The Metropolitain: Tributes to Wednesday Night

Beryl Wajsman: A moveable feast
Some thirty years ago, Diana and David Nicholson opened their storied home at 33 Rosemount Avenue in Westmount for conversations with friends every Wednesday night. Those conversations grew into a Montreal tradition that rivals the most influential political and literary salons of Washington, London or Paris.
Almost every leader from the worlds of politics, finance, medicine, science, academia and any other vocation you can think of has passed through their warm and welcoming doors. And many of the ideas from these Wednesday Nights have found their way into our collective consciousness. They have affected our lives for the better. They have affected those who affect our public discourse. They have made all of us who participate wiser, more generous and more compassionate. But most of all, these special Nights have forged friendships that have made us all family. …

Alan Hustak: 1500 mercredis consécutifs!
Ce n’est peut être pas impressionnant si vous le dites rapidement, mais contemplez le nombre pour un instant et il est en effet impressionnant.
Since David and Diana Nicholson held their first salon in February, 1982, we’ve gone through seven Canadian Prime Ministers, five United States Presidents, ten premiers of Quebec, eight periods of negative economic growth, four economic recessions, and two Quebec referendums. [We love these stats!] The ramifications all of which have been either debated, dissected, discussed or dismissed by those who have kept the flame of friendship burning at their table for 28 years. There have been Wednesday nights on Christmas Eve, even on a Leap Year a Wednesday in 1992. Through it all there has never been an occasion when no one has shown up.

Kimon Valaskakis: Symposium on the Saint Lawrence: A tribute to Wednesday Night
In Plato’s original symposium which took place in the house of the tragedian Agathon, seven Greek philosophers compared thoughts and experiences on the subject of love (Eros, Agape but primarily love of wisdom which is the etymological meaning of philosophy itself). This started a long historical tradition of erudite discussions over the dinner table (and was probably even the precursor of the modern day business lunch).
In the 16th century, the French introduced the notion of salons littéraires where ideas and theses were presented in an informal manner and discussed between men and women of letters. This led to the creation of the Encyclopédie of the 18th century, the clubs politiques at the time of the French Revolution and beyond, and the present propensity for forums, discussion clubs, breakfast meetings etc.
The Nicholsons’ Wednesday Night Salon, by its longevity (over thirty years) and its informality has contributed to the intellectual life of English speaking Montreal and has become a useful sounding board of ideas, before they are presented to a wider, more critical audience. But, in addition, with its active website and the diligent efforts of both co hosts David and Diana Nicholson, the Wednesday Night deliberations have become, food for thought for a much larger public, courtesy of Google and modern technology.
I have had the pleasure of attending and participating (armed with my own propaganda in favor of better global governance), in the Wednesday Night Salon for twenty of its thirty years. It was, an off and on participation, since being present every week, other than by the most faithful, would be defeating the purpose of cross fertilization through diversity. Some scarcity is needed to create value. There is a danger in overexposure.
At the beginning, I was reluctant to attend because I belonged to the Society for the Abolition of Wednesdays, a fact I have managed to hide from the Nicholsons for all these years …

Helen Forbes: Lasting connections
I think my late boss, Richard J. Kaiser and I started going to Wednesday nights in 1981 or ’82. Sometimes there were 20 or 30 people, sometimes as few as 10, often in the summers when people were away. Richard J. ended up giving up on the late nights as he had kids to get to school the next morning but I kept going. I was very young and very awed by the people we met there: John Ciaccia, the late Carl Beigie, Peter Trent, Ron Meisels and so many other movers and shakers in the political and economic scene of Montreal, Quebec and Canada at the time. We (by which I mean mostly the others) debated the state of the world, the country, the province, the city and our own local neighbourhood and we had answers to all that ailed the collective above. RJK moved to the States, I kept going, Carl and I became friends and then I brought the late Richard Coghlan along. He was also welcomed into Wednesday nights, when he could be there and until he, too, moved to the States. …

Paul Shrivastava: Thank You
Thank you for this grand celebration of Wednesday Night, and of Diana and David’s leadership in creating and sustaining community discourse. For a new comer to Montreal like me, Wednesday Night offered it all – an introduction to the city’s buzz, latest political news and gossip, lofty analysis, Punditry at its best, the seduction of a Parisian salon, an open, inviting and friendly atmosphere. It was a pill that made me feel instantly like an “insider”. At least once a week I felt like I knew exactly how things really were. The discussions were well researched, erudite, and incisive, the disagreements were friendly and civil, and the video tapes archive is there to prove it.
Wednesday Nighters are a noisy, contentious, expressive, chatty, family – but mostly it is family. I have thoroughly enjoyed the intellectual kinship and camaraderie of this group. They are warm and caring people seriously concerned about human affairs of our times.
Thank you David and Diana for your dedication to open inquiry, and for letting me be part of it. I wish you both another 1500 Wednesday Nights.

