The Chairman has died…
Long live Wednesday Night!
David Taylor Traill Nicholson, long time chairman/host of the Wednesday Night salon
By Wanda Potrykus, OWN
“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.”
Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, and several steps in my Sicknes, Meditation XVII, John Donne, 1624
The Captain’s bell has rung… the Chairman’s long reign at the helm of Wednesday Night (WN) is over. He has passed beyond. He will no longer welcome at the door: us, the economists, the market watchers, the analysts and investment specialists, the professors and teachers, the students, the politicians, the lawyers, the scientists, the medical and other doctors, the business men and women, the engineers, the ecologists, the geologists, the miners, the marketers, the consultants, the architects, the artists, the singers, the musicians, the filmmakers, the communicators, the actors, the authors, the editors, the journalists, the young, the old, the eager, the curious, the wanderers, the debaters, the conversationalists, the agitators, the listeners, the wonderers, the wise men (and women) and even the idiots.
“Welcome, welcome, come in. Take off your coat. What can I serve you? Red wine, iced tea, water?”
Mannerly and magnetic to the end, the David T. Nicholson many knew so well had morphed into a thinner, less expansive, somewhat less “hail fellow well met” character in recent years, but believe you me… a character he still was, even though the ravages of ill health and Alzheimer’s disease had wrought their unkindly changes. Even in the last few weeks of a long life, he challenged himself and others. The wacky sense of humour was still there, his eyes beamed out the love he’d always felt for the world as well as for his special people in it.
The Captain’s bell has rung… the Chairman’s long reign at the helm of Wednesday Night (WN) is over.
And, no, although he was not the incisive, curious, restlessly inquisitive, constantly in motion, non-conformist man that I had been first introduced to 35 years ago by architect, raconteur, actor, comedian, WWII Meet the Navy revue star, and former Member of Parliament and ex-Mayor of Dorval John Pratt, he was still a warm, welcoming and vital presence in the room, if somewhat more fragile and less ebullient. He still managed to pour you your welcome glass of wine or favoured beverage, and in my case give me that oh so precious welcome hug. So much so that my sister from England still remembers her visit with him in recent years with the words, “Such a charming, courtly man… warm, welcoming and the room so very stylish”.
But, however much my sibling may have liked it, I know the decor of their home had a lot more to do with his wife Diana Thébaud Nicholson’s discerning eyes and inimitable style, than David’s; as he had never met a piece of electronic and computer equipment, pile of plugs or cables, or a camera he would let go, placing it instead on a shelf in his study with the words “oh this will be useful for… better hang onto this in case… don’t throw that out, I might need it!”
Born in Montreal on March 27, 1932, in the Royal Victoria Hospital, one of his childhood homes was an apartment in Haddon Hall, on the border of Montreal and Westmount, and the building to which he returned after living more than half his life in Westmount, mostly at 33 Rosemount Avenue. But his family were Westmounters through and through; his grandparents lived on Argyle, where later he and his mother, Mary Taylor, also lived as his father (David G. Nicholson) and mother divorced early. His grandfather was the founder and CEO of printing house Montreal Litho, and a leading light in the local business community, an active member of the Engineers Club, a Mason, and a philanthropist, as so many of his era were in the years before government funding of healthcare and social welfare institutions.
‘… (David) had never met a piece of electronic and computer equipment, pile of plugs or cables, or a camera he would let go…’
David was educated at Sedbergh School in Montebello, Quebec and at Lower Canada College in Montreal, joining the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) in 1951. He became Commander of the Flying Training School at Centralia, ON, where he was responsible for over 300 Canadian and NATO pilots, serving as commanding officer, mentor and father confessor to young pilots of many nationalities. Deciding that there were no advancement opportunities that tempted him with the peace-time RCAF, he chose to refuse the permanent commission they offered, joining instead Trans Canada Airlines (now Air Canada) where he acquired over 7,000 hours as a pilot in command.
“All men have stars, but they are not the same things for different people. For some, who are travelers, the stars are guides. For others they are no more than little lights in the sky. For others, who are scholars, they are problems… But all these stars are silent. You – You alone will have stars as no one else has them… In one of the stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars will be laughing when you look at the sky at night… You, only you, will have stars that can laugh…”
The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, 1943
Then, always in favour of virages (hairpin turns), in 1960, he left the wide open skies, the clouds and the stars behind and joined Greenshields, one of Canada’s leading stock brokerage houses, where he became a successful, insightful and popular portfolio manager. Not surprisingly, when the Montreal Gazette launched its This Week in Business section, he was invited by their business editor, Richard Conrad, to develop a column on portfolio management. Thus, Mr Paragon’s Investments came into being, composed and compiled by David, his old friend Larry Davis, along with the late André Saumier and Yvon Doire of Saumier Morrison. The weekly column eventually expanded to a series of portfolios and its often controversial recommendations were widely read and debated in the Montreal investment community.
