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BriefsReportTable of ContentReport IndexRoyal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and SciencesRoyal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and SciencesRoyal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and Sciences

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The Commission will examine and make recommendations upon . . . "relations of the government of Canada and any of its agencies with various national voluntary bodies operating in the field with which this inquiry will be concerned . . ." (From the Terms of Reference).


THE voluntary society has played an important part in modern history from the religious sects and the salons of the seventeenth century through the political clubs of the revolutionary era down to the nineteenth century with its innumerable organizations to aid, prevent, propagate or promote every conceivable end. The importance of voluntary societies in a democracy needs little emphasis in this generation which knows that their suppression is the first move of a dictatorship; but it is perhaps not fully realized to what extent democracy depends upon their activities. The fine tradition of the voluntary society which performs work of national importance beyond what government can or will do is perhaps rightly regarded by English-speaking Canadians as their special contribution to our common life in Canada. This claim is partly although not entirely justified, since France too has had her tradition of voluntary effort; but in a more fully centralized state the role of the voluntary organization has been inevitably less vigorous.

2. We have been much impressed by the vitality of this tradition in our own country. Through briefs and in other ways we have learned something of the multiplicity and the variety of the voluntary organization in Canada. Those societies which have appeared before us came not only to ask for aid but to give valuable information and advice. In discussing their work they have helped us to understand the place of the voluntary society


in Canadian life, its contributions and its problems. There has been a deep concern for the preservation of the voluntary principle and much intelligent discussion of how the government agencies with which we are concerned can help voluntary societies to achieve their aims without interfering with their freedom.

3. We discovered with interest that a number of societies coming before us were able to boast a long and honourable history. The first place--apart from ecclesiastical groups--belongs to the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Montréal founded in June 1834 in the interests of French-speaking Canadians. L'Institut Canadien de Québec was founded in 1842, the Royal Canadian Institute came next in 1849, followed by the Royal Canadian Academy of the Arts in 1880, the Royal Society of Canada in 1882, the Federated Women's Institutes of Canada in 1897 and the Imperial Order, Daughters of the Empire in 1900.

4. Since the beginning of the twentieth century other groups have appeared, constantly increasing in number and variety. (The most recent was announced to us as we wrote this chapter, the Humanities Association of Canada.) With interests ranging from handicrafts to higher mathematics they are sustained by their enthusiasm and tenacity. On one coast we heard that Canada must have a College of Heralds and on the other that chess will eventually replace hockey as our national game. We may not have been entirely convinced, but we found it encouraging to meet people pursuing interests with an energy, and even with a fanaticism reassuring in a country where circumstances have exaggerated the virtues of the conformist.


5. In our examination of the voluntary societies we were struck by the manner in which they reflect the general processes of democracy, adapted to particular conditions in Canada. Many national groups are preserving their own traditions and blending them skilfully into a Canadian pattern, including of course, the original French communities and the disciples of St. George, St. Andrew, St. Patrick and St. David. Nor is regionalism confined to those from overseas. Maritime Associations are found everywhere except in the Atlantic Provinces and, of course, French-speaking groups flourish in English-speaking areas, and vice versa. Such groups by their very existence show the diversity within our unity.

6. The most striking characteristic of our voluntary groups, however, is the way in which they have immediately grasped and endeavoured to cope with a double problem discussed in the previous chapter: sparsely settled areas and their separation from one another by great distances.


In can well be said of Canadian societies that the surprising thing is not that they operate with difficulty but that they operate at all. They have met their challenges with determination and enterprise.

7. The purely local society is not directly affected by problems of distance. We had briefs from innumerable groups devoting themselves more or less seriously to the arts (painting, music, drama, photography, handicrafts) or to intellectual pursuits. With a wide range of interest and talent, from the symphony orchestra to the tiny group of experimental writers, they make their contribution to the pleasure and well-being of their communities.

8. Such societies nonetheless suffer from isolation. They greatly miss the profit and pleasure of outside contacts; and local drama, music or painting groups are often acutely conscious of a sense of isolation only partly remedied by affiliations which they or their professional members may have with the national societies. This has been a matter of general regret with all groups. It was mentioned with special force by the Ontario Historical Society. This organization although confining itself to local history suffers greatly from lack of intellectual exchanges with other bodies of parallel interest elsewhere.

9. Another special problem of the local society is the scantiness of the population. Even in large centres the number of qualified people willing to devote time and money to the promotion of the arts and sciences for their own sake is limited. In a small city or town the burden is likely to fall on a very few shoulders with the result that individuals with a strong sense of responsibility may be overburdened by their "voluntary" efforts. In many cities we were struck by the number of persons who appeared before us several times to represent different organizations. Although we are not unaware of the existence of the over-zealous worker, we received the impression that these were generally people who were persuaded to sacrifice most of their leisure because not enough leaders were available for the work that needed to be done.

10. We were therefore interested to see in several different cities a special kind of voluntary association. This was the "Council" or "Committee" representing a variety of organizations, each leading its separate existence, but combining for some common purpose. In this way time, work and money are saved by avoiding duplication of effort and securing a maximum of co-operation. We received briefs from seven such organizations in five different provinces.1 These may represent arts and crafts societies as in New Westminster, Vancouver and Winnipeg, or all community organizations as in West Vancouver. The object may be simply the economy of effort already mentioned, or it may be the provision of a community centre for various activities. A most interesting account of such a community centre was given to us in Calgary. There, some years


ago, a committee took over a large and well-appointed house. Starting with the modest capital of $300 raised from the sale of paintings donated by local artists, they now have a substantial annual budget and a membership of twenty-four groups representing all arts and crafts. This federation of groups told us of their pride in the results of their joint efforts, and in the fact that those taking part willingly set aside minor differences of opinion for the common benefit.

11. These societies can function more or less adequately in the local sphere, but are forced to husband their limited resources by developing machinery of co-operation which, to those who do not understand the need, might seem over-elaborate. Many learned and professional groups and the numerous societies which exist for a variety of causes which come under the term "education", normally have a national organization.2 The latter are often organized on a local and regional as well as a national basis. Societies like these existing to arouse a sense of interest and responsibility in the public on a large variety of issues, local and national, to exchange ideas on questions of common interest, and occasionally to inspire legislation through the organization of public opinion, find a nation-wide structure a necessity, although it involves a burden of correspondence and heavy travelling expenses. The local group often enjoys a wide autonomy and undertakes on its own responsibility many activities. The general national interest is, however, maintained by national meetings and by the travel of executive members. It should be emphasized that with the exception of a very few learned societies who receive a modest grant from the government, these activities are carried on at the expense of the societies and of the individuals concerned. We think that the determination of national voluntary groups to carry on their work in the face of restricted means and isolation is another encouraging sign of the interest of Canadians not only in the affairs of their own communities but of the nation as a whole.


12. The contributions of voluntary societies to national life in the arts, letters and sciences are referred to in one form or another in every chapter of this Report. Our purpose here is to mention a few of the different kinds of contributions made before considering the relations between voluntary societies and the government or its agencies.

13. The first and obvious achievement of the voluntary society is that it attempts to cope with the problem of "passive entertainment" of which we have heard a good deal. The fact that there is a tendency to spend increasing leisure in gazing and listening or in aimless motoring has been presented to us as a growing threat to culture and even to intelligent


behaviour. The voluntary societies with which we have dealt, by their nature require at least some participation from all their members. It may be true that many societies depend too much on their executives; but even in these societies there must be some general and helpful stirring of conscience among the inactive. It is unnecessary to dwell on the activities of the painters, musicians, actors and others. We should however like to mention the example of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada which includes professional leaders, but seems to achieve a surprising amount of amateur activity in this difficult but popular science. Members, we were told, are encouraged not only to own but to make their telescopes, and one of the largest groups, in Montreal, has no professional leadership. The Société d'Etude et de Conférences works mainly in the fields of literature and the arts. It requires a yearly paper from each member. Some of these papers constitute distinguished contributions in their particular fields.

14. Another contribution of the voluntary society is its support of the general cause of arts, letters and sciences in numerous ways, both direct and indirect. The work of the radio and the school in developing appreciation of the fine arts is recognized, but these are no substitute for the intimate training given by the local group, not only to the performers but to their friends who come to criticize or applaud. Nor can any mass medium replace the training of the music and drama festivals where individuals and groups, " . . . pace one another on the road to excellence".3 Canadian Music Festivals and other voluntary groups all over Canada train the audience and discover and train the artist. They do more. They finance him as well. We were impressed by the large number of musical and dramatic groups which not only provide part-time employment for many of their members, but which promote their professional training by scholarships. Artists' and musicians' groups, though notoriously impecunious, give scholarships to their members and many groups make the raising of money for scholarships their main activity. There are few large funds, but so many small voluntary groups throughout the country offer aid which ranges from a modest bursary to a considerable travelling fellowship that to mention names would be invidious.

