Royal Canadian Institute

The Royal Canadian Institute is now the oldest surviving scientific society in Canada. It was founded in 1849 by a small group of civil engineers, architects and surveyors led by Sir Sandford FLEMING. By its Royal Charter of Incorporation (5 November 1851), the Canadian Institute, as it was then called, was charged with "the encouragement and general advancement of the Physical Sciences, the Arts and Manufactures." The Institute was also to commence "the formation of a Museum...to promote the purposes of Science and the general interests of society." Members gave and heard papers on a wide range of subjects at weekly meetings. Selected papers, abstracts and reviews were published in the Institute's journal, which evolved from the Canadian Journal (1852-1878) to Proceedings (1879-1890) and finally to Transactions (1890-1969). These were the first Canadian scientific publications widely distributed internationally.

Since its inception, the Institute has initiated or encouraged a wide range of scientific endeavours. In 1879, for example, it began to promote Sandford Fleming's concept of standard time and the practicality of a universal prime meridian. Both were adopted at the Washington International Time Conference in 1884. In 1885 the Institute opened the first Museum of Natural History and Archaeology in Ontario. Its large collections, particularly in provincial archaeology, ornithology and mineralogy, were transferred to the newly founded ROYAL ONTARIO MUSEUM in 1924. In 1893, the Institute saw the establishment of ALGONQUIN PROVINCIAL PARK, a project it had long and actively supported, and in 1914 it created the Bureau of Science and Industrial Research, a forerunner of the NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL OF CANADA. As knowledge became more specialized the Institute formed sections that often became independent organizations. For example, in 1888 the Photographic Section became the Toronto Camera Club which still operates successfully.

In 1914 the Institute was given permission to add the prefix Royal to its name. About the same time it expanded its mandate to include public education in science and technology through a fall and winter lecture series. These lectures are still offered free to the public and are given voluntarily by some of Canada's most distinguished scientists. During the 1980s these lectures were broadcast under the title Speaking of Science. In 1982, the Institute awarded its first annual Sandford Fleming medal to Dr. David SUZUKI for outstanding contributions by a Canadian to the public understanding of science. Recognizing the importance of bringing science to a young audience, the Institute founded the Youth Science Association in 1989, which is run largely by high school students through a lively lecture and field trip series. To celebrate its 150th anniversary in 1999, the RCI published Special Places: The Changing Ecosystems of the Toronto Region containing 39 contributions by specialists on the ecology of the area.