‘Not surprisingly, when the Montreal Gazette launched its This Week in Business section, he was invited by their business editor, Richard Conrad, to develop a column on portfolio management.’
“… All mankinde is of one Author, and is one volume; when one Man dies, one Chapter is not torne out of the booke, but translated into a better language.”
Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, John Dunne, 1624
After some 12 years at Greenshields, David applied his enthusiasm and flair for mathematical challenges to computer programming, (remember this is the early 1970s when most of us working folks were still bashing away on our IBM Selectrics aka our “golfball” typewriters), and he wrote his own, then state-of-the-art, stock options trading program, and this was before the technology was really there to facilitate this. The expertise he acquired led to his active involvement in the founding of the Montreal Exchange’s options market.
The love affair of a lifetime
“David’s family is old, old Westmount. But he had a hard time in the stuffy, WASPy society in which he grew up. He was always very eccentric – a mathematical genius who brought his dog with him to dine at Le Paris. He was a stockbroker, but also a bon vivant, a strange egg. I liked that.”
Diana Nicholson, November 3, 2001
David met his future wife Diana Thébaud in 1966, in a typically Canadian fashion – on Sherbrooke Street, outside Holt Renfrew when she was walking home from work with a friend and colleague, Krystyne Romer, in an early January snowstorm that was heavy enough to have stopped all city transport. Diana had moved to Montreal in 1963 from Washington, DC, having fallen in love with the idea and challenge of helping create Expo 67 after she had read an article on it. Inspired by the dream, and unexpectedly held up in Montreal while she was waiting for repairs to be made to her, then considered “exotic”, car – a grey Alpha Romeo, for which no parts were available in Montreal at that time, and which had to be brought in from New Jersey; so, to pass the time she got herself an interview and was (unexpectedly she says) hired as one of the first 100 employees of Expo. But that’s a story to be told elsewhere.
‘David’s family is old, old Westmount. But he had a hard time in the stuffy, WASPy society in which he grew up.’
That first, also unexpected, serendipitous meeting with David led to a drink at the neighbouring Ritz, a walk in the snow, so their respective dogs (Breck, a Sheltie and Herta, a Shepherd) could get acquainted (apparently they liked each other on sight too) since Diana and David had quickly discovered they both lived on McGregor Street and they both had dogs to care for. A walk led to dinner and dinner led to a partnership that lasted for 52 years until those famous words came true, “till death do us part”, as they did last week.
The start of a legend
“If you were lucky enough to have lived in Paris then – for the rest of your life – it stays with you. It is a moveable feast.”
A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway, 1964
In the early 1980s, David was doing independent investment portfolio management and Diana, after Expo, after helping grow Mirabel Airport, after having two children, Fiona and Marc, was taking a microeconomics class at McGill, adding to her already impressive educational skills acquired at Georgetown University in Washington, DC.
“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.”
Symposium on the St Lawrence, Kimon Valakakis, December 27, 2010
Then, one evening, in the corridor of the Bronfman Building at McGill, she bumped into Carl Beigie, a good friend of David’s. Carl was then the Director of the C.D. Howe Institute in Toronto, a job he combined with commuting to Montreal each week to teach international trade at McGill University.
That chance meeting led to the creation, in February 1982, of the weekly event that became known as the Wednesday Night Salon. Conceived as an informal after-supper gathering of members of the investment community and economists, hosted by David and Diana in their dining room on Rosemount Avenue in Westmount, with the discussion led by Carl Beigie, the Salon was initially designed to explore economic trends and business issues in Montreal and Canada.
“Tonight will be the 1500th consecutive Wednesday Night. It will be a grand celebration at the University Club. We wanted to pay a special tribute to this remarkable and unique moveable feast.”
A moveable feast, Beryl Wajsman, Editor, Metropolitan newspaper, December 1, 2010
But that was then and this is now and if I can be so bold as to borrow and rework Hemingway’s words, “If you’ve been lucky enough to live in la belle province…” For the 36 years that the Wednesday Night Salon has existed, I have been lucky enough to attend 35 years of them (no, not everyone, as only David and Diana come close to that achievement). I can, however, bear witness to the fact that its scope and influence has morphed greatly and extended beyond those relatively narrow early confines of economy and investments to embrace global topics of great depth and variety, with contributing “alumni” on every continent.
“My overriding memory is the feeling I often came away with as I drove home: Wow, I learned a lot tonight.”
