Photo (left to right) of Val O'Donovan, former UW chancellor; Susan Saunders Bellingham, Head of Special Collections; and David Johnston, UW President.
A member of the Order of Canada and former chancellor at UW (1997-2003), Valentine (Val) O’Donovan has donated three rare, valuable items connected to Canada’s early history to the Library’s Special Collections department. These items include an original handwritten copy of a letter by Rear-Admiral Charles Holmes, a three-volume set of Charlevoix’s Histoire et Description Generale de la Nouvelle France, and Richard Houston’s 1760 mezzotint of General James Wolfe.
These fragile and rare items add significant value to the resources available to scholars and students at UW. Each of these generous gifts to the Library from O’Donovan provides unique primary resources that are connected to the initial events that led Canada becoming its own nation.
The first of Val O’Donovan’s three gifts to the library is a copy of the handwritten account of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham. Written by Rear-Admiral Charles Holmes on September 18, 1759, this seven-page letter tells how Major-General James Wolfe captured the fortress of Quebec before succumbing to his wounds acquired from the battlefield. The first copy of Holmes’ letter is archived at the British Library. The other copy, originally considered missing for a period of time, was auctioned at Sotheby’s in London as a part of a private collection belonging to the Fermor-Hesketh family of Northamptonshire. Val O’Donovan, knowing that the letter was “an important part of our heritage” purchased this copy of the letter with the intent of donating it anonymously to the UW Library. It is the earliest piece of Canadian in the Library.
The second gift presented to the Library by O’Donovan is Pierre Francois Xavier de Charlevoix’s Histoire et Description Generale de la Nouvelle France avec le Journal Historique dun Voyage fait par ordre du Roi dans Paris: la veuve Ganeau 1744. Consisting of three volumes, Charlevoix’s work is the first general history of the French discoveries and settlements in North America from 1500 to 1736. These volumes are a complementary research resource to O’Donovan’s first gift to the Library.
The third gift to the library from Val O’Donovan is a 1760 mezzotint of Major General Wolfe by Irish engraver, Richard Houston. This mezzotint, called Scarce Portrait of the Victor of Quebec, is a full-length depiction of Major General James Wolfe in full uniform, with a background view of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham.