16th Century Books for a 21st Century Library

Alvan Bregman, Seymour Schulich, and Judy Schulich
Dr. Alvan Bregman, Seymour Schulich, and Judy Schulich.

When Canadian business leader and philanthropist Seymour Schulich met Queen’s Principal Daniel Woolf, Artsci’80, it wasn’t long before the pair realized they had more than a passion for education in common. They also shared a love of rare books.

Principal Woolf had long planned to donate his book collection to Queen’s. However, his discussions with Mr. Schulich inspired him to fast-track those plans.

Mr. Schulich and Principal Woolf jointly donated their personal collections to create the Schulich-Woolf Rare Book Collection at Queen’s University, which was unveiled to the public during a ceremony at the Queen’s Douglas Library on November 23rd.

“There reaches a point where mortality dictates great collections must be shared,” said the 77-year-old philanthropist, who was accompanied by his daughter, Judy Schulich, the executive vice president of the Schulich Foundation, at the unveiling. “I hope to be part of building one of Canada’s best English rare book collections.”

Principal Woolf, a historian, scholar, and professor as well as administrator, shares the optimism of his partner in philanthropy. “By the time we’re done building this, I don’t think there will be a better collection outside of the Ivy League universities and the Folger Shakespeare Library in North America,” he says, “certainly not of historical and topographical books from the period.”

The collection, a combined 400 books, focuses on 16th-18th century English history and culture but also includes volumes on travel, antiquities, and Canadiana.

In addition to the books, Mr. Schulich made a $2 million donation to help build and preserve the collection and make it accessible to students and researchers, both at Queen’s and beyond.

“This donation gives us the means to acquire items we would never otherwise be able to acquire,” says Dr. Alvan Bregman, Curator of the Schulich-Woolf Rare Book Collection. “The volumes are important, not only as texts but also as artifacts to be used by students and researchers in a wide range of subjects.”

Vice-Provost and University Librarian Martha Whitehead expects the collection to resonate with students. “Students get a real thrill when they encounter a physical volume from centuries past,” she says. “Studying original artifacts, rather than copies, provides an insight into the material culture of the time.”

A titan of Canadian industry whose career spanned the financial services and mining sectors, Mr. Schulich has distinguished himself as a philanthropist over the last two decades, donating more than $350 million to universities and hospitals throughout Canada, the U.S., and Israel.

In 2011, he launched the Schulich Leader Scholarships, a $100-million program that provides full scholarships to promising high school graduates with a passion for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Since the program’s inception, Queen’s has been a top-five destination for Schulich Leaders. Fourteen of them have chosen to study at Queen’s.

To take a virtual tour of the Schulich-Woolf Rare Book Collection, visit the Queen’s University Library website.