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Unique Gifts (of Kindness)
Artwork images from University of Manitoba Digital Archive Collection, Angus Shortt fonds

Unique Gifts (of Kindness)

Among the pristine rows of storage boxes, leather-bound books and folios in UM archives, there resides secret treasures that tantalize and give fleeting glimpses of those who donated “gifts-in-kind.” A lock of hair that was mailed in a Christmas card to a loved one at the Front during the Second World War. A button proudly proclaiming one’s identity from the early days of the gay rights movement. Desiccated, woody mushrooms collected in a dewy forest glade more than a century ago.

Or, in a much more modern contribution, digital files of TV shows and movies that document the legacy of production company Frantic Films, including early reality series Pioneer Quest and, somewhat more controversial, The Don Cherry Story.

In their own way, these items enhance learning. The controlled-environment chamber in biosystems engineering donated by Conviron—owned and run by the Kroft family—allows researchers to observe and test seedlings in the hope of developing hardy varieties of plants for a changing climate.

More intrinsic is the beautiful handcrafted wood Petrof grand piano that sits patiently in an upper practice room in the Desautels Faculty of Music, waiting for the next aspiring Glenn Gould to play a Bach partita. Donated this year by the Bernstein family, the instrument speaks to the legacy of Mark Bernstein and Zita Bernstein [AMM/47, BA/48], an enthusiastic pianist whose lifelong passion for classical music complemented her career as a librarian with UM and the Winnipeg Public Library.

Row upon row of fragile butterflies mounted with stickpins attest to the perseverance of former UM dentistry professor William Christie [DMD/64], who collected his specimens at Manitoba’s Red Rock Lake 30 years ago. His library of lepidoptera is now in the J.B. Wallis/R.E. Roughly Museum of Entomology in the Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences, where budding biologists can see for themselves the changes in dots and patterns on gossamer wings that show evolution at work.


The donated artwork of Angus Shortt colourfully depicts wildlife of the Canadian prairie, often geese and mallards in flight as they soar across lakes and watersheds. Studying at UM under Group of Seven member Lionel LeMoine Fitzgerald [LLD/52], Shortt is known for his watercolour illustrations of bird plumage and anatomy that have appeared on everything from postage stamps to playing cards and medallions. Art lovers can forever view these gems of Canadian natural history, some so real you can almost see the subjects’ feathers ruffled by the winds of time itself.

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