Our History

In the past few years, a lot has changed for the Science Writers and Communicators of Canada (formerly the Canadian Science Writers Association). The following two recounts will highlight the change of our constitution in 2017 and the formation of our organization 1970 by former members of our leadership team. Please scroll to the bottom of this page for a full summary of our organization's leadership from 1970 until today.


2017 Vote to Change Constiution

Tim Lougheed

November, 2017

The tabulation of votes on a new constitution is now complete and the result was definitive: of 72 participants, 68 were in favour. These numbers would have impressed the founders of our organization, who never had more than a couple of dozen people available at a membership-wide meeting to vote on such an important matter. With our now routine ability to circulate such a document electronically to the entire membership, we have been able to ensure that one and all could see it for themselves, a mainstay of any democratic practice. I should also add that along the way I received messages of encouragement and gratitude from members who welcome our moves to create a more broadly based, inclusive organization of science communicators, as well as thoughtful critiques from others who want to ensure that this process did not sacrifice any of our longstanding values, such as a commitment to supporting excellence in science journalism.

This vote also confirms the success of our hard-working committee led by Sylviane Duval, which never flagged in its desire to ensure all the I’s were dotted and all the T’s were crossed. I reflected on this dogged determination one chilly morning last fall, as I attended a teleconference in our lawyer’s office in Kingston with the entire committee on the line from all parts of the country. In addition to Sylviane, who lives in rural eastern Ontario, those members are Shelley McIvor in Nanaimo, Jennifer Gagné in Canmore, Pippa Wysong and Ivan Semeniuk in Toronto, and of course, the indefatigable Janice Benthin — den mother to us all — in Montreal. At the risk of sounding like some kind of manic bureaucrat, I shall always cherish this occasion, because it spoke loudly not just to the dedication of the people who make up our organization, but the reach we have been able to achieve within Canada’s widely scattered population.

And now, with the approval of this new constitution, we can move forward in some exciting ways. The most immediate change will be to the next round of elections for seats on our Board of Directors, which will now be open to nominees from the entire membership. Eventually, that will include the president’s chair, but you will have to wait until next year (when I step down once and for all, promise!).

At the same time, we will be launching a new permanent committee that will break new ground as a national watchdog on the calibre of science journalism and science communication generally. This body represents nothing less than a frontier for us, an unprecedented public forum for hashing out a wide range of important topics that are often much talked-about informally, but until now have had few formal venues. If you are interested in taking part, we will be circulating information about this committee in the weeks to come.

And finally, there is the most difficult job of all: getting used to a new name. I first became involved with the Canadian Science Writers’ Association in 1984, thanks to my mentor Mack Laing, who was among its founders in 1971. I am hesitant to reflect on what respective proportions of our membership were born after these dates, but suffice it to say that over the decades the acronym “CSWA” has become second nature for me. It will take some time to get used to SWCC, but that will only come with practice, and there is no time like the present to begin. So let me be the first to say to all of you: welcome to the Science Writers and Communicators of Canada.



CSWA/ACRS celebrates 45th Anniversary

By Andy F. Visser-deVries

October, 2015


Thursday, 15 October 2015 marks the 45th anniversary to the very day of the founding of the Canadian Science Writers’ Association/ Association canadienne des rédacteurs scientifiques.

This year Canadians will be deciding who to vote for in the dying days of the current marathon Canadian federal election, but forty-five years ago Canadians were gripped by television images and newspaper reports during the “October Crisis”, after members of the Front de libération du Québec (FLQ) kidnapped British diplomat James Cross, and then Quebec Minister of Labour Pierre Laporte.

While James Cross, Pierre Laporte and the FLQ were quickly becoming household names across Canada in the early weeks of October 1970, a small but dedicated band of Canadian science writers was adding the finishing touches towards establishing a Canadian association for science journalists. On Thursday, 15 October 1970, they met late into the evening in Ottawa and revised and approved a draft constitution establishing the Canadian Science Writers’ Association/Association canadienne des rédacteurs scientifiques, known today as the CSWA.

