Chapter 9

MATURE SOCIETY

The mark of maturity in a society is that it begins to take a broad, objective look at its accomplishments and its role in the social and political context. This usually results in three sorts of activities: it begins to make its voice heard in public places, it undertakes to help its members in various ways to overcome specific difficulties associated with such problems as language minority, indifference and hostility in high places, or breaking into the field at the start of a career, and it begins to recognize its own illustrious members, both alive and dead.

To be sure, the Society did go public and announce its birth in the newspapers (see Chapter 4), but initially it was strongly introspective and preoccupied with its own affairs. By the middle 1960’s, however, the Society began to look outside itself. In 1965 a committee was established to survey plant physiology in Canada, and in 1967 Drs. D.T. Canvin, D.R. McCalla, E.R. Waygood, and G. Krotkov produced an effective and hard-hitting report that was eventually, after much discussion within the Society, forwarded to relevant government agencies. The report analysed the growth of the discipline, research support, areas that needed reinforcement, and the training of new plant physiologists. Its recommendations were fair and its demands wholly reasonable. In fact, they are as applicable (and as necessary!) today as they were then. Whether they had any impact on government or any other persons in positions of power is hard to say. One of the most discouraging aspects of any efforts to alert the government to requirements or urgent necessities (whether for science or for the country as a whole) is its stony absence of response.

The Society became a subscribing member of the Biological Council of Canada in 1966, and enthusiastically endorsed its objectives. Several Canadian plant physiologists have served as officers of the BCC over the years, and have helped to develop its programs. Its efforts at lobbying for improved recognition and support for biological science in Canada were not rewarded by spectacular successes, but it did considerable service just keeping these issues alive and before the government, which acted as if it wished they did not exist. The Society also cooperated with the CFBS, the Royal Society of Canada and SCITEC in attempts to press important issues with the Canadian Government. As usual, not all these efforts were immediately visible or fruitful. However, there is no question that the constant maintenance of pressure prevented more serious erosion of the position of science in Canada during the late 1960s and 1970s, and may even have helped advance it a little in some areas.

The Society published (together with the IAPP) an international list of plant physiologists in its first year of existence. Later, it published its full membership in its Annual Proceedings, a practice it has had to abandon recently because of cost. Early in its development it considered publishing a booklet for schools describing career opportunities in plant physiology. However, it was thought better to support the re-publication and distribution of the BCC booklet, Why Biology, which was considered to be more appealing to students because it was more general in scope. Nevertheless, the Society has always responded to public need, political or social, as strongly as it could.

Perhaps the clearest sign of maturity came in 1964 when the Society was renamed The Canadian Society of Plant Physiologists/La Société Canadienne de Physiologie Végétale. This change went far beyond merely recognizing the fact of bilingualism, or accommodating our French-speaking colleagues. It was the unanimous expression by the English-speaking majority in the Society of the equality in fact, if not in numbers, of the two founding cultures and languages of Canada. However, it was not until 1970, at the Ste-Foy meeting in the Province of Quebec, that a French translation of the Constitution appeared, ably carried out by Roger Paquin. It was formally adopted next year, on a motion by A.C. Neish and D.S. Fensom.

Although the Society is now formally bilingual, the low proportion of French-speaking members from Quebec has been a cause for concern over the years. Plant physiology is inadequately represented as a discipline in the francophone institutions of the Province of Quebec, and francophone students of plant physiology have very few opportunities either for study or for employment in Quebec. This is doubly unfortunate since some of Canada’s most distinguished plant physiologists, including several members of the Executive (see Appendix IV) have been members of the francophone community. Recent action by Dave Fensom and others has served to bring this problem into the open; its solution is not yet in sight.

