Royal Society of Canada | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Royal Society of Canada

The Royal Society of Canada is the oldest bilingual organization of Canadian scholars, artists and scientists in the fields of humanities, social sciences and sciences. Created in 1883, the Royal Society of Canada included more than 2,000 members in 2017, approximately 20 per cent of whom had French as their mother tongue. Members are elected for their remarkable contributions in the arts, the humanities and the sciences, as well as in Canadian public life. The Society’s headquarters are located in Ottawa, Ontario.
Official coloured crest of the Royal Society of Canada


The Royal Society of Canada (also known as The Academies of Arts, Humanities and Sciences of Canada), the senior national organization for the promotion of learning and research in Canada, was founded in 1883 by the Governor General, John Douglas Sutherland Campbell, Marquess of Lorne, and leading scholars of the day headed by Sir William Dawson, Principal of McGill University, and Pierre-Joseph-Olivier Chauveau, educator and former Premier of Québec.

The founding group of 80 members were organized in four sections, including French and English literature and allied subjects, mathematical and physical sciences and geological and biological sciences. The first woman elected to the Society was Alice Wilson, a paleontologist, who joined the fellowship in 1938.

The Academies

The Society remains one of the few bodies in Canada or elsewhere covering the entire range of scholarship and is now organized in three bilingual academies: the Academy of the Arts and Humanities, the Academy of Social Sciences and the Academy of Science.


Election as a Fellow remains a prized professional honour, shared in 2017 by more than 2,000 Canadians, men and women. Each year, up to 75 nominees may be elected. Fellowship comprises four categories: Honorary Fellows, Regularly Elected Fellows, Specially Elected Fellows and Foreign Fellows.

In 2004, the Royal Society of Canada launched the Institutional Member Program in order “to provide a mechanism by which, on the one hand, the Society could develop its programmes in conjunction with universities and, on the other hand, universities could have formal and direct input into the strategic orientation and governance of the Society”.

The Society also rewards outstanding achievements and distinguished lifetime accomplishments in the humanities, basic and applied sciences and in public education, by awarding a score of medals, prizes and research awards.

Activities and Influence

In its early years it urged the creation of many now-existing national museums and scientific and cultural institutions. With the formation of many Learned and Scientific Societies in specific disciplines it has given increasing attention to complex issues in health, environmental and social concerns requiring a broad, multi-disciplinary approach.

Annual meetings since 1883 have been augmented in the last 40 years by national and international symposia, workshops and regional meetings held in centres across Canada and, since 1980, by a program of projects and commissions on important topics of the day. The results have generally been published in its Transactions, or in books and reports.

Internationally, ties to national academies in other countries have grown through a series of bilateral agreements for scholarly exchanges and by leading Canadian contributions to international programs, notably on environmental and social topics.

Past Presidents

Past presidents of the Royal Society of Canada include: Sir Sandford Flemming, Henri-Raymond Casgrain, George Monro Grant, Joseph-Clovis-Kemner Laflamme, Sir James MacPherson Lemoine, Félix-Gabriel Marchand, Thomas Coltrin Keefer, Louis-Honoré Fréchette, James Loudon, Sir James Alexander Grant, Benjamin Sulte, William Saunders, Robert Ramsay Wright, Frank Dawson Adams, Sir Adolphe-Basile Routhier, William D. Lighthall, Duncan Campbell Scott, Thomas Chapais, Sir John C. McLennan, William Arthur Parks, Camille Roy, Charles Camsell, Sir Robert Alexander Falconer, Léon Gérin, Lash William Miller, Lawrence Johnston Burpee, Archibald Gowanlock Huntsman, Victor Morin, James Bertram Collip, Olivier Marault, Harold A. Innis, Walter Palmer Thompson, Gustave Lanctôt, Henry Forbes Angus, Edgar William Richard Steacie, Alexander Thomas Cameron, Arthur M. R. Lower, William H. Cook, Léo E. Marion, William Kaye Lamb, Gerhard Herzberg, Robert Edward Bell, Jules Deschênes, John Meisel and Jean-Pierre Wallot.

Only three women have held the position of President of the Royal Society of Canada the first being Patricia Demers (2005-07), the second Yolande Grisé (2011-13) and the third Maryse Lassonde (2015-17).

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