(Daniel Korsunsky)

QUIZ: Are These McGill Buildings Named After Famous Racists or Famous Misogynists?

You’ve heard of James McGill, noted slave-trading sack of shit, but did you know he’s not the only fucking monster lovingly memorialized on campus? Time to test your knowledge of some other names from among our university’s hallowed pantheon of dead white dudes.

Macdonald Engineering

A: A famous racist! William Macdonald actually has a slew of McGill buildings named after him, because he donated a ludicrous amount of money to the university, allegedly out of guilt over how he acquired it. See, during the American Civil War, Macdonald had the bright idea of buying tobacco from the Confederacy, shipping it to Montreal for processing, and then selling it to the Union. He thus became fabulously wealthy thanks to what some would call “entrepreneurial spirit,” and others would call “war profiteering on the backs of enslaved Black people.” But y’know, potato-potahto!

Duff Medical Building

A: A famous misogynist! Despite what his eponymous building would suggest, Lyman Duff had nothing to do with medicine and everything to do with restricting women’s participation in politics. He served on the Supreme Court from 1906 to 1944, a highly eventful period in Canadian history characterized (despite Justice Duff’s best efforts) by some key progressive reforms. Notably, during the landmark Persons Case, he and his fellow justices ruled that women didn’t constitute “persons,” and therefore weren’t eligible to run for Senate. Lyman? More like “lie man,” amiright????? Sorry, this one kinda got away from me. Anyway, fuck this guy is my point. 

Currie Gymnasium

A: A famous racist! General Sir Arthur Currie made a name for himself on the battlefields of WWI before returning home to lead another pointless and fucked-up war. His enemy this time around? Jewish students trying to get an education at McGill. After becoming Principal in 1920, Currie raised admissions standards for Jewish applicants to well above the level required of their non-Jewish counterparts, and imposed a strict quota on Jewish students in the Medicine and Law faculties. These discriminatory measures remained in place for decades – unlike their originator, who died in 1933 when pneumonia finally accomplished what the entire German army couldn’t. 

Maass Chemistry Building

A: OK so technically neither, as far as I can tell, but I threw this one in anyway for kicks because, well, holy fuck. Otto Maass spearheaded Canada’s chemical and biological weapons R&D during and after WWII, devoting himself to creating inventively nasty new ways to kill large numbers of people with a whimsical disregard for the Geneva Protocol. He also contributed to the development of fuel-air explosives, a particularly brutal type of thermobaric weapon that was first used by invading US troops against the Vietnamese. You know, “science in defense of his country” – like the plaque on the massive building we named in his honour says!

Ferrier Building

A: A famous racist! James Ferrier was a former mayor of Montreal who went on to pursue national politics as a Conservative. Like definitely no other Conservative politician ever, Ferrier displayed a flagrant disregard for the dignity and humanity of racialized and colonized people. In 1859, he went to Egypt and came back with a couple of souvenirs: mummies looted from their original resting place which Ferrier illegally acquired and removed from the country. These stolen human remains are still proudly displayed by our very own Redpath Museum alongside another mummy, this one acquired by Sir Thomas Roddick of gates fame. That’s right, this one’s actually a racism twofer. Hooray.

Leacock Building

A: Both!!! It was a trick question!!! This campus is a hellscape littered with monuments to violence and bigotry!!! Canadian literary darling Stephen Leacock was known for his charming, light-hearted short stories…and for his essays about how immigration, socialism, and giving women the right to vote were all terrible ideas that would ruin the country. Not to mention that, like so many luminaries of this great nation, he absolutely hated Indigenous people. How fitting that the namesake of one of McGill’s ugliest buildings had convictions to match, eh?

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