April 2018

Message from the Editor - Gary Libben

Message from the President - Une révolution majeure à l’Académie des arts et des lettres! - Jean Grondin

Sir Sandford Fleming, 1827-1915 - By Cheryl Krasnick Warsh, Vancouver Island University

***

Message from the Editor - Gary Libben

Gary Libben

RSC Leadership in Transdisciplinarity

I would first wish to thank our President of Academy I of the RSC, Prof. Jean Grondin, and Prof. Cheryl Warsh for their insightful and informative contributions to this Bulletin.   Prof. Grondin began his Presidency at our 2017 AGM in Winnipeg and Prof. Warsh was elected as an RSC Fellow at that same meeting.

It is amazing that over four months have already gone by since then!  I, personally, find the RSC AGMs to be a privilege to attend. The meetings provide the opportunity to celebrate the achievements of extraordinary colleagues. They also provide an opportunity to learn from those colleagues.

It seems to me that the effectiveness of the learning opportunities that the RSC makes available at the AGM reflect its effectiveness in providing a transdisciplinary meeting ground for the development of new ideas, insights, interventions, and applications.  I have seen how RSC Fellows find the linguistic means by which complex, and sometimes difficult, concepts can be explained without resorting to discipline-internal vocabulary. This is something that looks easy when it is done well.  But it is not easy at all. It is the key to effective transdisciplinarity—something for which the RSC may have unique ability and responsibility.

I understand transdisciplinarity to be the endpoint of a continuum that begins with experts from different disciplines contributing to the solution of a problem and moves toward the development of new concepts that are built upon the lexicons of contributing disciplines.  It seems to me that this transdisciplinary process of conceptual and lexical development is key to the intellectual breakthroughs that spawn new academic domains and create solutions that make a difference in the world.

True transdisciplinarity is not easily achieved.  Perhaps for this reason, it has been both ‘almost within reach’ and ‘just beyond our grasp’ for a very long time. But it seems to me that the RSC can provide a model for how it can be done well.  My experience in Winnipeg is that it is done extraordinarily well.  It is also my hope that this Bulletin will advance transdisciplinary perspectives and transdisciplinary discussion.  The new history section of the Bulletin, begun by Professor Warsh in this issue, does this through the manner in which it is written and the manner in which it celebrates the life of a person who used his gifts to make a difference in amazingly disparate domains.

I invite colleagues to build upon this model and to contribute articles that are designed to enable the tools and insights of their disciplines to assist in the advancement of others. I am convinced that the scholars and artists of Academy I are in a unique position to create a model for how such transdisciplinarity can be achieved.

Message from the President - Une révolution majeure à l’Académie des arts et des lettres! - Jean Grondin

Jean GrondinJe l’avoue, ce titre n’avait pour but que d’attirer votre attention et vous inciter à lire ce bulletin qui paraît depuis la fin de 2017. Ce bulletin est, à dire le vrai, la première des res novae à notre Académie. Pourquoi ce bulletin? Avec le président Kennedy, ou celui qui rédigeait ses discours, je suis presque tenté de répondre : pourquoi pas? Les deux autres Académies, celles des sciences sociales (l’Académie 2) et celle des sciences (l’Académie 3) – je rappelle leurs noms parce que tous ne s’y retrouvent pas toujours dans cet organigramme d’Académies et de « divisions » qu’est la Société royale (nous sommes bien sûr l’Académie 1, et notre Académie comprend trois divisions : 1. Humanities, 2. Lettres et sciences humaines, 3. Arts) – ont leurs bulletins depuis longtemps. Pourquoi les lettres et les sciences humaines, qui dépendent tant de la trace écrite, se priveraient-elles d’un tel bulletin? Ce bulletin remplace ceux que l’on recevait autrefois par le courrier postal et qui nous donnaient des informations à propos de l’Académie à laquelle on appartenait. Ces informations sont aujourd’hui transmises plus rapidement par le site de la SRC et les courriels que nous recevons de la SRC. Qu’est-ce qui doit paraître dans ce bulletin? La réponse est que ce bulletin appartient à ses membres, tous ceux et celles qui font partie de l’Académie 1, et ceux qui, dans le vaste public cultivé, s’intéresseront à leurs activités (c’est ainsi que l’on peut lire avec profit les derniers bulletins de l’Académie 2 et de l’Académie 3 si l’on veut avoir une petite idée des questions qui y sont débattues). Si vous voulez nous parler de vos recherches ou vous exprimer sur une question dont vous pensez qu’elle pourrait intéresser les autres membres, n’hésitez pas à nous faire parvenir vos textes (courts), vos suggestions et vos questions. Nous serons heureux de vous lire, de vous publier et de vous diffuser.

