Ben Weider Tribute Day
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts
Friday, February 5, 2010

Ben Weider O.C., C.StJ, C.Q.


Ben Weider, the founder and first president of the International Napoleonic Society, was a truly unique individual in Montreal and the world. His contributions to bodybuilding, to Montreal, and to the study of Napoleon were phenomenal. His Napoleonic exhibit at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts is a great tribute to both him and Napoleon. To honor his memory, the museum held a Ben Weider Tribute Day on Friday, February 5, 2010.

Senator Serge Joyal

In the morning, Senator Serge Joyal gave a fascinating illustrated look into Weider’s life and accomplishments. The photos alone were riveting reminders of Ben’s many accomplishments, as well as of his true humanity. Even long-time friends gained a greater understanding and appreciation of the man, thanks to Senator Joyal’s outstanding presentation.


Click on the photo to see the video of the Conference

The afternoon began with a talk by Sylvain Pagé, author of L’Amérique du Nord et Napoléon. His talk was entitled Napoleonic France and its Troublesome Relationship with North America, and concentrated mainly on the war of 1812 and the relations between Canada and the United States. Pagé shared some interesting insights on the influence of the European wars of the period on the relations between the two countries, especially with the brief war between them. Those relations have, of course, developed into one of the closed friendships and alliances between any two countries in the world, and with relations between the US, the UK and Canada being a major bastion of the western alliance.

The program continued with a talk by Nathalie Bondil, Director and chief Curator of the museum. She gave a nice background on the development of the collection, followed by some detailed, and illustrated, information on some of the more important pieces. She shared amazing photos of some of the major pieces in the original locations in Ben’s home or office, and also gave illustrated comparisons of some of the works with other works in French museums. The talk was a Napoleonic collector’s dream come true!

Nathalie Bondil, Director and Chief Curator of the Museum of Fine Arts of Montreal

The afternoon concluded with a short talk by David Markham, President of the International Napoleonic Society. Markham reviewed some of Ben’s many accomplishments and contributions to the Napoleonic field. He then gave a brief outline of INS activities and its future. The INS is one of Ben’s great legacies, and Markham assured the audience that it would continue to be that far into the future. Markham’s remarks can be read below.

The day concluded with an evening showing of the film, Monsieur N, an interesting, if highly speculative, look at Napoleon in exile on St Helena and his ultimate fate.

Good afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great honor to participate in this program to honor Ben Weider. I want to thank Director Nathalie Bondil and Cultural Programming Director Danielle Roberge for inviting me to be here.

One year ago we marked the opening of the Weider Napoleon exhibition, but our hearts were heavy as we were deeply saddened by Ben’s recent passing. This year, we do not focus so much on mourning the loss of a friend but instead we focus on celebrating his life and legacy. I was Ben’s friend and associate in his Napoleonic endeavors, so naturally I remember and celebrate in that context.


INS President J. David Markham

Like his hero, Napoleon, Ben Weider not only achieved great victories but also created a legacy and legend that will last far into the future. For us here today, the most obvious example of victory, legacy and legend is this magnificent Napoleonic exhibition. Encouraged by his friend Senator Serge Joyal, Ben created an outstanding exhibition made largely from his personal collection, and nicely augmented by Senator Joyal and others. But the collection is not just a static exhibit. Nathalie Bondil and her staff have prepared its presentation brilliantly and we should thank them with a round of applause.

Also, Ben provided for an outstanding explanatory brochure to be made available free of charge to all who will come to visit including school groups. There have been about 450,000 people who have visited the museum this past year, and one hopes that most of them saw this exhibition. Eventually, visitors will eventually be numbered in the millions.

Speaking of school groups, Ben’s created two academic chairs at Florida State University’s Institute on Napoleon and the French Revolution. And as long as that program lasts, students will be given the opportunity to do important research in Europe and elsewhere, thanks to academic scholarships that Ben established.

Ben made very significant and direct contributions to our better understanding of Napoleonic history. His research, books and articles on Napoleon’s assassination while in exile on St Helena has changed the way we view the end of Napoleon’s life. And with General Michel Franceschi, Ben wrote a briskly selling book, The Wars Against Napoleon, that effectively debunks the myth that Napoleon was the cause of the so-called Napoleonic Wars.

Of course, my greatest involvement with Ben was with the International Napoleonic Society. In 1996 Ben established the International Napoleonic Society to promote greater academic study of Napoleon and to promote a more accurate, and thus more positive, understanding of Napoleon and his importance to the modern world. As his Executive Vice-President and Editor-in-Chief, I worked with him to organize international academic congresses in Italy, France, Poland, Israel and Georgia and to produce the academic journal, Napoleonic Scholarship. He and his able staff put together an outstanding website. Today, the INS has attracted almost 600 Fellows from 42 countries.

Ben was determined to have the INS continue as part of his legacy, and left provisions for me to serve as his successor as President, which is one of the great honors of my life. A year after becoming INS President, I can tell you that there is no question in my mind that Ben would be very pleased with what we have done. In the past year we have added over 40 new Fellows from seven countries. We held a very successful congress in Montreal last year, and have one scheduled for this July in Malta. We are working on plans for more congresses in the future.

Since most of our Fellows have access to email, we are instituting an electronic newsletter to help us keep in better contact with our Fellows. The newsletter will provide INS news, news of other Napoleonic activities, and some educational material.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we are reinstating the academic journal. This will be an annual publication that will have articles from some of the top scholars in the field, as well as outstanding student papers.

Every congress, every newsletter and every issue of the journal will be proof that Ben Weider’s victories were great and that his legacy continues.

Thank you very much for your attention.

Vive l’Empereur!

 

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