15. We heard from a number of groups operated for young people mainly through the activities of their elders. The activities of the Young Men's Christian Association, Young Women's Christian Association, Girl Guides, Boy Scouts and the Association Catholique de la Jeunesse Canadienne-française are well known. We were interested to learn of a number of other groups more directly cultural in their aims. The first Sir Ernest MacMillan Fine Arts Club was founded about 1937 by a staff member of a Vancouver high school, who, deploring what she regarded as the excessive emphasis on athletics for young people, wished to develop interests that would continue to grow as active participation in sports lessened.


The membership is composed of those who without being artists themselves are amateurs in the proper sense of the term, taking their chief pleasure in the arts, and recognizing their responsibility to support the artist in the making. Much of the staff work is done by teachers or other adult friends. The movement has spread from British Columbia into Alberta and Saskatchewan. Similar societies, such as Les Jeunesses Musicales, have been established in eastern Canada. Another body on parallel lines but with somewhat different methods of operation, Les Amis de l'Art, was formed independently in Montreal in 1942. Also in Montreal is L'Orchestre Symphonique des Jeunes de Montréal intended to serve both the young musician and his friends by giving the artist an opportunity to perform and enabling his friends to hear good music inexpensively.

16. To develop an informed public opinion and to guide it into effective channels is another important function of the voluntary society to which reference has been made earlier. The pressure groups are always with us. It is therefore the more important that there should flourish in our society groups devoted primarily to intellectual and artistic purposes which can for that very reason be counted on, when occasion arises, to express sane and intelligent views on public matters. There are of course other organizations whose chief interest is the study and exchange of views on public matters. From some of these we have heard, such as the Canadian Institute of International Affairs, the National Council of Women, the Fédération des Mouvements de Jeunesse du Québec, Les Cercles des Fermières de la Province de Québec, and on a local scale, the Public Affairs Institute of Vancouver and the Discussion Group of Hamilton.

17. A number of important professional organizations offered detailed and informed comment on all the matters included in our Terms of Reference. We heard from the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, the Professional Institute of the Civil Service of Canada, the Canadian Home Economics Association and the Corporation des Agronomes de la Province de Québec. The last two based their remarks on a detailed knowledge of certain special aspects of Canadian life. The Canadian Home Economics Association described with thoroughness and good sense the question of general education in rural homes. The Corporation des Agronomes de la Province de Québec, although speaking primarily as agricultural specialists, took a broad national view of our cultural problems with which they dealt on a generous scale and with characteristic clarity. We have had a carefully reasoned brief from the Canadian Jewish Congress and we were gratified to receive briefs from the three largest religious communities of Canada whose sense of responsibility in the moulding of public opinion was made apparent by their able and thorough treatment of the problems which we are called upon to review.

18. Many voluntary societies may also do excellent work in interpreting official policy to the public. "It is very difficult", says the Alberta Federation


of Home and School Associations, "for the Department of Education to promote good education or to try out new ideas if the public are totally unaware of what they are trying to do. They rebel if new school text books are provided and so on. We try to keep them informed."4 The president of this society is also an official of the Department of Education and, as a consequence, information and criticism readily move in both directions. Information and opinion of an entirely different sort is disseminated by the Société Historique de Québec, which tries through radio work and a daily newspaper column to arouse interest in Quebec's historic past.

19. Every society with a nationwide organization must, through its activities, make some contribution to national unity and understanding. In Canada, however, since we have two main language groups, each imperfectly familiar with the other's language, the contribution of many of our voluntary organizations to this unity and understanding is inevitably somewhat restricted. Some groups have been established mainly to promote bilingualism in French and English, and to increase our sense of unity, such as the Société des Visites Interprovinciales; and, we understand, the Co-ordinating Committee of Canadian Youth Groups. The Comité Permanent de la Survivance Française and the Société Canadienne d'Enseignement Postscolaire, where they operate in predominantly English-speaking areas, naturally serve the same end. We were impressed by the considerable number of national societies which sent to us delegations representing both language groups. The fact remains, however, that while voluntary groups perform a great service to national unity, with the exception of certain learned societies only rarely are they able to cross the boundaries of language.

20. We had many interesting briefs from societies representing groups proud to be able to trace their origins back to various countries in continental Europe. We were impressed by what they are doing to enrich our national heritage by preserving their distinctive and vigorous cultural activities. We were particularly struck by the contribution of these groups to Canadian music and to Canadian ballet.

