The undisputed national significance of the contribution to Canadian architecture by Edward and W.S. Maxwell has been particularly validated in the last decade thanks to exhibitions, publications and preservation efforts undertaken on behalf of many of the Maxwell buildings. The publication of the guide to the Maxwell Archive at McGill University in 1986 and the travelling exhibition The Architecture of Edward & W.S. Maxwell, organized by the Maxwell Project group in co-operation with the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in 1991 are two major events that have significantly informed the Maxwell scholarship. Publications dealing with the typology of the Maxwells’ residential architecture, walking tours of the Maxwell houses, and heritage efforts to protect and make accessible the architectural legacy of the Maxwell brothers have helped immeasurably to make their work better known nation-wide. The architectural oeuvre of Edward and W.S. Maxwell has been passed on to us on a scale unusual for two turn-of-the-century Canadian architects. Thanks to the sustained efforts of the Maxwell family, the Honorary Curator of the Canadian Architecture Collection at McGill University, Emeritus Professor John Bland, and to researchers engaged in the Maxwell Project, more than seven hundred projects are documented in some 16,000 plans and drawings housed at McGill. Notebooks, sketchbooks, scrapbooks, clippings, swatches of decorative fabrics, samples of artifacts proposed to clients – in short, a wealth of both textual and visual material – add important information and texture to the drawings. The libraries of Edward and W.S. Maxwell, preserved to a significant degree at McGill, enhance our understanding of the sources they had used to develop their projects, and of their social interaction with Montreal book collectors of the era – many of whom were Maxwell clients.
Since the publication of the 1986 guide, and as a result of the growing and sustained interest in the work itself, the Maxwell Archive at McGill has been enriched with much new material. Of particular importance are numerous donations by the late Mary Maxwell Rabbani, daughter of W.S. Maxwell, and the visual and research material given by architectural historian France Gagnon Pratte. New primary sources have been discovered in the Canadian Architecture Collection in the course of continuing research on the Maxwells. Last, but not least, new technologies enable us today to make the Maxwell Archive infinitely more accessible not just on a national, but international scale. The same technologies make it possible to combine the archival record with a virtual view of selected projects, to listen to one of the Maxwell descendants talk about his childhood memories, and even to make a virtual visit to one of the great houses designed by the Maxwells and owned today by McGill University. The undisputed value of the Maxwell Archive is in its scope and its contents; but it is the new, digital approach that makes them available, not just to the scholarly community, but globally. Seeing the Maxwell oeuvre in this much larger context will help advance new scholarship and properly situate the work itself.
Chief Curator, Rare Books and Special Collections
Curator, Canadian Architecture Collection