gruesome punishment was to “hang in chains until dead” after which her corpse was displayed publicly in a body shaped hanging cage called a gibbet. You can see this very cage at the Museum of Civilization in Quebec City. While the legend lives on, Corriveau’s conviction was overturned more than 200 years later in a mock trial by the Young Barristers Association of Montreal. 

(Lisa Barrett, Nahum Gelber Law Library, 2022)

Don’t miss this collection of first hand accounts and fascinating historical progress from superstition and fear to more modern logic based reasoning.

Faculty of Law: Stories and Snippets

We’re excited to announce a new exhibit at the Law Library. Some of you may have noticed, our exhibit tables have been relocated next to the stairs to make it easier for everyone to stop and peruse as you go about your days of studying.

McGill University has recently reached its bicentennial and while the faculty of law was founded a few years later, it was the first law school in Canada and has contributed greatly to McGill’s notoriety and prestige over the last (almost) 200 years. In honor of this impact, we have curated an exhibit highlighting the Law Faculty through the ages. One half of the exhibit focuses on notable faculty members, graduates, and organizations, of which there are too many to do justice in a 3×5 exhibit case! In the other we have dredged up some often forgotten contributions and snippets of student life.

Take a moment to learn about some notable figures in the faculty’s history, like 1891 Graduate Robert Stanley Weir who wrote the lyrics to our national anthem. Or Quebec’s first female law graduate Annie MacDonald Langstaff; and of course, John Humphrey, McGill professor and Canadian Human Rights icon, just to name a few.

Student life of the past is often elusive. While we keep records of publications like the Quid Novi or student theses, often the memories of student groups, unofficial activities and just daily life are lost. This is why we dug deep into local news publications and our Head Librarian’s collection of memorabilia (thanks Daniel!). We were able to put together snippets of the life of law students; from 1920’s sports stars and student plays to environmental activists’ groups of the 70’s. We even discovered that McGill Law was featured in a short run Quebecois 70’s sitcom! So, join us for a walk down the Law Faculty memory lane and learn a few fun facts about our history.

Bright Views at Law

Nahum Gelber Law Library staff is looking forward to welcoming students back this fall with clean views via some freshly washed windows.

The Law Library is privileged to boast an abundance of natural light, although in recent years our impressive fenestrations have become a little cloudy. Studies have shown that natural light improves both productivity and mental health(1) – both of which are top priorities for library staff in serving McGill Law Students.

We are looking to the future with hopeful anticipation of study spaces filled with engaged students enjoying our beautiful library with some of the cleanest views we’ve seen in years.

(1) The effects of exposure to natural light in the workplace on the health and productivity of office workers: a systematic review protocol, JBI Library of Systematic Reviews: Volume 8 – Issue 16 – p 1-19

Sonia Smith & Mila Bozic Erkic Receive CLLR Feature Article Award

The members of the Law Library would like to congratulate Sonia Smith, Liaison Librarian and Mila Bozic Erkic, Senior Circulation Clerk of the Nahum Gelber Law Library on winning the Canadian Law Library Review Feature Article Award for their article “Does a Wellness Collection Have a Place at a Law Library?”.

The CLLR award is presented annually by The Canadian Association of Law Libraries / L’Association canadienne des bibliothèques de droit (CALL/ACBD), to the author of a feature length article published in Canadian Law Library Review / Revue canadienne des bibliothèques de droit to recognize outstanding contributions to the association and the profession of Law Librarianship.

Sonia and Mila’s forward thinking “Wellness Collection” and subsequent article, have been a huge success with students. This project started in 2018 in response to several studies discussing the particularly high rate of stress and mental health issues among law students. The authors had no idea what a vital resource this would become during the widespread mental health crisis that students would face during the 2020/2021 pandemic. While in person, students were able to relax by taking advantage of a “de-stress corner” where they could take a much needed break from rigorous academic pursuits. Over the past year students have benefited from the thoughtfully curated Wellness Resources for Law Students Libguide. Now more than ever we appreciate Sonia and Mila’s hard work and dedication to McGill Law students.

Merci et félicitations, Sonia et Mila!