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When this question was posed in the industrializing and urbanizing 1870s, a concerned group of highly-respected Canadians under the leadership of the Governor General of Canada began imagining a collective effort to help society benefit from enhanced knowledge and understanding of the past and present. From its first society meeting in 1882 to the granting of a Royal Charter in 1883 to today, the RSC has increasingly fulfilled the potential of such collective effort drawing upon all fields of study. Along the way, Canada has moved from the colonial margins to a privileged place on the world stage. 

At the same time, however, enduring and new questions of change have become even more complex and urgent. How should we reconcile, renew, and innovate in an uncertain world that holds the potential for catastrophe as well as unprecedented quality of life? In the turbulent twenty-first century, the sentiment that motivated the creation of the RSC incites us now to recommit with increased determination to recognize achievement as a way to enhance connections between the scholarly, artistic and scientific communities and the larger society in order to promote knowledge and understanding for the benefit of all. 

From the outset, the RSC sought to create “a working body, not a purely honorary institution” to give life to its mandate, at home and around the world through specific initiatives to advance Canada. During the early years, the Government of Canada provided support to enable the RSC to publish and promote Canadian contributions to urgent global issues. In addition, the RSC worked during the first decades to support the establishment of national institutions such as those known today as the Canadian Museum of Nature, Libraries and Archives Canada, and the National Research Council. 

Throughout the twentieth century, and especially since our centennial in 1967, the RSC has helped move Canada from the margins to centre stage by enhancing the development of robust scholarly, scientific and artistic excellence and engagement. Along the way, the RSC formalized its covenant with the research community at an institutional level, creating an enhanced federation that now includes Institutional Members to further advance the values and goals of the RSC.

To articulate an initial vision for the 21st Century, the RSC published Strategy for Renewal and Growth: The Strategic Plan of the Royal Society of Canada 2012-2017. As part of the implementation of this plan’s renewal and growth objectives, the RSC acquired and renovated a historic building in the heart of Ottawa. Then, in 2014, the RSC established The College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists in order to embrace the full spectrum and richness of Canadian talent among the emerging generation.

Today, Institutional Members, the College and a permanent home in Ottawa enhance the Fellowship of  the three Academies of Arts and Humanities (1), Social Sciences (2) and Science (3) by providing a strong foundation for the next phase of the RSC’s development. This foundation now includes a unique pan-Canadian, multi-generational, cross-disciplinary and internationally-connected capacity to address the most challenging questions, to interpret the most complex issues and to propose the most promising steps-forward in the short, medium and long terms.