La Société royale est surtout elle-même quand elle organise des activités qui donnent à penser et qui permettent d’élargir nos horizons, tout en honorant nos meilleurs chercheurs et créateurs. C’est l’une des intentions de l’Assemblée générale annuelle qui se tient dans la troisième semaine de novembre et qui aura lieu cette année, à Halifax, du 18 au 21 novembre. Deux autres activités méritent d’être signalées. Le 13 avril se tiendra à l’UQAM (à 9h30 dans la salle DR-200 du Pavillon Athanase-David) une activité du « Chapitre Québec » (relancé à cette occasion; cela fait aussi partie des res novae) de la SRC qui honorera les nouveaux membres, des trois Académies et du Collège, issus du Québec. L’après-midi des chercheurs de nos Académies discuteront, au même endroit, avec le Ministre des affaires intergouvernementales du Québec, Jean-Marc Fournier, des propositions constitutionnelles présentées par le gouvernement du Québec dans un document intitulé Québécois, notre façon d’être canadiens, qui fut déposé, ce ne fut pas un hasard, à l’occasion du 150e anniversaire de la Confédération. Quoi que l’on pense de cette Confédération, et tous nos membres auront leurs idées sur la question, la question de la place du Québec mérite d’être discutée. Tous les membres de notre Académie sont invités à cette activité, qui nous permettra aussi de mieux nous connaître. D’autres événements importants de la SRC se tiendront ce printemps à l’occasion du G7 dont le Canada est l’hôte cette année. Ces G7 rassemblent, comme chacun sait, des dirigeants politiques, mais il est moins connu qu’il réunit aussi des scientifiques des sept pays du G7 et de leurs Académies, qui s’attaqueront à quelques-uns des plus grands enjeux de l’heure. Un premier Sommet des Académies du G7 a eu lieu à Ottawa du 18 au 20 mars, et un autre aura lieu à Montréal du 22 au 24 mai. Au moment d’écrire ces lignes, son programme définitif n’est pas encore disponible, mais vous pourrez le trouver sur le site de la SRC sous l’onglet « Événements ».

À l’interne, la SRC et notre Académie ont toujours le souci, et le devoir, de rendre leur gouvernance plus rigoureuse et plus transparente. La SRC a ainsi produit au début de cette année un Guide opérationnel des académies qui précise les tâches et les fonctions de tous les comités et de tous ses officiers. Il est certainement plus lisible que les « Statuts de la SRC » et nous aide à y voir plus clair dans les structures de la SRC. Un autre document stimulant a vu le jour cette année, le Plan stratégique 2018-2022 de la SRC intitulé Mobiliser, Stimuler, Soutenir, trois verbes directeurs qui s’ajoutent à ceux qui nous orientent depuis plusieurs années, Promouvoir, Reconnaître, Conseiller. Je ne sais pas si l’on doit parler de révolution, mais les choses bougent.

Sir Sandford Fleming, 1827-1915 - By Cheryl Krasnick Warsh, Vancouver Island University

Cheryl WarshSir Sandford Fleming is the ideal candidate to launch our series on the early Fellows of the Royal Society of Canada.  A civil engineer, surveyor, inventor and scientist, Fleming was a polymath who epitomized the flowering of science and technology in the Victorian age.

