Judy Mappin R.I.P.

Written by  //  March 10, 2014  //  Absent Friends, Arts and culture  //  Comments Off on Judy Mappin R.I.P.

judy mappinJudith Mappin: a heroine of Canadian literature

By Linda Leith

Globe & Mail, 10 March 2014

It was an audacious decision to sell only Canadian books at The Double Hook Book Shop. Mary Keating, who worked at the Montreal store for 28 years, says, “Heck, there wasn’t a day went by,” during the early years, “that a customer didn’t say, ‘What do you mean? These are all Canadian authors?’ ” Only one other bookstore in the country – Longhouse, in Toronto, which closed in 1997 – had a similar mandate. University of Ottawa scholar David Staines described Judy Mappin, who became the store’s sole active owner, as a pioneer and declared The Double Hook “a landmark in the development of our appreciation of our own literary land.”

It was the tremendous range and quality of its Canadian books that drew people to The Double Hook, but it was Ms. Mappin’s gracious personality that made it such a welcoming place. She was exceptionally kind, and her graciousness extended to her customers and to the hundreds of Canadian writers who launched their books and read at the store over more than three decades, until it closed in 2005. From Ms. Mappin’s modest demeanour, few of them could have guessed that she was the daughter of the sensationally successful Toronto businessman E.P. Taylor. “While she came from a wealthy family and eventually inherited wealth from them,” her youngest son, Charles, said, “she was never really interested in the lifestyle.”

In those politically charged decades – which included the election of the first Parti Québécois government, the passage of Bill 101, the exodus of anglophones and two referendums – Quebec’s English-language writers were sometimes forgotten in both English Canada and French Quebec. The Double Hook helped connect those authors with each other, with their readers and with writers across Canada.

By the time The Double Hook closed, it was an institution. A tribute was held at Montreal’s Centaur Theatre, where, with customary modesty, Ms. Mappin insisted on deflecting attention from her own accomplishments. Now, almost 10 years later, Ms. Mappin herself is gone. She was 85 when she died at the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal from complications of Parkinson’s disease, on Feb. 14.

Judith Winifred Mappin was born Oct. 3, 1928, in Toronto, the eldest child of Edward Plunkett (E.P.) Taylor and his wife, Winifred (née Duguid), who lived on 25 acres of rolling farmland abutting Bayview Avenue. When his brewing business started to turn a profit in the mid-1930s, the family built a stone mansion on the property with stables for four horses, and Winifred named it Windfields Estate.

E.P. Taylor was building a business empire and travelling a great deal while Judy was growing up. “Just as she was entering her teenage years,” her son Jefferson said, “E.P. was involved with C.D. Howe and the war effort as a dollar-a-year-man spending most of his time in Washington and London. His return to their home at Windfields between trips was a highlight for all three of his children.” Judy loved riding with her father on a dirt path that is now the tony Bridle Path, and as a teenager she spent summers working at the Banff Springs Hotel. She attended Havergal College and went on to McGill, where she graduated in 1950 with a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry.

At McGill, she met John Mappin when he and some friends crashed her sorority party, and they fell in love, married and made their home in Montreal, where he succeeded his father as head of Mappins. Later, after selling the company to Peoples Credit Jewellers circa 1962, Mr. Mappin became a respected antiquarian book dealer.

Though Canadian literature began to flourish in the 1960s and 1970s, the books were hard to find, being relegated to a “Canadiana” section in those stores that did stock them. As Douglas Gibson, one of Canada’s foremost editors and publishers, wrote for the Centaur tribute, “Today, when Canadian authors find the limelight on the international stage, it’s hard to imagine that only three decades ago, Canadians remained largely unaware of our own literature. But so it was. And, with The Double Hook, Judy decided to change that.”

She did so with her two partners, the novelist Hélène Holden and an American friend, Joan Blake, who lived in Montreal for several years. These three women each put down $3,000, “not a huge fortune,” Ms. Holden said. “We started very small. And the publishers were very trusting – and very happy. I don’t think anyone had ordered so many Canadian books before.” They named the store after Sheila Watson’s classic 1959 Canadian novel The Double Hook, and Ms. Holden found the first location for the shop on St. Catherine Street, just east of Greene Avenue.

To complement Ms. Holden’s and Ms. Blake’s literary expertise, Ms. Mappin enrolled in accounting and library science courses. She was well-organized, with innate management skills. As Ms. Holden says, “Judy was tremendously businesslike.” After about six years, Ms. Holden withdrew from the business and Ms. Blake returned to the U.S., leaving Ms. Mappin as sole owner. “The store was the work-love of Judy’s life,” Ms. Holden said.

When the landlord would not renew the lease in 1976, The Double Hook moved to its permanent location at 1235A Greene Ave. “My mother decided to buy the building on Greene,” Charles Mappin, said, “so they would not be forced to move again.” She used some of her family money for the purchase.

Her father also passed down to her an admirable work ethic: She would spend long hours in the store, six days a week. Nancy Grant, who worked at The Double Hook for 26 years, remembers Ms. Mappin “doing the cash after everyone else had left.”

She was also a community builder, an activist, and a patron of the literary arts, providing significant support to the Quebec Writers’ Federation. In 1995, she was the first recipient of the QWF Community Award, which will now, in the wake of her death, be renamed the Judy Mappin Community Award.

She was one of the founders and a trustee of the Charles Taylor Prize (now the RBC Taylor Prize) for literary non-fiction, which commemorated her brother, an author and journalist who had died in 1997. Her many other honours include the Canadian Booksellers Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award and an honorary doctorate from McGill. In 2008 she was named a member of the Order of Canada.

She cared passionately about women in science – of which she had been one – and about women in literature. Many of the writers who visited The Double Hook, many of the customers, and many of the staff members were women. As her son-in-law, Nicholas Kasirer, said, “among the many great things that The Double Hook was, it was a place to be a feminist.” Ms. Mappin shared her father’s love of thoroughbred horses and worked to preserve his legacy at Windfields, which the family donated for the creation of the Canadian Film Centre. She was enthusiastic in her engagement in the municipal mergers, pacifism and the environment.

Her philanthropy extended well beyond the literary world, including support for a range of educational and health programs at McGill. In the 1980s, she, along with other family members, set up the E.P. Taylor Chair in the Psychology of Pain at McGill.

Ms. Mappin suffered from Parkinson’s disease during the final years of her life, when she was cared for by her dear friend Lesley Forrester. Predeceased by her husband and her son Hugh, she is survived by her children John, Jefferson, Jane and Charles Mappin, and by her grandchildren, Benjamin, Antonia and Olivia Mappin-Kasirer. She will be buried this summer alongside her husband at the Field of Honour in Dorval, Que.

Publisher Marc Côté was one of dozens of members of the literary community who recently joined family and friends to celebrate Ms. Mappin’s life at St. Mathias’s Anglican Church in Westmount. “We’ve lost an uncommon woman,” he said. “Her belief in our community and our industry ennobled us.” Or, as her long-time employee, Ms. Grant, put it: “She was a truly great lady.”

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