About the Salon
Our job is not to make up anyone’s mind, but to open minds –
to make the agony of decision-making so intense that you can escape only by thinking.
– Fred W. Friendly
“Wednesday Nights” have become an institution. The number of guests has grown from a small handful of Montreal residents to a list of attendees that has reached over 9,000. A guest may arrive on a visit from Japan, Indonesia, Russia, Europe, across Canada or the Americas…
As the topics have evolved, so have the professions and interests represented around the Nicholsons’ table. Originally, discussion centered on the economy and financial markets; today, discussions range from international aviation to environmental issues, from high technology and sciences to social policy and international development, and many subjects in-between. Economists are always in evidence, as are bankers, international investors, diplomats, corporate executives, politicians, professors, entrepreneurs, lawyers, doctors, human rights activists, environmentalists and members of the media (Discussions, with rare exceptions, are off the record.)
When David and Diana started these unique soirées — a long, long, long time ago — their first special guest was
Professor Carl Beigie who gave the WEDNESDAY NIGHT SALON its form and rarely missed a night in over 18 years.
While there are a number of “regulars” – members of the Wednesday Night group who come as often as possible – many other guests attend only when topics of specific relevance to their professions or fields of expertise are to be discussed. Attendance is by invitation (generally communicated by e-mail). “Wednesday Nighters” are encouraged to alert the Nicholsons to the possibility of inviting special guests, visitors to Montreal, new members of the community who may contribute expertise, a special viewpoint, or simply are deemed to be a good addition to the “mix”.
Wednesday Night “regulars” and special guests have included the Managing Director of the IMF; two former premiers of Québec; a former officer of the Bank of Canada; airline and airport authority executives, mayors of Montreal and Westmount, the Director of the Centre for Medecine, Ethics and Law of McGill University, numerous academics (not only economists) who are widely recognized as authorities in an array of fields; Members of Parliament (all parties), MLAs, ministers; representatives of numerous international organizations, e.g. ICAO, IATA, the Convention on Biological Diversity, NAFTA Environmental Cooperation Commission; and diplomats from Italy, Israel, Poland, The Netherlands, Sweden, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States, along with their Canadian counterparts.
Since the outset, the younger generation has been well represented (some of the early ‘youth’ are now returning with their children) and in recent years, the addition of Sauvé Scholars and their peers has added yet another dimension and many international perspectives, including pertinent commentary when they return to their home countries or move on to others.
There are generally several topics of discussion during an evening. Sometimes they are introduced with a short video clip prepared and edited in advance by the host. Experts around the table are asked to comment and/or expand on the topic while other guests add their questions or particular insights. There is no attempt (or desire) to “sell” a given product or concept, rather, the objective is to inform and offer to everyone an opportunity to hear differing viewpoints. At times, a guest may wish to test an idea, project or platform. On those occasions, The Room (usually about 18-25 people) will offer constructive criticism, alternative ideas and creative, thoughtful support.
The lingua franca of Wednesday Night is English. However, there are usually at least 10 other languages represented among the guests. On occasion, a guest from overseas has been surprised to find that he/she has a fluently trilingual interpreter available throughout the evening.
How does one acquire an invitation to Wednesday Night? Generally, one is introduced by a sponsor, an individual who has already established him/herself as a contributor around the table. Frequently, the hosts extend an invitation to a new acquaintance, matching the “new” individual with a topic under discussion; another valuable source of introductions is the large group of former Wednesday Nighters now in other parts of the world, who suggest a colleague or friend who is passing through Montreal, or has recently moved here.
Arrival around 8:30 is good; dress is “business casual” for most, although some wide variations on that theme may be found, especially in summer. While there is no membership fee, it is customary for all guests – old & new – to bring a “contribution to the bar”, generally wine of any hue, which then becomes part of the evening’s “pot”.
Mireille Silcoff: Salon selective
(National Post) Every Wednesday for 20 years, captains of industry, literary stars and former prime ministers have gathered for drinks in a Montreal mansion. It’s an evening of witty banter and raucous debate – and nobody gives a hoot about political correctness
On any given Wednesday, when the City of Westmount is shutting down, when the night lights of the town’s Gothic City Hall are turned on and the Mayor has left, when the elders from the lawn bowling club and the children from Westmount Park have long since gone home to dinner, a red bulb will be turned on outside an Edwardian mansion on stately Rosemount Avenue, and the door will be left open a crack. The house — situated in what the planners of the 19th century referred to as “the cradle of Westmount,” the crib of Montreal’s Protestant elite.
Everywhere there are heirlooms from a rich past. The bar, stocked with hundreds of bottles, sits in front of the dining room — all heavy, dark wood and carved brass sconces. It is the heart of the house, David and Diana Nicholson’s cradle of conversation in the cradle of Westmount, the site of their Wednesday Night Salon. More (Sadly, no longer available)