In Memoriam: Heather McCallum

Members of CATR mourn the passing of Heather McCallum in October 2022. As Head of the Theatre Department at the Toronto Reference Library from 1961 to 1987, Heather was responsible for igniting the flame of theatre research for many of our members. Since 1988, CATR has made available the Heather McCallum Scholarship to support archival research. But her influence on CATR and its membership extends far beyond this Scholarship, as the Tributes below attest. On behalf of the members of the Canadian Association for Theatre Research, I offer our deepest condolences to Heather McCallum’s family and friends. CATR is grateful to continue to offer the Heather McCallum Scholarship.

—Robin C. Whittaker, CATR President. Fredericton, NB. November 2022

I first met Heather McCallum in 1971/2 when I used to go into the Central Library to do research for courses at the U of T. I was almost awed by her wealth of knowledge and the collections of theatre materials she had in what seemed like the back rooms, and although she was always very busy, I was inspired because she took time to help me. Her sophistication stood out for me against my farm-boy rough edges. The extent of her knowledge and her dedication to reclaiming the history of Canadian theatre was evident in her publication of Theatre Resources in Canadian Collections in 1973. No one had done that before. Over time, my activities at the Drama Centre led to meeting her again and again in different ventures that included her supervision of myself and several other graduate students in the Canadian Theatre Research Program, set up by Ann Saddlemyer, Heather, Robertson Davies, Clifford Leech and Francess Halpenny. That led to meetings related to the Fredericton conference focused on the history of Canadian theatre that in turn led to the founding of ACTH/AHTC [now CATR/ACRT]. Heather was a quiet, determined force of subtle energy, a prime mover behind the entire venture. Along with, chiefly Ann Saddlemyer and Francess Halpenny, Heather provided wise advice and leadership as well as contacts – she seemed to know of or know personally almost everyone – to get the Association up and running. I think it is safe to say that without her – and obviously Ann Saddlemyer and Francess Halpenny – this organization might not exist. Her contributions beyond that beginning have been legion: an officer on the ACTR/AHTC executive, an advisor, a guide, referee, assessor of projects and initiatives for many of us, both in Quebec and the rest of Canada. I dare say that scholars such as the late, dearly loved Denis Salter, Paula Sperdakos, Stephen Johnson and countless others have had similar experiences with Heather that have shaped their careers and indeed their very being. This is to say nothing of her role in putting together one of the largest collections of theatre history materials in Canada. Heather was a remarkable talent and a rare and generous person. I am left with the thought that I am deeply glad that there is an award in the Association to remind us of her legacy.

—Richard Plant, CATR Past President. Peterborough, ON. November 2022

I first met Heather McCallum in the early 1980s, when I was studying in New York City, and had no connection with theatre scholars working in Canada. I don’t know how I met her, honestly. I went to see her in her office at the Toronto Public Library, and she spent that first meeting giving me the names of people I really ought to get to know—Richard Plant, Ann Saddlemyer, Denis Salter, Mary Brown, and the list went on, across the country. She certainly knew a lot of people studying in the field! But that was only the beginning. I returned to New York, and before long, I started receiving unsolicited letters from people saying they’d heard of me and wondered if I could do a little research for them in the city’s archives, for some small (and much-needed) income. Heather McCallum, it turned out, had become my agent. She also knew a great many people who ran performance archives and collections in North America, the UK, and Europe, and was an important resource for anyone planning to use those collections, providing introductions that smoothed the rough edges of visits to strange archives.

Heather was a catalyst in the creation of our Association. She was there from the beginning, providing the advice, the knowledge, and the all-important archival collections that would make our research come alive, and take us in unforeseen directions. The Association repaid her by raising the funds for a scholarship in her name, to help young scholars do the archival research they needed. For many years, at the annual banquet, we would interrupt the evening to pass the hat (hats, in fact—many hats) to raise the funds for this award. The generosity of the membership was extraordinary, and understandable.

Heather McCallum was a great advocate for the importance of collecting the remnants of our history, and a quiet champion of the idea that we should understand the performances that surround us, past and present. She made a lot of people better scholars.

Stephen Johnson, CATR Past President. Toronto, ON. November 2022

One Comment

  • Anne Nothof says:

    Heather McCallum inspired and facilitated the study of Canadian theatre. The history of the Association is embedded in her diligent, detailed,, and inspired library archives. I have happy memories of David Gardner’s fundraising performances at the annual conference. His hat was always full.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Posted by Dospel & GanjaParker