Earlier that Thursday morning, during a briefing held for science writers at the headquarters of the Science Council of Canada in Ottawa, the atmosphere was charged with tension after a regular meeting of the Science Council of Canada planned for the next day in Montreal was abruptly cancelled after the FLQ threatened to kidnap Dr. Roger Gaudry, vice president of the Science Council of Canada, and rector of the University of Montréal. In the early afternoon, the same band of science writers rushed across town to the new multi-million dollar headquarters of the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) to attend a press conference called by the CMA in support of Québec doctors who were on-strike against the Québec’s government’s health insurance plan.

By 7:30 pm later that same Thursday evening, the same band of science writers had been checked through tight security guarding the boardroom of the Science Council of Canada for a meeting, where, within three hours, they revised and approved the draft constitution establishing the CSWA.

Hours later, Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau addressed the nation, and invoked the War Measures Act, giving the police wide ranging powers to arrest and detain suspected FLQ militants. The next day, on Saturday, 17 October 1970, the body of Pierre Laporte was found stuffed in the trunk of a car and abandoned in the bush, after the FLQ announced that they had executed Laporte.

While the founding of the CSWA could hardly compete with the headline news of the October Crisis in October 1970, the quest to raise public awareness of science in Canada began ten years earlier in 1961. Prior to the establishment of the CSWA, a handful of Canadian science writers belonged to the National Association of Science Writers (NASW), an American organisation established in 1934. In June 1961, then NASW president Victor Cohn created a new committee to address the needs of members of the NASW who lived and worked in Canada. Chaired by Leonard Bertin, and including members Fred Poland, David Spurgeon, and Ben Rose, the NASW – Canadian Committee was formally established at a meeting at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montréal in August 1961. The NASW executive extended formal recognition to the Canadian Committee in December 1961, renaming it the Canadian Section of the NASW, with the power to elect its own officers.

In August 1962, during the second annual meeting, held once again at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montréal, the Canadian Committee formally adopted the name Canadian Section of the NASW, and Leonard Bertin was re-elected as chair. Over the next few years, under the guidance of several different leaders, the Canadian Section of the NASW continued to hold its annual meetings in conjunction with the annual conference of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, usually held in January or February each year.

Despite the handful of science writers in Canada at the time, Section members increasingly felt the need for a Canadian association independent of the NASW. At the Section’s 10th annual meeting held in Montréal on 22 January 1970, Section members adopted a resolution to pursue the formation of a Canadian association of science journalists. At a subsequent meeting on 28 May 1970 held in the former Maclean Hunter boardroom in Toronto, a motion was passed to prepare a draft constitution by August 1970. While the deadline was short and ambitious, these dedicated science journalists were used to tight deadlines for copy, and on the evening of 15 October 1970, the draft constitution was revised and adopted and the Canadian Science Writers’ Association was born.

Tucked away in the boardroom of the Science Council of Canada in Ottawa, under tight security, the meeting was chaired by Earl Damude, editor of The Medical Post in Toronto. Dr. Omond M. Solandt, chair of the Science Council of Canada, had generously offered the use of the board room for the meeting. Present at the founding meeting were Leonard Bertin, University of Toronto science editor; David Spurgeon, science reporter for The Globe and Mail and editor of Science Forum; Fred Poland, The Montreal Star; Peter Calamai, Southam News Service, Ottawa; Jeff Carruthers, The Ottawa Journal; David Smithers, The Ottawa Citizen; Heather Carswell, The Medical Post (Montréal); Ian J.S. Moore, MD of Canada (Montréal); Ken Kelly, Canadian Press science editor (Ottawa); and Mac Laing, University of Waterloo journalism professor.

The first annual meeting of the Canadian Science Writers’ Association was held three months after the founding meeting, on 20 January 1971. CSWA members gathered once again in the board room of the Science Council of Canada in Ottawa, in conjunction with the scientific sessions of the annual meeting of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons being held at the Chateau Laurier. Ken Kelly (Canadian Press), was elected the first CSWA president; Jean-Claude Paquet (La Presse), vice-president; and Peter Calamai (Southam News Service), secretary-treasurer. Earl Damude and Herb Lampert were elected active directors, and Jean Baroux and John Hall associate directors. At the same meeting, Wallace Waterfall, Herb Lampert, Leonard Bertin, and David Spurgeon were elected CSWA Life Members in recognition of their earlier contribution as Section members.

