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Love at the Library (It’s Not What You Think)

Feb. 13, 2023

By Dan Blackwell

It may be one of the best-kept secrets on campus: Victoria University’s E.J. Pratt Library is for lovers. After all, nothing makes young hearts flutter quite like hooking up with E.J. Pratt’s extensive assortment of romantic archival material and art. 

True romantics should check out the library’s unique collection of old-timey Valentine’s Day cards. Dating back to the 19th century, these cards feature ornate cut-outs, poetry and colourful illustrations, and had become especially popular during the Victorian era. After all, that was the only way would-be suitors could slide into their lover’s DMs (a.k.a. mailboxes). 

If Valentine’s Day cards aren’t your thing, or you’re craving a good romance novel, look to the remarkable true love stories of some of Victoria University’s most cherished couples: the Baders and the Fryes.

In A Canadian in Love (2000), you’ll discover the heartwarming tale of the late Isabel Overton Vic 4T9, Hon. 9T5 and Alfred Bader. These beloved philanthropists first met on a 1949 sea voyage to the United Kingdom, during which time they swiped right and promptly fell in love. (They only took nine days to get engaged!) Though the engagement was later called off, A Canadian in Love documents the early days of the Baders’ relationship through nine months of heartfelt personal correspondence. Remarkably, the Baders reconnected nearly 30 years later and were married in 1982. The Baders were avid supporters of education, and their love and legacy live on at Victoria University. In addition to providing extensive funding for student scholarships and bursaries, their $6-million landmark gift led to the creation of the Isabel Bader Theatre, a state-of-the-art, purpose-built facility that serves as a lecture space and hosts concerts, film festivals, plays and other performing arts events.   

Seeking another timeless Victoria University love story? Read The Correspondence of Northrop Frye and Helen Kemp, 1932-1939: Volume 1 (1996). The Frye-Kemp courtship dates back to 1931, when the two Vic students met while working on a Victoria College Music Club production. Although this tale of romance is nearly a century old, the letters exchanged between Northrop Frye Vic 3T3, Emm 3T6 and Helen Kemp Vic 3T3 reflect many of the same anxieties, aspirations and challenges that young couples experience today (including a lack of money and a desire to pursue their educations). Fortunately, love conquers all, and (spoiler alert) Frye and Kemp were married in 1937. Northrop Frye would go on to become a distinguished literary theorist and academic, as well as a professor and Victoria University chancellor, while Kemp was an accomplished musician and artist. Northrop Frye's extraordinary legacy endures at Victoria University, perhaps most notably in the form of The Northrop Frye Centre, as well as in a bronze sculpture featuring Frye seated on a bench in front of the E.J. Pratt Library.   

Finally, for the aesthete, we have the University's collection of countless works of art. Though not currently on display, Love Leads Home the Conqueror Captive (1899) by English painter Sigismund Christian Hubert Goetze perfectly encapsulates the Valentine’s Day theme. This oil painting is rich with symbolism and it doesn’t take an art degree to recognize Cupid’s embrace of a damsel deep in slumber. We should all be so lucky this Valentine’s Day. 
As you can see, E.J. Pratt Library has a lot to offer the hopelessly romantic. Consider adding a visit to your itinerary this February 14, or anytime you’re in the mood for love.  

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