Catherine Gilbert, April 11, 2018
It has earned a well-deserved reputation as a centre of civil exchange and debate, which is open to guests of all ages from every professional, cultural, linguistic, ideological, economic, political, gender and ethnic background. The aim of the Salon is not to change the guests’ minds, but to offer them insights, fresh perspectives, that allow them to come away from a discussion saying, “I had never thought about it in that way”, or more, often than not, “Wow, well, I learned a lot tonight”.
‘He was always very eccentric – a mathematical genius who brought his dog with him to dine at Le Paris.’
Accolades over the years have been many:
“Wednesday Night fills a need for informed, civilized, and non-partisan discussion on public policy writ large… A sense of humour is a prerequisite, as is an abiding respect for the opinion of others. It is something Montreal has managed to produce that other world cities should emulate.”
Peter Trent, Montreal Gazette, July 24, 2015
And there have been far too many distinguished guests who have passed through its yellow, now black, front doors to name them all, but they have included: Representatives of numerous international organizations, e.g. ICAO, IATA, ACI, the Convention on Biological Diversity, NAFTA Environmental Cooperation Commission; diplomats from Canada, Israel, Italy, The Netherlands, Poland, Russia, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States. Plus a who’s who list of Canadian politicians of all stripes and leanings, including Canadian Prime Ministers (Pierre Elliot Trudeau, Brian Mulroney) Quebec Prime Ministers (Pierre Marc Johnson, Jean Charest), as well as Warren Allmand, Eleni Bakopanos, Herb Berkowitz, Ed Broadbent, Jacques Chagnon, John Ciaccia, Stéphane Dion, Helen Fotopulos, Marc Garneau, Mélanie Joly, Jack Layton, Margaret Lefebvre, Tom Mulcair, Pierre Sévigny and Mayors Pierre Bourque, Jean Doré, Gérald Tremblay and Peter Trent.
Along with a wide mix of local and international business, education and arts personae such as Knut Hammarskjöld, 2nd Director General of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and nephew of Dag Hammarskjöld; Yvan Allaire, former Chairman of Bombardier Capital; Jacques Clément, former Quebec vice-president of the Bank of Canada, Margot Somerville, former Director of the Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law of McGill University; Madeleine Féquière, Director and Head of Corporate Credit at Domtar; International Monetary Fund’s Jacques de Larosière of France; Kimon Valaskakis, former President, New School of Athens and former ambassador of Canada to the OECD; Engineer and Order of Canada and Order of Quebec recipient Jon Jonas; Cleo Paskal, Chatham House Associate Fellow and Director of The Oceania Research Project; Infinitheatre’s Guy Sprung; noted stock market technical analyst Ron Meisels; market guru Peter Berezin, Sr Vice-President, Global Investment and Equity Trading Strategy, BCA Research, Inc; Susanna Eyton-Jones, coloratura soprano; filmmakers extraordinaire: John Buchanan, Michel Choquette, John Curtin, Michael Kronish, Guylaine Maroist and Eric Ruel; the list goes on and on as the years roll by.
Apologies to the huge number of guests and areas of specialty not specifically mentioned, this is just a mere glimpse back at the long list of those who at one point or another attended the Nicholsons’ WN Salon.
‘That chance meeting led to the creation, in February 1982, of the weekly event that became known as the Wednesday Night Salon.’
“You come to try out new ideas, to see if they have wings… Some come to get away from their daily thinking, to get the opportunity to talk to different people about different things.”
John Ciaccia, former Quebec Minister of Indian Affairs, MNA Mont-Royal
Ciaccia and Trent at one point were both regular attendees, Trent for over 20 years. In early years he also played the guitar and the après-salon crowd sang along. Mr Tambourine Man or House of the Rising Sun anyone? In addition, Susanna Eyton-Jones thrilled the crowd with opera arias as well as more plebeian musical fare.
“Dear David: Thank you so much for the wonderful and very interesting evening and it was great to hear that there still are some smart, successful and opinionated (in the good sense of the word) people around. Bombardier is indeed in good hands. Good luck and CONGRATULATIONS on your 1000th!… By the way, you did a very good job controlling the conversation, just the right amount of cajoling and imperial dictums, but then again, after 999 tries, I suppose that practice does make perfect. Please give my love to Di. Cheers.”
John Angus, email text: Tue 5/1/01 8:46 AM
David and Diana’s Wednesdays
Given David’s “early adopter” persona, which, in concert with his penchant for being an “early adapter”, especially as far as technological developments were concerned, it is not surprising that the Salon gave birth to two information filled websites wednesday-night.com and dianaswednesday.com publishing news, informed opinion and commentary on topics of interest to Wednesday Nighters. Also often contributed to by Wednesday Night attendees, so ensuring a vast range of views, and thus performing somewhat like an online written version of an WN Salon in that respect, especially loved by those who no longer live close by and can attend far less frequently.