21. Canadians are constantly reminded of the influences from abroad which have shaped their lives. It was therefore with particular interest that we learned of Canadian influences operating in other countries. Everyone is familiar with the numerous Canadian organizations which belong to international groups and which make their own contribution to the common effort. It may be less well known that the now world-wide Women's Institute movement originated in Ontario. The Musical Festival Movement spread from England to the Prairies, and is from there passing to the American middle west where amateur festivals not infrequently make use of experienced Canadian adjudicators. The Société Canadienne


d'Histoire Naturelle et ses Filiales has spread from Canada to the United States, to France, and to the West Indies.

22. One other very important kind of voluntary contribution must be mentioned. There is a certain mistaken tendency to dismiss disinterested projects of commercial companies as "just advertising". It is most fortunate for Canada that many companies are not satisfied with "just advertising" but have initiated well-planned and generous schemes to maintain good public relations by furthering the arts, the humanities and the sciences. Several companies are giving support to Canadian painters and to the Canadian theatre; textile and chemical firms have given encouragement to many young Canadian singers; a bank is publishing original Canadian short stories, and a company in Western Canada maintains a small but excellent museum and publishes a scholarly historical journal. The publication of an important work on Canadian history was made possible by another firm; and we know of the generosity of many Canadian companies in awarding scholarships amounting in value each year to a very large sum. It gives us pleasure to refer to these enlightened and public-spirited ventures.


23. We consider that the relation of voluntary effort to governmental activity is the focal point of the work of this Commission. Indeed, it would not, we think, be an exaggeration to say that the democratic form of government is made practicable through the work of voluntary organizations which in matters of national importance complement governmental activity and not infrequently initiate projects which subsequently are taken over by the state. Many of the most important and spectacular achievements of Great Britain during the last century have been the direct consequences of the activities of voluntary societies, from polar exploration to prison reform, from libraries to life-saving, from art galleries to aeronautics. Much the same has been true in France, and in Canada we have stoutly maintained this principle of public service on a voluntary basis. On the important and difficult question of the relations between governmental and voluntary activities we have been glad to benefit from the experience of many of the voluntary organizations themselves. There is general agreement on the need to maintain individual initiative and a sense of responsibility and at the same time to take advantage of the economy of effort made possible by the services of certain governmental agencies in the modern state.

24. As to the best practical means of achieving this end we heard widely differing views. A number of groups warn against too much government aid, and, above all, against the measure of supervision which must go with


it: "Any help that should be given . . . should be very indirect. The greatest danger . . . that may face this sort of thing may be over-paternalism and guidance, over-solicitous guidance".5 This was the opinion of an official who had been authorized to use an amount of government money to bring together various groups in the Northern Ontario Art Association. Another witness in western Canada, experienced in adult education, warned that government aid can be excessive, inappropriate and meddling. Such help may duplicate voluntary effort or it may be given to meet a temporary need, and end, through official zeal, in discouraging voluntary effort. Apart from the benefit to those participating, good voluntary effort, we were reminded, is in the long run cheaper and more efficient than direct action by the government.

25. We received, however, an interesting statement from one who has had considerable experience as the servant both of voluntary societies and of a government agency. He warned us of the danger of regarding the activities of voluntary societies and of the government as mutually exclusive. He also protested against the unquestioning assumption that voluntary effort is good and government action is, if not bad, at least dangerous.

"Voluntary societies are not always good. They often have very narrow goals, are machinery for the expression of personal advancement, persist long after their usefulness because the officers need them to maintain status in the community, have difficulty developing and changing as the needs of their members change. It is customary to describe government workers as bureaucrats, but nothing is more bureaucratic than a society that hasn't changed its officers in ten or twenty years."6

26. With these varied warnings in mind we have considered the mass of information that has come before us on the relation of the government to the voluntary society. We were first struck by the way in which governments in Canada, both federal and provincial, have enmeshed their activities with those of voluntary societies until very often it is impossible to think of the one without the other. There is no doubt a connection between these joint efforts and the hard facts of Canadian geography and of the Canadian constitution. For example, five national voluntary activities of very great educational importance, the National Farm Radio Forum, the Citizens' Forum, Le Choc des Idées, Les Idées en Marche, and the Film Councils, depend completely on national radio or film services. These voluntary efforts grew out of services offered by the government and its agencies, which in turn often make their chief contribution through the work of the societies. There is no question here of aid given or received but of mutual effort.

