By Rhia Perkins
A University of Calgary ceremony on June 26 honoured one of Alberta’s most important writers: W.O. Mitchell.
In the ceremony, the U of C renamed Mitchell’s old office in the Professional Faculties Building, and recognized a significant donation made to the library to help preserve and maintain the current W.O. Mitchell archives. The donors, Larry and Maureen Lunn of Vancouver, were friends of Mitchell’s children when they were growing up in High River, Alberta.
"The Lunns are very quiet but they are very good people who believe in the post-secondary education system and the university environment," said Director of U of C Information Services Frits Pannekoek. "This demonstrates their wish to do something for their friends, but at the same time to do something meaningful for the post-secondary education system."
The Lunns’ donation will be used in several ways to maintain the collection.
"It will be used for the processing of the collection to be sure that it’s available to scholars, that means indexing it so everybody knows what’s in the various boxes. It will also be used for the conservation of the collection," said Pannekoek. "The money was also supposed to be used to encourage scholars who are interested in W.O. Mitchell to come to the university and to study the collection."
Located in Professional Faculties 4216, the W.O. Mitchell Room features a stained transom window depicting a prairie scene, as well as a plaque and photograph of the author.
"It’s a lasting memorial in the sense that it provides a sense of place, a marker of where he worked," said Dean of Social Work Gayla Rogers. "He had an impact on those of us in the Faculty of Social Work who had an opportunity to interact with him and given that he’s such a well-recognized figure internationally, it gives the university a marker that recognizes that he, at a time, worked out of an office here. Every time that you go by the room, you remember that he was there."
Mitchell’s relationship with the faculty dates back to the late ’80s.
"He mentioned that he would love an office away from home to work out of," remembered Rogers. "The dean at that time agreed, so he basically was given one of our research assistant’s offices in the Social Sciences Tower."
Even the relocation of the faculty’s office space couldn’t break that bond.
"He became so much part of the family, that when we were moving to the Professional Faculties Building, there was no question that we would be moving him right along with us and we provided an office for him when we moved over here to this building. He worked in that office until his health really didn’t let him come anymore."
Though it is now two years since Mitchell passed away, arrangements to recognize him have been underway for some time.
"Shortly after his death we began the process that involved getting a room named," said Rogers. "It’s a lengthy process in the sense that it’s under the purview of the Board of Governors to do that naming, and then of course there had been this gift to the library, so we tied the events together."
Pannekoek thinks the memorials are a good way to remember Mitchell.
"I think that involving elders in education [is good]. I don’t think we do enough of that," he said. "It’s sort of made me think that maybe if there’s an opportunity here within Information Resources, maybe we should do that. I think that would create a more complete university if we respected and encouraged our cultural elders to be with us."
Mitchell wrote several books about prairie life in Alberta and Saskatchewan, including Who Has Seen the Wind, How I Spent My Summer Holidays and Jake and the Kid, which was made into a CTV miniseries.
Members of the university community are invited to pass by the office to see the memorial.
"The office itself isn’t open, it’s a working office," adds Rogers. "But certainly you can see the transom window, the plaque, you can see his picture. Inside the office it’s just an office, we didn’t enshrine it."