CSWA/ACRS celebrates 45th Anniversary

By Andy F. Visser-deVries

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 organisation with more than 350 members and has employed four different Executive Directors since 1989.

Summary of Leadership

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


1971-1972                Ken Kelly, Canadian Press, Ottawa

1972                        David Spurgeon, IDRC, Ottawa

1973                        Jean-Claude Paquet, La Presse

1974                        Patrick Finn, The Montreal Star

1975                        Joan Hollobon, The Globe and Mail

1976                        Betty Lou Lee, The Hamilton Spectator

1977                        Neil Morris, The London Free Press

1978                        Karin Moser, The Ottawa Citizen

1979                        Lydia Dotto, freelance science writer, Toronto

1980                        Tom Davey, Southam News Service, Ottawa

1981                        June Engel, Health News, Toronto

1982                        Marilyn Dunlop, The Toronto Star

1983                        Wallace Immen, The Globe and Mail

1984                        Robert Morrow, Communications, Ontario Hydro, Toronto

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

1987-1989            Bud Riley, freelance science writer, Toronto

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

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

1993-1995            Mark Lowey, The Calgary Herald

1995-1996            Frann Harris, freelance science writer, Regina

1996-2001            Michael Smith, freelance science writer, Toronto

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

2005-2009            Tim Lougheed, freelance science writer, Ottawa

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

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

2012-2015            Stephen Strauss, freelance science writer, Toronto

2015-      Tim Lougheed, freelance journalist, Kingston

CSWA Executive Directors

1989-1991            Catherine Bryant, Toronto

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

2004-2011            Kristina Bergen, Port Hope

2011-2018            Janice Benthin, Montréal

-Andy F. Visser-deVries served as Executive Director of the CSWA from October 1991 to September 2004.