Emily McWhinney was an avid and substantial book collector, one of the few female collectors of her generation. When I edited the only Canadian book on book collecting, The Book Disease: Atlantic Provinces Book Collectors (1996), I was unable to identify a single significant female collector in Atlantic Canada.
Several years ago, collector Mary Hyde Eccles wrote that, “a serious collector on any scale must have three advantages: considerable resources, education and freedom. Until recently, only a handful of women have had all three, but times are a changing” (Nicholas A. Basbanes, A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books).
Emily McWhinney had all three. She was born in Berlin in 1925, and with her family fled Nazi Germany, arriving in Quebec City in 1938. In Canada she studied economics at the undergraduate level followed by graduate studies in London, England, and New Haven, Connecticut. She was one of the first women to practise before the Montreal, Toronto, and New York stock exchanges with Nesbitt Thompson (now BMO Nesbitt Burns). She married Ted McWhinney (SFU professor emeritus, international jurist, and former Member of Parliament) in 1951. When she died in 2011 Professor McWhinney donated her 2,600 volumes to SFU Special Collections, the richest book donation to a B.C. public institution in many years.
The collecting started innocently (all collecting starts that way). In a March 1969 Montreal Gazette interview McWhinney stated, “I didn’t intend to start a library when I began a personal reading program several years ago, I just wanted to learn more about 18th-century art and antiques.” She began to buy books, and soon “it was almost inevitable that what had been a stimulating interest for me turned into an even more stimulating hobby.”