McGill rare books librarian stumbles on part of Jean Drapeau's personal records

When the chief librarian of rare books at McGill’s McLennan Library came across two red binders with the Montreal Olympic logo on them at a book fair last fall, he paid attention.

The collection will be on display until the end of March at McGill's McLennan Library Building

Much of Christopher Lyons's job consists of digging through book shops, junk stores, and garage sales, looking for rare items to add to the library's collection — like these personal records of former mayor Jean Drapeau. (Annie Deir/CBC)

Much of Christopher Lyons's job consists of digging through book shops, junk stores and garage sales, looking for rare items to add to the library's collection.

So when Lyons, the chief librarian of rare books at McGill's McLennan Library, came across two red binders with the Montreal Olympic logo on them at the Salon du livre de Montréal book fair last September, he paid attention.

The person running the kiosk for Montreal book dealer Bonheur d'occasion told Lyons that the books came from the personal collection of Jean Drapeau, the city's longest-serving mayor.

"I started looking at them and I saw that there were photos of the construction of the Olympic Park facilities," Lyons told CBC's Homerun.

Soon after, he accessed more of these documents, which Drapeau's son had given to Bonheur d'occasion after his father's passing.

"This is the material that Jean Drapeau kept, which were memories of his career, both good and bad," Lyons said.

Included in the collection are photo albums, material related to Expo 67, and fan mail. The former mayor even underlined positive terms in letters he received from people.

His personal collection includes a copy of the Malouf report, which is heavily annotated by the mayor. (Annie Deir/CBC)

Because the books are not official governmental material, they were not kept in any official archives, Lyons said.

The Drapeau collection will be on display until the end of March at McLennan Library. 

Drapeau had his own copy of Olympic overspending report

During his 29-year career, Drapeau championed a number of initiatives for the city — namely, organizing Expo 67 and the 1976 Summer Olympics.

In 1980, a commission was launched to investigate the city's overspending for the summer Games. The Malouf commission found that Drapeau's administration's handling of the Games was irresponsible, wasteful and incompetent.

"Drapeau must assume the greater part of the blame," the report reads.

Throughout his life, Drapeau never formally responded to the commission's findings, saying he would instead write a book on the subject. He died before one was ever published.

His personal collection includes a copy of the Malouf report, which Lyons said is heavily annotated by the former mayor.

"[This] gives us some indication of what he was thinking and how he was planning to respond to the criticisms," Lyons said.

The section of the report that discusses blame for the overspending includes a line that says the commission can't absolve the rest of the city administration from blame — implying the mayor was not the only one at fault.

Drapeau underlined this section in red.

"Short of hiring a medium to communicate with him about what he intended to say, this is the closest I think we can get to finding out how the mayor perceived his role and his defence of what happened," Lyons said.

"It's tantalizing."


The Rare Books and Special Collections of McGill's McLennan Library is on the fourth floor of the building, located at 3459 McTavish Street.

They are open Monday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and everyone is welcome to come and consult the material.

With files from CBC Homerun