Sherlockian.Net: Cameron Hollyer

[At his desk in room 221B]

Cameron Robert Hollyer

Peacefully, after a short illness on Sunday June 4 in his 74th year. Described as a poet laureate, gentleman and literary scholar who served as a librarian for 33 years at the Toronto Reference Library. Co-founder and curator of the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes collection -- one of the largest in the world. He held honours degrees from Harvard University, State University of Buffalo, and University of Toronto. Cameron is remembered by his family, friends and colleagues for his gentle humour, kindness, generosity, way with words and vast knowledge. Dedicated husband of Mary (deceased), he is survived by daughter Mary-Beth, son-in-law Jono Grant, son Martin, son Greg and daughter-in-law Heather as well as two devoted grand daughters, Meaghan and Maureen. Also survived by brother, Stuart Hollyer of Phoenix, Az., sister-in-law, Amy and nephews, Robert and Russell.

There will be a memorial service at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, June 19th at St. John's Norway Anglican Church, 470 Woodbine Avenue, Toronto. In recognition of his lifelong passion for and support of the arts, literature and Sherlockania, the family would appreciate any donations be made in Cameron's name to the Toronto Public Library Foundation, 789 Yonge St., Toronto, Ontario M4W 2G8. If you wish, you can indicate whether your donation is be used for the Conan Doyle collection or the literature collection.

I know the entire Sherlockian world joins me in mourning Cameron Hollyer, who died Sunday morning, June 4, 2000. Cameron was the original curator of the Arthur Conan Doyle Collection at what's now the Toronto Reference Library, from 1971 until his retirement in 1991. A Master Bootmaker, a Baker Street Irregular, a scholar and a poet, a gentle man and a gentleman, he was a friend to us all.

The text that follows is reprinted from the spring 2000 issue of The Magic Door, newsletter of the Friends of the Arthur Conan Doyle Collection.


The tales that Hollyer tells

When Sherlock Holmes's friend Dr. Watson needed to know a little about Chinese pottery in a hurry, he threw himself on the mercy of "my friend Lomax, the sublibrarian", at"the London Library in St. James's Square". There is indeed a London Library there, but one must not be misled into thinking that it is a part of London's great system of public libraries. Rather, it is a private organization, and one must be a paid-up member, as Watson perhaps was, to use its splendid collection.

By contrast,"the Toronto library", as the building at 789 Yonge Street is often colloquially called, is a free public library. When it was opened in 1977 it was called the Metropolitan Toronto Central Library, and operated by a board created for that purpose by the Municipality of Metropolitan Toronto. Later it was renamed the Metropolitan Toronto Reference Library, to make clear that (unlike its predecessor on St. George Street) its collections were for reference only and not for circulation. Then last year the Municipality of Metropolitan Toronto ceased to be, all its agencies being folded into the giant new City of Toronto, and 789 Yonge became the Toronto Reference Library and a part of the Toronto Public Library system.

Old-timers will recall that in fact the Central Library began as part of the TPL system; the old "central library" on St. George had been the headquarters of that system before it was transferred to Metro Toronto. It was there, in a "room 221B"that actually was on the second floor, rather than the present fifth floor, that the Arthur Conan Doyle Collection had its beginnings. The story of those beginnings is a twice-told tale -- told twice, that is, by the founding curator, Cameron Hollyer. Parts of it have also been told from other points of view, but the two gospels, so to speak, are those according to Hollyer, one delivered in 1986, the second in 1990.

The first narrative was "A 17-Step Story", a talk given at "A Weekend in Toronto with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes", held in June 1986 and sponsored by the Bootmakers of Toronto. It was published with very little editing in the Christmas 1986 issue of Canadian Holmes, the Bootmakers' journal. The second narrative,"The Curator's Egg", was a talk for "The Bimetallic Colloquium" in Montréal in 1990; it was published in Canadian Holmes in 1991 and republished in the Bootmakers' 25th anniversary volume, Lasting Impressions, in 1997. They cover very much the same story, with variations. Only one of the two talks has a digression about ostrich eggs, for example, and only one of the two (as published in CH) is illustrated with photographs of some of the key people in the story.