In fact, the first incarnation of Wednesday-Night.com (pages of which can sometimes still pop up in Google caches when researching a topic or name on the net, although less and less frequently these days) could be considered one of the original precursors in form and style to today’s blogosphere. So early, in the now ubiquitous Internet network collection of personal thoughts and ideas, did David begin his site that he can be considered a true forerunner, an outlier, but especially an early adopter of new trends and perhaps also truly an early adapter in the so many varied senses of the word.
‘In fact, the first incarnation of Wednesday-Night.com… could be considered one of the original precursors in form and style to today’s blogosphere.’
It was a sad day when outdated software, hardware, computer viruses and just the maintenance of the huge amount of broken links, forced its demise, although David fought long and hard to save it by bugging (pun intended) more people in the world of IT, including Gerald Ratzer, professor at the McGill School of Computer Science, than one can run to ground for one article, as just about everyone that one talks to about it seems to have a story of trying to help David save and rehabilitate his site. The current site is a mere shadow of its former unwieldy, amorphous self and be warned, though much easier to navigate, many of the original links were not restored in the makeover.
From politics to philanthropy – from reasoning to rationale to research
David was active in a number of political campaigns for candidates of various parties. He and Diana also co-chaired several Meet the Candidate Nights in Westmount under the aegis of the Westmount Municipal Association (WMA). Believing that Democracy can only function if there are good people on both sides of the debate, David always supported individual candidates rather than parties and delighted in encouraging political debates at Wednesday Nights.
David had a profound love for his fellow sojourners on the path of life, which was more and more evident as the years progressed. He was always quietly involved in community projects ranging from Project 80 for underprivileged families in the East End of Montreal to the Alzheimer’s Society; however, his skill, and indeed preference, was to work on a single aspect of a programme rather than to sit as a member of a Board. Thus Wednesday Night has, over the years, acted as a highly supportive network for a wide range of special projects, awareness and fundraising activities focused around the interests of those who attended it.
In February 2013, David Nicholson was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal.
After being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, David Nicholson eagerly volunteered to participate in any research projects or clinical trials led by his good friend and world-renowned expert Dr. Howard Chertkow, cognitive neurologist and co-founder and Director of the Jewish General Hospital / McGill Memory Clinic. In September 2014, the Nicholsons were honoured to represent Alzheimer’s patients and their families at the official announcement by The Honourable Rona Ambrose, Minister of Health, of the launch of the Canadian Consortium on Neurodegeneration in Aging (CCNA), a national initiative aimed at tackling the growing onset of dementia and related illnesses. Then, as recently as January 2018, they were invited to witness the announcement by MP Anthony Housefather of the investment of $2.5 million from the Government of Canada for dementia research. The funding includes $1 million to establish a Canadian brain bank network that will be linked to the international Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI). David, immediately, signed up to donate his brain to the brain bank.
David died in Montreal on April 8, 2018. And as he had requested, his brain went to help uncover the mysteries of neurodegenerative disorders.
“What’s said at Wednesday Night, stays at Wednesday Night”
Twenty years before the 2003 advertising slogan developed and made famous for Las Vegas, “What happens here, stays here”, David and Diana Nicholson had coined a similar mantra, “What is said at Wednesday Night, stays at Wednesday Night” i.e. WISAWNSAWN = no telling tales outside of the door of 33 Rosemount Avenue in Westmount (and later Haddon Hall). This decree meant the participants were free to be honest and frank, passionate and opinionated, contentious and brutal (at times) during the evening without running the risk of repercussions in the wider world; a fact especially appreciated by the many politicians who attended.
‘After being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, David Nicholson eagerly volunteered to participate in any research projects or clinical trials…’
“Well, I never made the mistake of doing that again.”
Richard Conrad, April 11, 2018
Did that mean the members of the 4th and 5th estates were banned? Far from it, but they participated and were well-informed of the house rules, and for the most part adhered to them. Richard Conrad, then Business Editor of The Gazette (now the Montreal Gazette), remembers the chilly cold shoulder meted out to him for a few months by David when he had parlayed a serendipitous meeting with John Ciaccia (Member of the Assemblée nationale du Québec for Mount Royal riding from 1973-1998 and former Minister of Indian Affairs at the time of the Oka crisis) at a Wednesday Night into an opportunity to sit down with him afterwards and then to use part of his conversation as fodder for an article. His interview had nothing to do with what had transpired at that particular Wednesday Night session but the mere fact he had interviewed Mr Ciaccia at a Wednesday Night, was enough for David. Richard admits ruefully, “Well, I never made the mistake of doing that again”.
