By Doug Hallett
On the 10th anniversary of The Guelph Lecture – On Being Canadian, organizers think Guelphites are finally getting used to the fact that the lecturers don’t actually address the question of what it means to be Canadian.
“Now I think people are going with the flow of it,” says Joy Roberts, who co-founded the multifaceted annual event along with Douglas McMullen not long after they moved from downtown Toronto to a rural property near Guelph.
“We just want to show Canadians who are at the top of their field, whatever that field is,” Roberts said this week.
The 10th annual event takes place Friday Nov. 9 at the River Run Centre. It features its first-ever keynote speaker from the business world. Business thinker Henry Mintzberg is the Cleghorn Professor of Management Studies at McGill University and a recipient of many awards and honours, including the Order of Canada.
Mintzberg advocates for “community-driven projects that fall somewhere between the private and public sectors.” His presentation is tentatively titled Rebalancing Society: Canada as a Model?
The literary presenter this year is CBC Radio’s Eleanor Wachtel. Her presentation will “reflect her work in understanding globalizing literary identities,” a news release said.
This will be followed by a violin performance from Sarah Neufeld, known for her membership in the popular Canadian band Arcade Fire.
This year’s event emcee is Guelph-based producer, composer and multi-instrumentalist Andrew McPherson.
Doors open at 6:30 p.m. for the decade-old event, with the formal program starting at 7 p.m. A reception concludes the evening.
Tickets are available at the River Run box office or online at riverrun.ca. They cost less for people 29 and younger, and high school students can buy $5 eyeGO tickets.
The Guelph Lecture – On Being Canadian is meant to inspire conversation on what it means to be Canadian through an evening of ideas, perspectives and cultural offerings. It’s a project of the Eramosa Institute, a not-for-profit, charitable organization started by McMullen and Roberts that aims to foster public dialogue and greater understanding of ideas and issues of concern to Canadians.
One of the most satisfying things about reaching the 10-year milestone is reflecting on how many new volunteers and how many young people have got involved in running the event, Roberts said during a joint phone interview Tuesday with McMullen. “Increasing, they are doing a lot of the organizational work, although we are both still involved,” McMullen noted.
The presence of many young people in the event’s audiences also pleases them and fulfills one of their aims, namely to get youth interested in this sort of “community conversation,” Roberts said.
They stop short of saying The Guelph Lecture – On Being Canadian has become a local institution over the past 10 years, however. Roberts allows that it perhaps is “inching towards” being something that might be called an institution.
However, its continuance depends on raising about $14,000 a year in sponsorships to help put the event on and keep ticket prices low enough that cost isn’t an obstacle to attending, she stressed.
The amount needing to be raised varies from year to year, depending mainly on the keynote speaker’s fee and expenses, McMullen said.
About half of the event’s speakers over the past 10 years have waived their fee, he said.
Others, though, are engaged in pursuits that don’t generate much income, so they depend on speaking fees and “we happily pay it,” he said.
“I think Guy Maddin told us that because of it (the fee), he could produce a new film,” Roberts observed with a chuckle. Maddin, a Winnipeg filmmaker, was the keynote speaker in 2008.
McMullen said the highlight of the event’s 10 years for him has been “the calibre” of people willing to come to Guelph to lecture, including Maddin, the Toronto couple of filmmaker Atom Egoyan and actress Arsinée Khanjian in 2005, and independent documentary filmmaker and freelance journalist Alexandre Trudeau, one of the former prime minister’s two surviving sons, in 2004. He and Roberts have a chance to get to know them during their visits, McMullen said.
Roberts said the highlight for her came during the very first event in 2003. Members of the Young Turban Professionals, a Sikh dance group, were sitting in the audience in business suits and turbans, and when the lights dimmed these “incredibly agile men” got up and started dancing in the aisles and then on stage, she said. Later, they performed a fuller dance set wearing traditional Sikh dress.
“I think they were sensational,” she said.