McGill students erupt with joy as the Canadian women's hockey team win the gold medal match against their U.S. rivals at the 2014 Sochi Olympics (Photo: Owen Egan)


A remarkable eye for McGill moments

For decades, Owen Egan, BA'87, has been a fixture on McGill's campuses, photographing starship captains, singing legends, world leaders, and thousands of McGillians. Egan is now sharing some of his favourite McGill photos online. 

Story by Brenda Branswell

April 2020

For decades, Owen Egan has been a fixture on McGill’s two campuses, capturing events and student life with his camera.

He’s photographed famous faces at McGill and ventured onto building roofs in search of unique images – like the time he was attacked by a falcon (more on that later).

“I’ve been to lots of nooks and crannies at McGill,” says Egan, BA’87. As an arts student, he was the photo editor at the McGill Daily student newspaper and started getting hired by the University for photo assignments.

That work continued over the years for the self-employed Montreal photographer until the COVID-19 crisis when his assignments for McGill evaporated. Since then, Egan says he’s grateful for the support he’s received from the McGill community.

Egan has been poring over his McGill photos and sharing them online.

“I had nothing to do. I wanted to be productive,” says Egan. “I had a decade of digital photos that needed to get organized and archived…I thought it might be interesting for people to see them.”

He has shot in digital format since 2001 and has more than a million photos. Most of them were for McGill. His earlier McGill photos are on film.

Biology professor Ehab Abouheif looking at an ant sitting on his finger

Egan photographed former U.S. president Bill Clinton in 2009 when he received an honorary degree from McGill (he needed to get security clearance from the Secret Service for that assignment). Other famous folk in his McGill photos include William Shatner, BCom’52, DLitt’11, international music stars Win Butler, BA’04, Nana Mouskouri and Sting, billionaire business magnate Richard Branson, and former British prime minister Tony Blair.

A fairly large portion of the McGill community – students, staff and faculty (like biology professor Ehab Abouheif, a leading authority on ants, pictured below) – have also been photographed by Egan along the way.

Egan says his most interesting assignment involved being sent down into a gold mine in northwestern Quebec to take photos of students taking part in McGill’s co-op program in mining engineering.

The falcon assignment was also memorable, but for more harrowing reasons. Egan was asked to go on top of a downtown skyscraper with David Bird, emeritus professor of wildlife biology and former director of McGill’s Avian Science and Conservation Centre.

“That was the one time I was actually bloodied on a McGill-related job,” Egan says. 

Owen Egan

Bird, who had recently relocated some falcon eggs to a new nest (the previous nest was perched a little too precariously on another tall building), was going to place identification bands on the recently hatched chicks.  A graduate student who accompanied Bird and Egan was tasked with keeping “the parental bird from attacking us.”

Egan had been instructed to stay near the roof door for protection from the falcon’s wingspan. But with no clear view of Bird retrieving the falcon chicks, Egan did what most photographers would do – he moved to get a better view. 

“As I was doing that, I got smacked very hard on the back of the head,” Egan says. The bird flew past him and “I reached back [to my head] and I had blood on my hands.”

It all ended well. The falcons prospered in their new nest, Bird wrote about the rescue effort for a journal article, and Egan did what he has been doing for decades – he took some memorable photos.

You can visit Owen Egan’s photo archive here.

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