Like many of Canada’s political, business and scientific leaders in the early years of the British-Canadian colonies and early Dominion, Fleming spoke with a Scottish brogue. He was born in Kirkcaldy, in the Scottish Lowlands in 1827, and emigrated to Canada in 1845. He was educated in science and engineering and returned to Scotland to apprentice in engineering, then joined the engineering staff of the Ontario, Simcoe and Huron Railway. In 1857, he was chief engineer of the consolidated Northern Railway, during the great age of railroad expansion which established the blueprint, and sovereignty, of the Canadian colonies. 

By then, he had married a Peterborough woman, Ann Jane (Jean) Hall, with whom he would have nine children, seven of whom survived infancy. Fleming was a deeply attached family man, and his oldest son, Frank Andrew, accompanied him on his great Western surveying expedition in 1872. 

In 1863, John A. Macdonald’s government appointed him chief surveyor and engineer of the proposed Intercolonial Railway joining Canada East (Quebec) to the Maritime colonies. The Intercolonial was the first, and key, ingredient towards Confederation. With each step the strong, vigorous Fleming plodded upon his snowshoes through the inhospitable Gaspe winter, he was creating the links between physically distant, locally oriented, and culturally diverse collections of towns, farmsteads, and the occasional bustling city.

Fleming then backed a British-Canadian railroad linking the Intercolonial to the Pacific Ocean, again acting as the physical developer of Macdonald’s vision of a continental nation in the model of, and run by, Empire Ontario. When Fleming returned to London to petition the Colonial Office to back the transcontinental railroad, there were several motivations behind his urgency. The United States were in the throes of a vicious Civil War that manifested itself not simply in the southern and northeastern states, but in massacres and anarchy through Kansas, Utah, Colorado and other points west which were uncomfortably close to the unprotected, unmarked British-Canadian borders nominally patrolled by the Hudson’s Bay Company. As the Hudson’s Bay Company’s lease was expiring in 1871, both British and Canadian politicians were anxious to achieve annexation of the territory to the newly minted Canadian state. 

Canadian sovereignty over the former Rupert’s Land would be challenged not only by American traders, but by the Indigenous inhabitants, specifically the Metis and Cree of the Red River settlement and surrounding districts. By plotting the potential routes for the railway, Fleming’s surveying teams established lines and borders through traditional Metis property in Red River, sparking the first Riel Rebellion. Yet Fleming himself had no particular hatred for the Metis; he insisted that all Indigenous employees on his survey teams be paid the same wages as their White counterparts.

The Rebellion spurred on the Canadian government’s actions to build the transcontinental railway as quickly as possible. Fleming recommended its construction to be in the northern parts of prairies, known as the ‘fertile belt.’ The Canadian Pacific Railroad consortium and the government, however, chose the southern route, closest to the American border, which by the mid-1870s, was eyed less with the fear of invasion than with the glint of potential trade.

The next grandiose technological vision Sandford Fleming nursed to fruition was the laying of the Pacific telecommunications cable in 1902 between Canada and Australia. He considered this to be a consolidating link for the British Empire.

His final, and truly global achievement, would be his advocacy of a worldwide standard of time. The railroad was rapidly shrinking the world, and the traditional practice of every locality setting its own clocks was inefficient and impractical in an increasingly hurried world with places to go. Fleming’s vision of mean or standard time was not the national or regional setting of one-hour time zones; he referred to the “universal or cosmic” day – a global system of standardized times based on an international date line. There were other individuals who proffered the idea of standard time, but it was Fleming who waded through the snobbishness of the British, the anti-Anglo rivalry of the French, and the basic disinterest of other parties, and wore down opposition through building alliances and support in the new professional organizations like The American Society of Civil Engineers and the Royal Society of Canada.

So significant, and global, is this achievement that the ordinary citizen will conceive of time zones, like longitudes and latitudes, as natural forces that have always been there, rather than human measurement of mother earth. For this and other achievements, he was created a Commander (1877) and then Knight Commander of the order of St. Michael and St. George (1897). And did I mention he designed the first Canadian postage stamp?

For more reading, see:

M. Creet, “Sandford Fleming and Universal Time,” Scientia Canadensis (1990)

Lorne Edmund Green, Sandford Fleming (1980)

“Sir Sandford Fleming,” The Canadian Encyclopedia.