“But even with all of its eccentricities, I still feel something like the Nicholsons’ night is more necessary than ever. It promotes a type of debate which is otherwise increasingly absent in our society. At the salon, every so often, I am on the liberal or left side of the debate, but I have found myself in agreement, occasionally, with all sorts of people I never thought I would be in agreement with ever. You can say things without fearing the consequences there… The oldest rule on Wednesdays is that everything is strictly off the record… So you go, and, usually, you are happy you did, even if some of the nights can be – and I think everyone who has been might agree with this – a little surreal.”
Julius Grey, Lawyer, November 3, 2001
The secret to the success of Wednesday Night
“Despite its international flavour, Wednesday Night remains as unique to Montreal as smoked meat and bagels…”
Wayne Larsen, Montreal Gazette, July 24, 2015
After experiencing Wednesday Night, a number of attempts have been made over the years to establish salons along similar lines but none have been successful for more than a couple of years. It seems most learnt fairly quickly that managing a discussion salon long-term is really hard work and it takes a particular combination of skills, as well as great commitment, determination and planning to keep it viable, valid and interesting, so that people want to and do come back, week after week, year after year. Much as other people have discovered when they have tried to emulate the WN formula elsewhere e.g. Wednesday Night West.
“One of our regular guests moved to Vancouver and tried to establish a Wednesday Night there… But she found that she couldn’t cope with the week-after-week commitment. So she tried it on a monthly basis, but sadly it didn’t last more than a couple of years.”
Diana Nicholson, Montreal Gazette, July 24, 2015
‘… a number of attempts have been made over the years to establish salons along similar lines but none have been successful for more than a couple of years.’
David did live to see, however, his son Marc Nicholson open his own rendition of Wednesday Night called Club 1880 in Singapore where he now lives with his wife, Jean Low and children Maya and Tebo (Bo). Not an exact copy to be sure, this is the 21st century and a far different world, but more of an inspiration, since the premise, as Marc readily explains, is his parents’ Wednesday Night salon and its core concepts of community building, conviviality and lifelong learning.
The Nicholsons themselves credit their success in part to the fact they felt, as a couple, they had “found their calling”. They have always enjoyed what they do and did; and they did it remarkably well. Their extensive skills complemented each other. Even though it was a heavy commitment, it was one they enjoyed.
“But we’re older and wiser and we want to talk about all kinds of things now… It’s become a lifestyle for us and for many of our friends.”
David Nicholson, March 7, 2007
That’s not to say there weren’t detractors and criticisms but there were also a phenomenal number of people who attended once, twice, several and some, a great many Wednesday Nights over the years, and who appreciated the effort expended by the Nicholsons tremendously. It’s also true, some attendees may not have understood the WN salon nor felt comfortable or at ease there. Some felt David was too hidebound and irritating, there were too many rules (there weren’t, some guests just didn’t understand the concept of a discussion salon), he was too abrupt in his dictums, topic hopped, didn’t let people finish their train of thought, but Diana proved to be the perfect foil to him. Most guests enjoyed witnessing the interaction between them and eagerly participated. Many of their guests understood the magic, which was not just one thing, but more, many things to many people.
‘The Nicholsons themselves credit their success in part to the fact they felt, as a couple, they had ‘found their calling’. They have always enjoyed what they do and did; and they did it remarkably well.’
“Watching David and Diana,…it’s like a spectator sport. David is the reactionary, sexist, conservative – an old fogey – and he does all these things to irritate everyone. And Diana is the perfect foil to all that. She puts everything back into perspective. She reels him in.”
Reed Scowen, November 3, 2001
But from my perspective, its great success lay in David and Diana Nicholson’s ability to make attendees feel they were special, unique and had something to contribute. And just receiving a return invitation meant a lot to some.
“But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world.”
The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, 1943
Yes, indeed, there were always salon “stars” as well as the self-important people, who didn’t think twice as to why they had their place at the table, and in the early years another set of “regulars”, whom David addressed with a variety of tongue-in-cheek, somewhat sexist, more often ironic sobriquets, which served to keep the proceedings lighter than they might have been (Admiral, Bimbo, Lady Hamilton, Madame Genius, Mr Ambassador, Mr Chairman, Mr Mayor, Mr Minister, Mr Order of Canada, Mouse, Uncle Harry) and which the recipients took in their stride. It wasn’t offensive, it was fun, but it ran its course as the years passed.
‘Yes, indeed, there were always salon ‘stars’ as well as the self-important people, who didn’t think twice as to why they had their place at the table…’
There were also a great many others who considered WN to be their version of auditing a world university, or continuing education or life skills development classes, or leadership coaching, call it what you will. The Nicholsons, and David, in particular, could fix you with his eyes and bark out something or other and you learnt and you learnt.
“At Wednesday Night, David taught me how to express myself, how to marshal and synthesize my thoughts and how to speak in public. I was terrified and stumbled a lot in the beginning but after a while I mastered it.”