Steven Lightfoot: The quiet charms of fascinating people
… In my time as a frequent visitor to WN, I have come to appreciate the charms of so many fascinating people who I would never normally have the chance to meet.
Regulars like Robert the photographer, Tony the economist, Kimon the ambassador, and Mark the doctor have allowed us to get an insider glimpse into professional worlds in ways we would never otherwise have the opportunity to see.
And then there are the visitors, movers and shakers some. I specifically remember the visit of US Ambassador David Wilkins who graced WN with his presence. And Canadian politicians, from Charest to Dion, the list goes on and on.
And on a more personal note, I had the privilege of attending the very first Wednesday Night in Vancouver, an offshoot of our beloved WN at 33 Rosemount. Spearheaded by the tireless and insightful Alexandra, the West Wing of WN carries on the tradition in a British Columbian setting.

Roslyn Takeishi: No small feat: 1500 sparkling nights….and one cracked chair

Intellectual Salons have been a social reality from the 16th century onwards, starting as an Italian invention, then flourishing in France throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. They are the place for the exchange of ideas. David and Diana Nicholson have been hosting their Salon for over 28 years in their Westmount home. On December 1, 2010, we celebrate 1500 Consecutive Wednesday Nights, a seriously committed undertaking.
… Then, of course, was the not to be forgotten evening when I brought the Rt Hon. Jean Charest, Premier of Quebec, as my guest. A fun, entertaining evening, with a full house, standing room only, which didn’t exactly please his bodyguard! At one point, deep in contemplation, Jean leaned back on his chair, we heard a loud CRACK! And then watched both Jean and the chair tumble to the floor, the chair in pieces. After it’s repair, the chair became lovingly known as ‘Jean’s chair” ! …

Antal Deutsch: Something to look forward to
Wednesday Night is a delightful microcosm of educated Anglo and Allo-Montrealers. The over-all tone is leftist, in the let-us-save-the-world style of the early seventies. There are a couple of sacred cows that are carefully not discussed: Israel vs. the Palestinians, and the suppression of individual rights (nominally language, but really economic) in the name of “collective rights” in Quebec. The over-all leftist tone not withstanding, much attention is devoted to the stock-market.
Dissenting views are provided with  voice, and are respectfully listened to. The sessions are lively, and often spiked with humor. The host and the hostess are gracious beyond the call of duty. Regulars develop bonds of friendship that emerge and live outside the once-a-week sessions. Wednesday Night is not only an experience to enjoy, but also one to look forward to, starting the Thursday morning the week before.

Alexandra T. Greenhill: Montreal’s Source of Enlightenment: « Les beaux esprits se rencontrent »
As a traveler crossing the desert in hope beyond hope happens upon an unexpected lush oasis, so did we stumble upon Diana and David’s miraculous Montreal institution, at which political, social, artistic, and scientific questions are discussed weekly with never ending passion and an abundance of new perspectives. This is what the Salons of the French 18th century Age of Enlightenment must have felt like and the impact of these gatherings is of similar scope to be felt for decades to come.
Having been sent on a mission to establish the Wednesday West Wing in Vancouver, it has been humbling to realize how much thought and work goes into what Diana and David make look so effortless and easy. Real discourse, both in terms of insightfulness of content and elegance of expression, combined with an impressive array of interesting people and hosted with skill is a customized formula for a unique noteworthy element of Montreal’s cultural expression and we are all grateful to its unwavering weekly presence, both in the real and on-line worlds.
Alexandra Greenhill
(OWN) and James Greenhill, co-hosts of Wednesday Salon West

One Comment on "The Metropolitain: Tributes to Wednesday Night"

  1. Sam Totah December 30, 2010 at 5:23 pm ·

    Unfortunately, Sam Totah’s tribute did not make it into the Metropolitain publication. Sam was the person who first attempted to recreate Wednesday Nights in text form and he therefore holds a very special place in our hearts and in the annals of Wednesday Night. DTN

    Dear Diana and David–
    The year is now 2010, you have just moved out of the house – 33 Rosemount avenue, Westmount, Quebec, still in Canada (!) and I just reviewed what I had written some fifteen years ago about your Wednesday Nights Salon on the occasion of the 700th anniversary. Now, pretty soon you will record your 1500th anniversary of your unforgettable “plus ca change plus c’est la même chose” soirées with some slight changes, but the spirit will be the same ! Hope you would like the following to be considered for the publication …
    Sam’s tribute to the 700th is a delight to re-read, and much of what he says is valid today It concludes:
    … you never know what to expect from the hosts and for that matter from the guests. What appears on the surface to be a simple subject of discussion is more complex when people of all walks of life present different points of view. I witnessed discussions on the conflict in the former Yugoslavia and came out of these soirees, perplexed about what I learned to be “the other man’s or woman’s point of view.” There will be at times a feeling of “déja-vu” and other times you will be filled with so much new information that you can hardly wait for the next New York Times Sunday edition to re-educate yourself.
    Sam Totah
    Montreal, August, 1995

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