Shortly after I was nominated in late 2015 for the future president of our association, I took a quick look at the long list of past presidents to see how many of them were from Canadian schools. To my surprise, there was only one – Blanche Lemco van Ginkel, from the University of Toronto, who served in 1986-1987. Out of curiosity, I searched for more information about her and, needless to say, I was very impressed by what I learned.
Blanche Lemco van Ginkel was a pioneering woman in fields dominated by men, architecture and planning. She was the first woman to lead a faculty of architecture in Canada (and in North America), as dean at the University of Toronto from 1977 to 1982. She was the first woman to be elected an officer and a fellow of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada (RAIC).
She was also the first woman elected president of ACSA.
As an architect, planner, and educator, Blanche has had a distinguished career as an award-winning practitioner and teacher who taught architecture and urban design in several schools in the United States and Canada. Born in 1923 in Britain, she grew up in Montreal, where she graduated with an architecture degree from McGill University. Upon obtaining a degree in planning from Harvard, she taught for several years at the University of Pennsylvania and at Harvard before moving back to Montreal. She developed the first courses in urban design at Université de Montréal and then at McGill, before accepting a leadership position at the University of Toronto in 1977, a city where she lives today.
In recognition of Blanche’s outstanding contributions, McGill University presented her with the honorary Doctor of Science in 2014. As noted on McGill's website, Blanche, with her late husband Sandy, had “a key role in preserving Old Montreal during the 1960s and courageously led the charge to protect the south slope of Mount Royal from urban developers.” The two of them then “helped design Montreal’s Expo ’67, the immediately successful international exhibition that came to symbolize Canada’s cultural effervescence in its centennial year.” To honor this remarkable legacy, there is a prize for urbanism in Québec given in Blanche’s name. She is also featured in the forthcoming documentary movie “City Dreamers” (Rêveuses de villes), alongside Phyllis Lambert, Denise Scott Brown, and Cornelia Hahn Oberlander, as women “who carved out a place for themselves in a man’s world, dreamt of human-scale cities and began drawing the urban centres of our future.”
I hope it comes as no surprise that ACSA Board of Directors has decided to recognize Blanche’s exceptional career in architectural education with an ACSA Distinguished Service Award, which will be formally presented at the upcoming Administrators Conference in Québec City, October 25 –27, 2018. We hope that many of you will join us then at Chateau Frontenac to honor this remarkable member of our community.
For more information about Blanche Lemco van Ginkel, please see the entry under her name in the Canadian Encyclopedia and also among the Pioneering Women of American Architecture.