Several news items announced the birth of the CSWA. A short piece went over the Canadian press wire the night of 20 January 1971, and was carried by numerous newspapers. A news article appeared in Content, and another item appeared in Pensées, an internal publication of the Science Council of Canada. A week later, Ken Kelly and Peter Calamai appeared in an interview about the CSWA on Ottawa cablevision.  Letters offering best wishes to the CSWA were sent by the Hon. C.M. Drury, President of the Treasury Board; Hon. John C. Munro; Minister of National Health and Welfare; Hon. J.J. Greene, Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources; Dr. Omond M. Solandt, chair of the Science Council of Canada; Dr. W.G. Schneider, president of the National Research Council; John Dauphinee, general manager at Canadian Press; and David Perlman, president of the National Association of Science Writers.

The CSWA held its first annual science writing seminar and conference 12-15 January 1972. The conference was chaired by Dr. Omond M. Solandt from the Science Council of Canada, and held at the Bell-Northern Research Laboratories in Ottawa. Conference delegates paid $2 for luncheons and $4 for dinners during the conference. The CSWA booked a block of rooms at the Bruce Macdonald Motor Inn at Bell’s Corners near the conference site, where single room rates were $6 per night.

Forty-five years later, much has changed. The Science Council of Canada is no longer, replaced by a federal government intent on muzzling scientists. Most FLQ militants returned to Canada from exile in Cuba, and The War Measures Act was been replaced by the Emergencies Act in 1988. James Cross retired from the British diplomatic corps, and is now 94 years old, and the Trudeau most on the minds of Canadians these days is Justin Trudeau, rather than his father Pierre Elliot Trudeau, who passed away in 2000. The CSWA has grown from a small band of science writers into a national organization with more than 350 members and has employed four different Executive Directors since 1989.



Summary of Leadership


CSWA/SWCC Presidents

2018 - 2019    Douglas Keddy, Communications Professional, London, ON

2015 - 2018    Tim Lougheed, freelance journalist, Kingston

2012 - 2015    Stephen Strauss, freelance science writer, Toronto

2011 - 2012    Peter McMahon, freelance science writer, Port Hope

2009 - 2011    Kathryn O’Hara, School of Journalism, Carleton University, Ottawa

2005 - 2009    Tim Lougheed, freelance science writer, Ottawa

2001 - 2005    Véronique Morin, Sociéte Radio-Canada, Montréal

1996 - 2001    Michael Smith, freelance science writer, Toronto

1995 - 1996    Frann Harris, freelance science writer, Regina

1993 - 1995    Mark Lowey, The Calgary Herald

1991 - 1993    Patricia Ohlendorf-Moffat, Pathways Magazine, Toronto

1989 - 1991    Jeffrey Crelinsten, Partner, The Impact Group, Toronto

1987 - 1989    Bud Riley, freelance science writer, Toronto

1985 - 1987    Sandy Stewart, Television Host, Reach for the Top, Toronto

1984 - 1985    Robert Morrow, Communications, Ontario Hydro, Toronto

1983 - 1984    Wallace Immen, The Globe and Mail

1982 - 1983    Marilyn Dunlop, The Toronto Star

1981 - 1982    June Engel, Health News, Toronto

1980 - 1981    Tom Davey, Southam News Service, Ottawa

1979 - 1980    Lydia Dotto, freelance science writer, Toronto

1978 - 1979    Karin Moser, The Ottawa Citizen

1977 - 1978    Neil Morris, The London Free Press

1976 - 1977    Betty Lou Lee, The Hamilton Spectator

1975 - 1976    Joan Hollobon, The Globe and Mail

1974 - 1975    Patrick Finn, The Montreal Star

1973 - 1974    Jean-Claude Paquet, La Presse

1972 - 1973    David Spurgeon, IDRC, Ottawa

1971 - 1972    Ken Kelly, Canadian Press, Ottawa


CSWA/SWCC Executive Directors

2011 - 2018      Janice Benthin, Montréal

2004 - 2011      Kristina Bergen, Port Hope

1991 - 2004      Andy F. Visser-deVries, Toronto and Kingston

1989 - 1991      Catherine Bryant, Toronto


General Managers

2019 - present     Nikki Berreth, Vancouver


Canadian Section of the NASW

1961-1962     Leonard Bertin, The Toronto Star

1963              David Spurgeon, The Globe and Mail

1964-1967      Fred Poland, The Montreal Star

1968              Herb Lampert, The Montreal Gazette

1969-1970      Earl Damude, The Medical Post