Sam Stein, DG, Airport Planning Associates, April 11, 2018
Media exposure was not and never truly sought after and in fact rather shunned, especially in the early years, as much a result of the WISAWNSAWN directive as anything else. For the most part, the marginal coverage that occurred was positive, although there was, at least one instance of a rather acerbic media moment, due primarily to the youthful inexperience of the journalist and David’s desire to encourage young talent. The lesson was learnt and not repeated. Stories mostly happened at or around significant anniversaries such as Dedicated Wednesday Nighters celebrate 25 years that appeared in the Westmount Examiner. The most extensive coverage was on the occasion of Wednesday Night 1500 when the Metropolitan newspaper devoted almost an entire section to the fabled salon and followed up with the ongoing publication of a variety of comments and follow-ups sent in by readers from around the world. Note: interested readers might have to work a bit to read through these as the page number can change as this is link to a list of archived articles that continues to grow. To access the different articles scroll down the linked page to click separately on the comments and additional articles about WN. They’re an interesting read from a wide selection of WN attendees, each with a different memory to share.
‘There were also a great many others who considered WN to be their version of auditing a world university, or continuing education or life skills development classes, or leadership coaching…’
Wednesday Night 2.0
Just prior to the 1500th Salon (WN 1495 to be exact) in October 2010 when the house on Rosemount with the bright yellow door that had for so many years welcomed the world was sold, the Nicholsons moved a few blocks east out of Westmount to Haddon Hall on Sherbrooke Street West. As soon as the familiar dining table and chairs were settled in their new home, Wednesday Night continued without missing a beat (or a Wednesday).
Its second home was almost a visual repeat of its first though certainly smaller (and rather more of a feeling than an exact decor and layout copy); no warm wood panelled walls in the dining room, but the chandelier with its candle shaped lights that shone with their customary, and somewhat unusual lemon yellow brightness, as well as the tablecloth were in place and the real candlelight danced and was reflected from all their various crystal and glass holders, as per usual. Of course, the nuts and snacks were back on the table (and around the table too).
“My introduction to the WN Salon came in the mid-1990s when, as a prof at HEC, I was invited to tag along with a colleague. The price of entry was a bottle of wine and, for someone relatively new to Montréal at the time, the accent on sociability was evident in the warm reception accorded me by the far more experienced veterans. A magnificent and totally unanticipated pleasure that continues was the evening they introduced me to the woman who subsequently became my wonderful wife, Yvette. So I guess it’s fair to say that WN changed my life dramatically and very much for the better.”
A magnificent and unanticipated pleasure, Prof. Guy Stanley, 2010, Source: Wednesday-night.com
‘… when the house on Rosemount with the bright yellow door that had for so many years welcomed the world was sold, the Nicholsons moved a few blocks east out of Westmount to Haddon Hall on Sherbrooke Street West.’
Wednesday Night marriages and photographic memories
David always took great pleasure in recalling all the couples who met their life partners at Wednesday Night soirees. Too numerous to mention, he took credit whenever he could and even at times when he couldn’t. He was the eternal match-maker right up to the end, even wondering a few days before he passed on if two long-term Wednesday Nighters coming to visit him were “an item” or to use his favourite term “breakfast material”. He was truly incorrigible in this respect, and was always the optimistic cupid where potential amorous relationships were concerned.
The WISAWNSAWN decree meant the fascinating weekly conversations around the Nicholsons’ dining table have continued for 36 years (and counting) without a break, and were never recorded for public dissemination. Except through the web sites and visually by visiting professional photographers such as Robert J. Galbraith, who, for a number of years, wore the unofficial hat of the in-house photographer, resulting in some amazing studies of the various faces and characters around the table (not all of them flattering by any means).
“Butch the squirrel was around for two years, he loved Diana.”
Fiona Nicholson, April 11, 2018
‘… the fascinating weekly conversations around the Nicholsons’ dining table have continued for 36 years (and counting) without a break…’
Sometimes, when daughter, Fiona, a notable photographer in her own right, was home she did it, but admits she had a long-term love-hate relationship with Wednesday Night, which you might imagine was well-earned from a teenager’s perspective at least, since she had to put up with all these strange, opinionated people invading her home once a week. Delivered with her characteristic deadpan sense of humour, she has claimed that at times she felt the salon was all a ploy her father had dreamed up to get the house cleaned once a week, specifically when she was being coerced into removing all the dog, cat and other animal hairs from the furniture, since numerous four-footed friends were a natural part of the Nicholson household. And still are, in fact; Fling and Daisy being the current canines Diana, and until recently, David share their home and their hearts with, and who are as much a part of the WN welcoming ritual as anyone else. Over the years the Nicholson family animal menagerie has included a wide selection of greatly beloved dogs, cats, gerbils, guinea pigs, squirrels, a rabbit, a raccoon and horses (although to be fair, they weren’t stabled in Westmount).
