Remembering Evelyn Cotter (1923-2013)

Evelyn Cotter (1978)

By Roger Greenwald and Roger Riendeau

Innis College lost one of its pioneers with the passing of Evelyn Cotter on April 2, 2013. Evelyn is largely responsible for Innis College’s leading role in writing instruction, academic skills development, and creative writing at the University of Toronto.

evenlyn cotter talks to student in an officeEvelyn Cotter meets with a student in 1978 (photo by Robert Landsdale Photography)

A graduate of University College, Evelyn completed an MA in English at the University of Toronto in 1947. After lecturing in English at the University of Manitoba and Carleton University, she arrived at Innis College in the fall of 1964 to teach, supposedly for nine weeks, in the first Writing Laboratory ever launched at a Canadian university. Her supportive and engaging teaching style in both individual tutoring and seminar presentations helped the Innis Writing Lab (now “Innis Writing Centre“) to evolve from an “experiment” into a permanent feature of College life. She became the director of the Innis Writing Lab in 1967 and was soon asked to establish a similar academic support service at Woodsworth College. The activities of the Writing Lab later gave rise to credit-bearing writing courses at Innis, which in turn became the seeds of the Writing & Rhetoric Program.

Along with Robin Harris and David King, Evelyn strongly favored providing a home for creative writing at the College. She believed it was important not only to give extra help to those students who needed it, but also to give opportunities to talented students whose university years could be crucial in their development as writers. It was with her encouragement that the College became home to a long-running Writers’ Workshop and the international literary annual, WRIT Magazine.

As a trustee for the Toronto School Board from 1975 to 1978, Evelyn was instrumental in launching a program for Canadian books in Canadian schools. After her retirement as director of the Innis’s and Woodsworth College’s Writing Labs in 1987, she moved to Warkworth, Ontario to enjoy life in the country. Even in retirement, Evelyn continued to support Innis College by endowing the Evelyn Cotter OSOTF Award, which is given annually to a full-time or part-time Innis College student who, because of family responsibilities, has postponed or interrupted post-secondary education. In addition, the Evelyn Cotter Book Award is awarded annually to an Innis College student who has demonstrated, through diligent work in the Writing Centre, commitment to achieving excellence in writing.

On the occasion of the fortieth anniversary of Innis College in 2004, Evelyn was recognized as one of forty “Inspirational Innisians.” The continued success of all of the College’s offerings related to writing is part of Evelyn Cotter’s legacy and a tribute to her progressive vision.

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