At an historic plaque unveiling recently, University of Toronto President, Meric Gertler, described the McLuhan Centre for Culture and Technology at the Coach House as a paradox—both off the grid and plugged in.
His words kicked off the legacy Marshall McLuhan made of the physical and metaphorical space of the Coach House, mentioned in other addresses made by some of the most esteemed members of the University of Toronto, and City of Toronto.
Tyler Greenleaf, Heritage Toronto board member, and City Councilor member Kristyn Wong-Tam, formally presented the plaque to the University of Toronto’s Coach House.
During his address, Greenleaf spoke to the history of the Coach House, a rare example of surviving residential architecture in the Queen’s Park neighborhood. At the end of his remarks, he voiced his delighted for getting the opportunity to commemorate the history of the Coach House and Marshall McLuhan, as well as celebrate its future.
Coun. Wong-Tam passed along greetings from Mayor John Tory and spoke to the historical aspects of the area, remarking that the area in which Coach House resides comprises “old Toronto” and some of the older buildings within the city.
Also speaking to the significance of the plaque and McLuhan’s profound effect on the University and his groundbreaking work, were Wendy Duff, Dean of the Faculty of Information, Seamus Ross, Interim Director of the McLuhan Centre, and Michael McLuhan, the son of the late Marshall McLuhan.
Michael spoke to the relevancy of his father’s work today, citing his posthumously published book, The Global Village. He said discourse still occurs over his father’s concepts, accentuating their relevant and timeless concepts. Michael also mentioned his father’s faith as being a motivating factor on his life. David Mulroney, President and Vice Chancellor of St. Mikes College, touched on McLuhan’s faith too, saying, “a life of faith and a life of the mind are not mutually exclusive.”
The historic plaque installation was the brainchild of McLuhan Centenary Fellows, David Nostbakken and Prof. Paolo Granata. The duo have worked tirelessly, not only on this successful project, but also by reintroducing the highly popular McLuhan Monday Night Seminar Series, a global conference, McLuhan-inspired art show, and many public and city-wide events, including McLuhan Salons, culminating in a revitalization of engaged and connected citizens over the last few years.
A former stable nestled behind a large house on 39A Queens Park Circle East and invisible from the main road, the Coach House was purchased on October 24, 1963 by John Kelly, former president of St. Michael’s College, and Claude T. Bissell, former president of the University of Toronto.
Together, the duo aimed to establish a Centre for Culture and Technology there with Canadian professor, philosopher, and public intellectual, Marshall McLuhan, at the helm. The Centre became McLuhan’s office in the English Department at St. Michael’s College and provided space for McLuhan’s Monday Night Seminars.
Throughout the 1970’s, McLuhan’s famous Monday Night Seminars filled the main seminar room at the Centre. A dynamic community was formed during those seminars, a community remembered fondly by many participants who return to the Coach House today to visit and reminisce.
During his time at the University of Toronto, he became, along with Harold Innis, Eric A. Havelock, Edmund Snow Carpenter, and Northrop Frye, a central thinker of the “Toronto School of Communication.”
Shuttered in 1980 after the passing of McLuhan, the Centre reopened shortly after due to requests from around the world.
In 1994, the McLuhan Program joined the Faculty of Information as a research arm and teaching unit and continues its original mandate to engage and explore the nature and effects of technologies on culture. On May 31, 2016 the Coach House Institute was officially renamed the McLuhan Centre for Culture and Technology.
This unveiling preluded the University of Toronto global conference: Toronto School, Then Now, Next held October 14-16. This conference explored the value of leading Canadian thinkers, Marshall McLuhan, Harold Innis, Northrop Frye, Eric Havelock, Glenn Gould, with international scholars engaging in dialogue on the origins, rise, decline and the rebirth of the Toronto School.