"When the library was departmentalized," Hollyer writes in one of his narratives,"l had the luck of landing in the Literature Department, under the wise and kind control of Mary McMahon " She is one of the key people, along with John Parkhill, the director of the library at the time -- 1970 -- that the Arthur Conan Doyle Collection began. The two of them apparently took only a little persuading (by Hollyer and fellow librarian Elizabeth Perry) that they should buy a collection of mysteries, including many works by Doyle, that they were offered by bookseller Hugh Anson-Cartwright, and that they should keep them together in a specialized ACD collection. The idea apparently also came quite independently from another direction -- Don Redmond, then chief librarian of Queen's University, who saw the collection on Anson-Cartwright's shelves and told Parkhill how he sho~take best advantage of them. Being involved in the creation of the collection "was like falling in love," writes Hollyer, who is a bit of a poet. The bare earth flowered and I felt a new purpose in things."

Before long the library acquired more ACD material from a British bookseller, Sherlockiana from the great Sherlockian (and Toronto magistrate) S. Tupper Bigelow, and a remarkable collection of editions of The Sign of Four that had been owned by Nathan Bengis of New York. With these four collections, Hollyer writes,"we found ourselves in possession of the largest collection of Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes books in any institutional library in the world. . . . The amount spent to acquire all these books was $18,000."

The collection had a grand opening in January 1971, and sponsored "A Weekend with Sherlock" eleven months later, for which Sherlockians from south of the international border converged on Toronto and were amazed by what they saw. Out of that event, inevitably, came the creation of a Toronto-based Sherlockian society, the Bootmakers."The Bootmakers have given the collection a lot of support,' Hollyer wrote in 1986, "not the least by consulting it frequently.With them we could be sure that we would not be playing to an entirely empty house " The Friends of the ACD Collection were not founded -- mostly by Bootmakers -- until 25 years later, but from the beginning the affection and loyalty were there.

The second president of the Bootmakers was True Davidson, who was also mayor of the Toronto borough of East York (now absorbed, like the other boroughs, into the enlarged City of Toronto). She must have been somewhere near 70, Hollyer writes,"but she had not lost a bit of her zest for life. Long used to authority, she could be intimidating. l often felt like a slipshod city council in her presence. But she was a good friend to the collection " It was Davidson, he maintains, who"flew to New York"to examine a collection of ACD manuscripts and letters that came onto the market, and who flew back to Toronto to make sure that the library was able to acquire a portion of it: some 76 letters between ACD and Greenhough Smith, his editor at the Strand magazine. (Hollyer wrote a description of the letters in volume 2 number 1 of The Magic Door.) Later the ACD Collection acquired such treasures as a copy of Beeton's Christmas Annual (see volume 1 number 1 of The Magic Door), the manuscript of ACD's still unpublished play Angels of Darkness (volume 1 number 2), and original drawings by Frederic Dorr Steele and Sidney Paget, among other treasures. Some of the collection's most treasured items have been the gifts of Friends and friends, while others have been acquired with their diplomatic help.

Cameron Hollyer, the founding curator, retired from what was then the Metropolitan Toronto Reference Library in 1991, to be succeeded by Victoria Gill. It was inevitable, however, that when the Friends were organized he would be asked to serve on its board of directors, a duty he continues to carry out. And it is not impossible -- say it's not impossible! -- that one of these days he will write another version of the story of the CD Collection, touching on the mantelpiece that was moved from College Street to Yonge Street, the first Canadian edition of A Study in Scarlet, the vicissitudes of introducing ACD to the library's cataloguing department, the research and organizing done in the early 1980s by Janice McNabb, the arrival of the gasogene and tantalus, the book that was brought through Canada Customs by a prominent police officer, the Bigelow Index to the Sherlockian literature, and so many other things. There are still a good many stories to tell.


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