Mostly though, particularly in the early years, photographing WN was the domain of Brian Morel, former Head, AV Studio, Cultural Studies, McGill English department and a long-time friend, or David himself, who along with his Chairman duties, documented the evening’s proceedings with his trusty camera or camcorder. Later, David press-ganged many a visiting amateur and professional photographer, and even some who had no idea how a camera worked, into operating the camera at the start of the Salon in response to the refrain, “Please, would you do the honours?”, always more of a royal command than a true question.
“You’ll get used to it”
Just imagine it, 1882 consecutive Wednesdays equates to slightly more than 36 years. Let’s reflect on that, for it really is extraordinary that without fail, every Wednesday night since February 1982, the Nicholsons (or an honorary chairperson such as Fiona, Marc or the Rev. David Oliver, who stood in during the extremely rare times the Nicholsons were out of town), held court in the Nicholsons’ home, with David, and more recently Diana, presiding over and orchestrating the proceedings. And yes, even when Christmas, or New Year’s Eve or Day, fell on a Wednesday, a Wednesday Night was held. David always sat in the centre of one of the long sides of the table. Diana to his left, at one of the ends, and when she took over as Chair, she continues to sit at the head of the table. And, David’s place was where it always was. Even when he had to go into hospital for hip surgery as a result of a fall at home on February 14, 2018, his place waited for him to return. Sadly, that did not happen.
‘… numerous four-footed friends were a natural part of the Nicholson household. And still are, in fact.’
In the immortal words of John Pratt, in his rendition of that popular wartime song, “You’ll get used to it” that I first heard John (aka the “Admiral”) perform in the early years of Wednesday Night. But I’m not sure we’ll ever get used to the Chairman (David T Nicholson) not being here to loudly ring the brass bell to usher us into the start of another WN session. It’s truly the end of one long chapter. And yet it’s also the start of another.
Why the several references to bells?
Diana Nicholson is the daughter of the late Léo Hewlett Thébaud, a three-star US Admiral whose ancestors came to North America on the eponymous Mayflower. There are many gracious images of majestic sailing ships that adorn the walls of the Thébaud-Nicholson home along with a glorious brass ship’s bell inscribed with the words USS Mayflower that sits outside their dining room door, part of Diana’s heritage from her father. Seeing the bell’s inscription some guests have erroneously jumped to the conclusion the bell came from the original Mayflower but if it had, it wouldn’t have been a United States Ship (USS). Ironically, in light of today’s realities, the British flagged Mayflower of 1620 wasn’t a government military ship either (if it had been its name would have been preceded by HMS – His Majesty’s Ship) but rather a fairly pedestrian, privately owned 17th century cargo ship – and on that voyage also a refugee ship, bringing 102 Puritans aka Pilgrims seeking safe harbour from religious persecution in England. For however much things change, they remain the same in some respects, at least in terms of refugees seeking a kinder place to live.
In fact, the Thébaud-Nicholson’s bell comes from the US presidential yacht the USS Mayflower with a long and fascinating history that could well become a subject for a Wednesday Night discussion and perhaps already has. It was decommissioned during the economic market crash of 1929 heralding the start of the Great Depression. Admiral Thébaud was one of its commanding officers at the time, and at its decommissioning the officers were allowed to choose a memento to take with them. Her father choose to take the bell and for many years afterwards it lived on the porch of the Thébaud’s then Thébaud-Nicholson’s Murray Bay summer home, until the home was sold and it was brought to 33 Rosemount, and from there to Haddon Hall.
From the beginning, the USS Mayflower bell has been used to signal the official start of the Wednesday Night salon. Mostly as a way to quieten down the crowd chatting in the surrounding rooms, since upon hearing its resounding but resonant sound, which cuts through most conversations no matter how animated, the guests knew this was the signal to file into the dining room for the start of that week’s salon.
‘From the beginning, the USS Mayflower bell has been used to signal the official start of the Wednesday Night salon.’
“And so, once again, Wednesday Night continued the fine tradition of thinking outside the box without regard for dogma, political correctness or the tyranny of the printed form.”
Margaret Lefebvre, December 27, 2010
I had always presumed it was also a tongue-in-cheek reference to the famous bell on Wall Street that signals the start to the day’s trading session and so recalls the roots of WN when it was primarily an economic and financial salon, but Diana told me recently that was not the case. That was a flight of fancy I had made up all on my own along with the thought it was also a nod to Diana’s peripatetic heritage as an American in Canada (also a story for another time). Ah well, see what WN “outside of the box” thought processes do to one? For me, the bell, like its namesake ship, will always be a sonorous symbol of the joining together of disparate worlds, somewhat like Wednesday Night and the Nicholsons themselves.
