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Société canadienne pour la recherche nautique


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Ties That Bind: the Roots of NASOH and the CNRS

The following has been most gracioulsy submitted by Dr. W.A.B. Douglas. Alec was President of our Society from 1990 to 1993 and is also known for his work and leadership at the Directorate of History, Department of National Defence.

In about the year 1970 a bunch of Canadians went to Orono, Maine, at the invitation of Clark Reynolds, for a meeting organized by the Canadian/US studies department at the University of Maine. Keith Matthews and Gerry Panting, fresh from acquiring the maritime history archive from Liverpool, came from Memorial University, Don Schurman and some graduate students came from Queens and I came from Ottawa, where I was Senior Historian at the Directorate of History. Because public transportation to Orono was difficult (incredible train timetables and complicated flight schedules) I took the bus to Kingston and bummed a ride in Don's new car. He said it was fine, because he had just bought this new big American car. It was a compact, there were six of us in it, we were all over six feet and after crossing the border by a back road in which our wheels were up to the hubcaps in mud (it was early spring), the car refused to start after we had lunched in a small town south of the border. Fortunately, it was standard drive and we were able to start it with a vigorous push, then kept it running until we reached our destination. We survived the crush by rotating seat positions every couple of hours. Don got the starter motor fixed at a garage in Orono over the weekend.

The meeting, run mostly by Bill McAndrew, (he would a couple of years later decide, when his children came home spouting the American oath of allegiance, it was time to find a job in Canada, which brought him to the Directorate of History), was of good scholarly calibre and a social success. The purpose of the meeting was, however, not simply for advancement of academic knowledge but to invite the participants to form a society devoted to the study of maritime (that is, marine as opposed to maritime provinces) history. Clark Reynolds, a devout Mahanist, coined the term "Oceanic", which was acceptable to all of us, and then explained that such a society would form the basis of an American Commission of the International Commission of Maritime History. Since Keith Matthews was already the Canadian delegate to the International Commission, we explained that although we were glad to help form NASOH, we would need to form a separate Canadian society to meet our own needs, since it would be awkward, indeed unacceptable, to be represented by U.S. delegates to the International Commission.

Consequently, from the very first meeting of NASOH, Canadian members were understood to have their own organization to look after participation in the International Commission. We had our own business meeting and formed a Canadian Society for the Promotion of Nautical Research. Over the next few years we would gradually trim that down to Canadian Nautical Research Society, and Faye Kert will remember that, in 1982, with Dan Harris we drew up our constitution and fulfilled the requirements of Revenue Canada to acquire charitable status. Not until May, 1984, did we have a publication, The Precambrian, the Newsletter of the Central Canada Section of the Canadian Society for the Promotion of Nautical Research, which arose from a meeting on 10 February 1984 to discuss Canadian marine archives, edited by Ken Mackenzie. As Ken explained, the main purpose of the newsletter was

... to pave the way for a permanent journal for the CSPNR...unabashedly patterned on The Mariner's Mirror. We are timing its initial appearance for 1986, to coincide with the transportation-oriented international fair to be held in Vancouver...

Keith Matthews, our first president, had died on 10 May 1984, and the following month we held our first conference (apart from sessions at CHA conferences in previous years) at RMC. Emily Cain, Alec Douglas, Lewis Fischer, Dan Harris, Faye Kert, Ken Mackenzie, Marc Milner. R.L. Schnarr, Maurice Smith, Dugald Stewart and Glenn Wright attended the business meeting. Skip Fischer raised the subject of a journal at this meeting. To quote from the minutes:

...Maurice Smith observed it was a function of membership. He tabled an estimate of expenses ... which showed that four 72 page issues a year at about $4000 an issue, and with other expenses, could run to as much as $25000 a year. All agreed that without a solid membership base a journal was out of the question, but Fischer did observe that a gradual movement towards such an objective, for instance by building on the newsletter and publishing biannually instead of quarterly, was possible. Emily Cain volunteered, should we have the necessary financial support, to look after typography. Mackenzie emphasized that we should be making a positive move towards a journal, and Fischer agreed, but thought such a move should begin with a membership drive and a newsletter. Moved by Fischer, seconded by Kert, to table the idea of a journal to be discussed next year.