27. There are other examples of combined governmental and voluntary effort related to our geography and constitution. The Canadian Association


for Adult Education and the Société Canadienne d'Enseignement Postscolaire have a joint planning commission through which they consult regularly more than fifty bodies, including national societies, provincial departments of education, provincial universities and such federal agencies as the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the National Film Board and the Department of Agriculture. The Canadian Council for Reconstruction through UNESCO combined the efforts of some forty groups including voluntary societies, the National Film Board and the Department of Health and Welfare. The Canadian Welfare Council co-operates with very many voluntary groups, with municipal and provincial governments, and with the national government.

28. We have learned that this difficult question of the relation between the government agency and the voluntary society cannot be expressed simply in terms of aid from the public purse. More often than not something must be done which cannot appropriately be done by the government alone but which for various reasons may be beyond the competence of a voluntary society. Their joint efforts are not inspired solely or even principally by the need for financial aid. But many of them receive considerable aid, direct and indirect, through services and personnel from both federal and provincial governments. Some provincial governments, notably the province of Quebec, are most generous in their direct patronage of the arts and letters. Yet, in general, successive Federal Governments have shown little interest in these fields. Voluntary societies do indeed receive federal aid--at present $791,504 is granted to some twenty-four different groups including $356,876 to Fairs and Exhibitions and $115,200 to Military Associations and Institutes. Only five of these organizations, however, are concerned with cultural matters, and these five together receive $21,000. If national interest in voluntary effort in the arts, letters and sciences were expressed by existing grants of money from the Federal Government, Canada could scarcely be called a civilized nation.

29. The present tendency is toward increasing governmental action undertaken in co-operation with a voluntary group. Most voluntary groups which have considered this problem have referred to the way in which the arts were preserved and fostered in Great Britain during the recent war. The body now known as the Arts Council of Great Britain was founded in 1940 with some initial support from a private source. It was established as the Arts Council by Royal Charter in 1946. Its members are appointed and its funds supplied entirely by the government. Its object is to develop a

"greater knowledge, understanding and practice of the fine arts . . . and in particular to increase the accessibility of the fine arts to the public . . . to improve the standard of execution of fine arts and to advise and cooperate with our government departments, local auth-


orities and other bodies on any matters concerned directly or indirectly with those objects".7

Since 1940, when its budget amounted to £50,000, the Arts Council has steadily extended its activities. Its grant for l948-l949 was £575,000.

30. The British experience has inspired great interest among Canadian voluntary bodies. There seems to be general agreement, however, that although many local groups neither need nor want direct government aid, and some in view of their purposes could not accept it, a large number concerned with arts and letters think that their usefulness could be increased by judicious help. Symphony orchestras, operatic and ballet groups, dramatic companies cannot carry on their very expensive activities without assistance from some outside source; and in Canada today that assistance can hardly be expected except from the government.

31. We observed above that five learned or cultural organizations now receive federal subsidies amounting in all to $21,000. These societies are: the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, the Royal Canadian Academy of the Arts, the Canadian Writers' Foundation, the United Nations Association in Canada and the Royal Society of Canada. We have noticed, however, that voluntary organizations interested in other fields are much more generously supported from federal funds; for example, the Canadian Olympic Association receives $17,500 and the Canadian General Council of Boy Scouts $15,000. We have noticed also that the Department of National Defence makes a grant to "Military Associations and Institutes" of $115,200. In all the representations made to us on this subject we are unable to discover any explanation for these discrepancies between grants made for purposes which presumably are at least equally worthy. We think that a total grant of $21,000 from federal sources is a completely inadequate reflection of public interest in the field of the arts and letters.

32. Our impression is that most voluntary societies would agree that to extend the present rigid and meagre system of annual grants without reference to special needs or special projects would not be the best way of encouraging voluntary effort. The various plans suggested for an Arts Council, different as they are in detail, all seem to have the merit of providing public aid in a manner at once more generous and more flexible than in the past. Two provinces, Alberta and Saskatchewan, have initiated projects for arts boards which are still in the experimental stage but which show promise for the future. We are of the opinion that the public is in favour of much fuller government co-operation in future with voluntary effort in the arts, letters and sciences. There seems to be a general desire that any aid given should be administered by a body similar to the Arts Council of Great Britain rather than by a government department.

* From: Canada. Royal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters, and Sciences. Report. Ottawa : King's Printer, 1951. By permission of the Privy Council Office.

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