The ship’s bell rings again… the debate will go on
“So sadly, it’s true… after 1882 Wednesday Nights… the places at the table are being rotated yet again… filled with different faces… for as of Salon No 1883… it’s WN 3.0. Oh no, perhaps it should be Wednesday Night No. 1883 AD (After David) since Diana has ably filled the Chair for sometime now and David had become our Chairman Emeritus…”
The Salon is Shuttered, Wanda Potrykus, April 9, 2018
As David wished and had insisted, Wednesday Night will continue under the more than able stewardship of his wife Diana Thébaud Nicholson. A very special Wednesday Night (No 1883) was held just three days after his death… poignant, personal and profoundly moving, the twenty or so guests shared their memories of the man most of them had known for a long time. Like any good, if impromptu wake, there were tributes, teasing, smiles, tears, jokes, and reminiscences, but mostly just a good feeling about a man who had been well-loved by many different people for so long. Conversation and recollections flowed freely from Diana, daughter Fiona and a group of friends that over the years have blended into something greater than a simple gathering of minds, but were rather more representative of a sizable and extensive extended family group. And yes, in case you were wondering, there was also talk (understandably brief as the night was getting late) of the elections in Hungary, the Kinder-Morgan pipeline and the possible constitutional debate it might engender in Canada, as well as the potential Allied bombing of Syria. David wouldn’t have expected anything less.
‘As David wished and had insisted, Wednesday Night will continue under the more than able stewardship of his wife Diana Thébaud Nicholson.’
“I’m at a loss for words. Among my earliest memories are flashes from your house. You and David were always so welcoming, so good to me; I cherish every moment I’ve spent in your company. To know that I’ll never again get a smile from the man in the red jacket has me on the verge of tears.”
Misha Potrykus, April 11, 2018
In the few days and hours since David’s passing, Diana had been inundated with phone calls, emails and social media messages from Wednesday Night alumni from around the world. My own son, Misha, who no longer lives close enough to make Wednesday Night on a regular basis, made the journey to No. 1883 to share his grief and his love for Diana, David and Fiona, who had babysat him as an infant. In his Dawson college and McGill university years he was a regular guest at the salon, often manning the camera to assist “the man in the red jacket”.
Trademark red jacket… something a little crazy
Ah yes, the red jacket. Not many men except perhaps military officers in their regimental regalia, can carry off a red jacket with great aplomb. But David T. Nicholson was able to achieve that sartorial feat. He is the only man who, on a consistent basis, never looked out of place in his trademark red jacket. It said a lot about the man he was.
Farewell David, it’s been a great ride. I will miss you, just as so many other people will hold you in their hearts. As I think back over the years I remember all the laughter along with those quiet moments on the front porch of 33 Rosemount as you, Diana and I watched the stars fade and sun come up and we talked, and talked and talked. Marc would sometimes stumble by us on his way to bed, amazed the old fogies were “still up and conscious” and that was how the world should be. The learning, the laughter, the warmth, the camaraderie, the friendship and the ability to surprise our children will remain and bolster us as we face the world without you in it.
“And when your sorrow is comforted (time soothes all sorrows) you will be content that you have known me. You will always be my friend. You will want to laugh with me. And you will sometimes open your window, so, for that pleasure… And your friends will be properly astonished to see you laughing as you look up at the sky! Then you will say to them, ‘Yes, the stars always make me laugh!’ And they will think you are crazy.”
The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, 1943
We should all have a little crazy in our lives. The Nicholson family and Wednesday Night was part of my crazy and I am a far better person for it.
Requiescat in pace et in amore
RIP David Taylor Nicholson. We will miss you.
David is survived by his wife Diana Thébaud Nicholson; children: David Nicholson of Whistler BC, James Nicholson of Vancouver, Fiona Nicholson of Calgary and Marc Nicholson (Jean Low) of Singapore; step-daughter Jeanette Whitton of Vancouver, grandchildren Maya and Tebo Nicholson of Singapore and step-grandchildren Joelle and Ryan Cologne of Vancouver.
A special celebration of David’s life will take place on Friday, April 27 at 3 pm
at the Mount Royal Funeral Complex/Complexe funéraire Mont-Royal
1297 Chemin de la Forêt, Outremont, Québec H2V 2P9
It promises to be as unique as David Nicholson’s life was.
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Wanda Potrykus is a writer, editor, translator and poet. A graduate of McGill, she has spent most of her career in marketing communications, PR, event and media relations specializing in international aviation, telecommunications, education and the marketing of the arts.