Alice Elizabeth Johannsen was born in 1911 in Havana. She is not, in some ways, an “Unsung Hero,” as much is known about her work at the Redpath Museum as the Director of McGill Museums from 1951 to 1972. Her professional accomplishments include being a founding member of the Canadian Museum Association in 1947 and serving as the association’s first woman president in 1959. She was also the Director of the Gault Estate and established the Mont St. Hilaire Nature Conservation Centre.
What remains “unsung” are some of Alice’s more quiet accomplishments, such as her impact on the McGill academic community (where she studied and subsequently worked) and her avant-garde perspective on the natural world.
While Alice has already been acknowledged for her conservation work and pioneering environmentalism, her efforts were so tremendous there is always more to be celebrated. She organized Mont St. Hilaire clean-up outings with Boy Scouts, to do her part in minimizing human impact on nature. She organized tours of Norway, the Galapagos, and Ecuador. Her spirit of inclusivity inspired her to organize outings to Mont Saint Hilaire for people with disabilities.
While these recognitions are impressive, the true meaning of Alice’s tireless work is best reflected by the words of members from the McGill community.
A letter from a professor to Alice about a 1966 exhibit, exclaimed: “How could I ever possibly thank you and your staff for putting in such a vast amount of work… I am told that more students than ever before are looking at this exhibit. I suppose that this is the greatest reward possible.”
She was loved by many at McGill for her commitment to service, museum work, and community.