Alumni Bookstand: “He never did anything by halves...”
In her new book, Both Hands: A Life of Lorne Pierce of Ryerson Press, Dr. Sandra Campbell details how his Queen’s student days shaped a Canadian publishing pioneer.
From 1920 to 1960, in his work as editor of the now-defunct Ryerson Press, Lorne Pierce, BA 1913, LLD 1928, worked with many of Canada’s leading literary figures. “Queen’s marked Pierce for life, influencing his career and values,” says Dr. Campbell, who retired last year from the Pauline Jewett Institute of Women’s and Gender Studies at Carleton University.
Lorne Pierce arrived at Queen’s from the eastern Ontario community of Delta to study English and philosophy. The experience fostered both his idealism and his commitment to service.
“He was raised in a strict Methodist household,” Dr. Campbell notes. “His mother wanted him to be a minister. However, Pierce’s Queen’s influence shaped a cultural advocate [who was] dedicated to Canadian literature, history, art, and educational life.” Moreover, he met his future wife, Edith Chown, BA 1913, at Queen’s.
The university was “a lifelong beacon to Pierce in a lot of ways,” Dr. Campbell confirms. “I guess Queen’s has been my big debauch,” he once joked. What he meant, Dr. Campbell explains, is that most of his philanthropy went to his beloved alma mater.
Dr. Pierce established the renowned Edith and Lorne Pierce Collection of Canadiana. He began donating books to Queen’s around 1925 and provided advice and funding towards purchases thereafter. An endowment fund was established in 1961 shortly after his death, and his private library and papers – including Ryerson Press correspondence and the papers of poet Bliss Carman – all came to Queen’s.
Dr. Campbell, who spent more than 15 years working on this definitive 644-page biography amid teaching duties at University of Ottawa, McGill, Bermuda College, and Carleton University, spent countless hours reading Dr. Pierce’s papers, and had the support of Beth Robinson, Dr. Pierce’s daughter, for the project.
“Being a publisher, he kept carbon copies of almost everything. There are all these marvelous letters, not only relating to his career, but also to his home life and friends. I’d venture to say he’s probably one of the best documented individuals in Canadian history.”
Both Hands reveals a determined man. “He never did anything by halves,” Dr. Campbell says. A workaholic, he also battled disseminated lupus and was deaf. The biography also details the importance of Dr. Pierce’s textbook work, which Dr. Campbell says is underappreciated.
“Pierce died in 1961. So people tend to remember raffishly brilliant publisher Jack McClelland and think of Pierce as this prudish, prissy, old-fashioned anti-modernist. It’s a simplistic and unfair picture. Lorne Pierce was a fascinating, colourful, witty and culturally important character.”
For more information, please visit the McGill-Queen's University Press.