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 Laundry, 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- Stephen Strauss, freelance science writer, Toronto
CSWA Executive Directors
1989-1991 Catherine Bryant, Toronto
1991-2004 Andy F. Visser-deVries, Toronto and Kingston
2004-2011 Kristina Bergen, Port Hope
2011- Janice Benthin, Montréal
-Andy F. Visser-deVries served as Executive Director of the CSWA from October 1991 to September 2004.