The recognition of merit is a sign of maturity: Dr. D.C. Mortimer remarked when the first Gold Medal was struck that "the Society has finally come of age." As far back as 1964 the question was raised whether an award honoring the early Canadian plant physiologists G.W. Scarth and G.H. Duff would be appropriate. In 1966 it was deemed that "the time was not ripe" for such an award, but nevertheless a committee was formed under the chairmanship of Dr. M. Shaw to explore the idea. This committee worked quickly, and the "Canadian Society of Plant Physiologists Medal" to be awarded for "outstanding public contributions" and "distinguished service to plant physiology…in Canada" became enshrined in our Constitution in 1967. The design of the medal was left to the Executive under Don Mortimer as President, and he continued to work on this project long after he left that office. A final design was produced in 1969, and was adopted as the formal insignia of the Society in 1970, appearing on official Society documents and letterheads. The now familiar face of the medal, which represents a montage of plant physiological themes, adorns the cover of this book. The less familiar obverse bears a charming representation of the twin-flower, Linnaea borealis (said to be Linnaeus’ favorite flower), and a space for engraving the name of the recipient and the date of the award.

The first CSPP Gold Medallist was Dr. A.C. Neish, a most appropriate choice. Dr. B.G. Cumming, who as President of the Society in 1970 announced the award, started a delightful tradition by keeping the name secret until the very end of his award speech, dropping clues as he spoke, but so artfully disguised that many of his hearers did not become aware of the recipient’s name until the last. It was established, and is now traditional, that the Gold Medallist gives his gold Medal Address at the next Scientific Meeting following his receipt of the award. These traditions have been followed for all the subsequent Gold Medallists, who are listed in Table 5. This custom of honoring its distinguished members also serves to bring recognition to the Society as a whole by drawing the attention of plant physiologists all over the world to its accomplishments.

Initially the medal was awarded every year (Table 5), but the fear that we might eventually run out of eminent plant physiologists and concerns about the price of gold soon changed this to every two or three years. In fact, the first fear proved to be groundless, while the second became a pressing reality. The medals are now made of silver, plated with gold. The initial medal, of solid gold, cost $315.00, and the Chairman of the Medal Committee complacently observed that "there was no advantage to having a bunch banged out and putting them in storage." He is certainly our nominee for the Muddy Crystal Ball of the Year award!

Besides the Gold Medal, which tends more to honor the "elder statesmen" of the Society, a move began some years ago to develop an award that would recognize the "brilliant younger men" who are still developing their careers. At the same time, the new award was to honor the memory of C.D. Nelson, one of Canada’s most outstanding plant physiologists, whose tragic death occurred in his forty-first year in 1968. Accordingly, in 1977 the C.D. Nelson Award was established to recognize young plant physiologists (the age limit was then 35, later revised to 40) whose "outstanding research contributions" showed "originality and independence of thought." Dr. Derek Bewley was the first scientist so honored, and two other young Canadian plant physiologists have since received this distinguished award (see Table 6).

One last brief point. The attainment of maturity implies growth and development. These have certainly taken place. The Society is five times larger than it was 25 years ago, now having well over 400 members, and it has developed in many ways. As a consequence of its growth, that willing dog’s body of the Executive, the Secretary-Treasurer, found his labors becoming more and more intense. The breaking point was reached in 1972, when this useful officer was dissected and the separate offices of Secretary and Treasurer were created (see Appendix IV). It is a nice example of well established principle of plant physiology. Growth and development: one seldom occurs in a health organism without the other!

 

Table 5. Gold Medallists of the Canadian Society of Plant Physiologists 

1970

A.C. Neish

National Research Council, Halifax, N.S.1

1971

M. Shaw

University of British Columbia, Vancouver, B.C.

1972

D. Siminovitch

Agriculture Canada, Ottawa, Ont.2

1973

G.H.N. Towers

University of British Columbia, Vancouver, B.C.

1976

O.L. Gamborg

National Research Council, Saskatoon, Sask.3

1979

R.G.S. Bidwell

Queen’s University, Kingston, Ont.3

1981

D.T. Canvin

Queen’s University, Kingston, Ont.

1Deceased 2Retired 3Moved

 

Table 6. Winners of the C.D. Nelson Award 

 1978

J.D. Bewley

University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta

1979

M.T. Tyree

University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario

1982

J.D. Mahon

Prairie Regional Lab., N.R.C.C., Saskatoon, Sask.

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