The University of Toronto has recently launched a $1.8-million fundraising campaign to renovate the storied coach house and to revitalize the McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology. “It’s a very small building but a historic one, and any renovation has to take care of its heritage,” says Seamus Ross, dean of the Faculty of Information, which oversees the program. “We want to draw students back into the space, to bring it alive again.”
To that end, this fall the university is reintroducing the wide-ranging Monday night seminars that were a fixture in McLuhan’s day. “There was a speaker, a moderator and a commentator on each topic – a framework that we’re working with,” Ross says. The coach house will also serve as a key venue in the event U of T has scheduled for November to consider McLuhan’s work and legacy, titled “McLuhan 100: Then, Now, Next – International Conference and DEW Line Festival.”
Throughout the fall, the Faculty of Information will also be looking into offering a new concentration in culture and technology as part of its master of information degree. “The university has a rich legacy in communications and media [and hopes to build] on the scholarship of Harold Innis and McLuhan,” Ross says. He believes the program will be distinct from offerings in the same field at other universities by focusing less on communication technologies per se, and more on how these technologies are reshaping our culture and being reshaped by it.
To make the coach house a more suitable venue for classes about media and technology, it will be equipped with virtual conferencing capacities, enabling people to participate in seminars from anywhere in the world. Multimedia arts installations are also part of an ongoing plan to reanimate the space. As part of last year’s Scotiabank Contact Photography Festival, David Rokeby and Lewis Kaye displayed video of McLuhan through a ground-floor window of the coach house that was visible and audible to passers-by. And for this year’s Contact, photographer Robert Bean lined its walls with McLuhan-themed pictures. “The first one drew people to the outside of the building, the next one drew them in,” says Ross. “We want the coach house to become a global nerve centre for discussions around communication and digital media. Just as it was in McLuhan’s day.”