These minutes appeared in the first newsletter of the society as a whole (the idea of regional sections had a very short life), under the title The Canadian - with the subheading "WHAT TITLE DO YOU SUGGEST?", and the next issue came out as Argonauta, a name for which I claim some credit, having suggested it as the title of the journal rather than a newsletter, because we were assuming that the newsletter would turn into a journal rather than continuing as a separate publication.

At our annual meeting, 29 May 1985, we noted that American Neptune cost abut $10,000 an issue. Professor David McGinnis, of the University of Calgary, asked for sponsorship from the society to publish a feasibility report for a journal of maritime history, resulting in the motion:

The Canadian Nautical Research Society, in view of its stated intention of publishing a first class journal of nautical history, and its need to examine the feasibility of such a project, after careful review of the proposal for a feasibility study by Professor David McGinnis ...considers that this project merits endorsement by the society.

By this time our membership was up to 162, largely from Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, BC and Newfoundland, and we had about $2300 in the bank.

In June 1986 the question of the journal was discussed in Argonauta. The editor pointed out that the only person who had contacted him with constructive, optimistic comments was Skip Fischer, and he recommended a workshop on the theme "Towards the establishment of a Canadian Maritime History Journal". In his 1988 presidential address Barry Gough spoke of a journal "of the highest quality, with excellent illustrations, design and layout." By this time our membership was over 200, and Argonauta was publishing extensive book reviews. And in this year Ken Mackenzie found it necessary to step down as editor. Skip Fischer took over, and the Maritime Studies Research Unit at Memorial University provided us with vital support. In the January 1989 issue the editor said "we are reasonably confident that the first issue" of a journal would appear in 1990. Olaf Janzen was earmarked as editor and a call for a name was put out. "We want a name that will convey the strengths of CNRS and Canadian maritime studies..." In July 1990 Skip Fischer reported that the funds had been raised to support a quarterly publication of about 60 pages an issue, leaving only the cost of printing to CNRS. Finally in January 1991 the first issue of The Northern Mariner (I believe Barry Gough proposed the name) appeared with the important editorial comment: "The Canadian Nautical Research Society has three primary goals: to stimulate nautical research in Canada; to enhance our understanding of Canada's maritime heritage; and to foster communications and co-operation among those interested in nautical affairs...The inaugural issue of The Northern Mariner/Le marin du nord is the culmination of this commitment..."

The subsequent development of the journal, and change of editors, are well known to the present officers of the society. Bill Glover and Faye Kert have continued the thrust of the journal, weathering various crises, and continue to produce a first class journal. John Hattendorf, who first approached CNRS about The Northern Mariner, is an internationalist. In the maritime history conference held in Halifax in 1985, he presented a paper on Admiral Richard G. Colbert, who was responsible for the creation of Standing Naval Force Atlantic. Hattendorf writes in his introduction to the subject "there is an essential commonality among those who go down to the sea in ships. Richard Colbert has been one of the few senior admirals in the United States Navy to champion this...view." Some years ago in an interview with Admiral Dan Mainguy I found that Colbert impressed Mainguy in exactly the same way. This view of common interests among those who follow the sea is a basis of real strength in the future of our two societies and of our journal.

 

Alec Douglas has asked me to add a few words covering the period since he wrote this article. In 2006 this Society entered into an agreement with NASOH that the Northern Mariner/Le marin du nord, the Journal of the Canadian Nautical Research Society would henceforth be in association with the North American Society for Oceanic History and distributed to their membership. Bill Glover and Faye Kert continued the thrust of the journal, weathering various crises, until Bill was elected to municipal office. Faye has continued with the Book Reviews, and Roger Sarty, professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, took Bill's place starting with Vol. XVI, No. 3 (July 2006) of The Northern Mariner/Le marin du nord; I had started as executive editor for the previous issue. The Editorial Board is now chaired by Bill Glover and has added a number of NASOH members to its ranks.

The late Bill Schleihauf and Maurice Smith ensured both editorial and production roles for Argonauta until very recently when Isabel Campbell and Colleen McKee graciously assumed these responsibilites.

Paul Adamthwaite
March 2011.

 

 
Canadian Nautical Research Society - Société canadienne pour la recherche nautique
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Last revised: 11 Mar 2011
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