It’s Party Time!  1921-2021 Centennials in the History of Canadian Science and Technology

First posted Friday, January 1, 2021 /  Yom shishi, 17 Tevet, 5781

By David Orenstein

2021 is an opportunity for historians of Canadian Science and Technology to celebrate several centennials.

My starting point for this idea came when I received the Call For Papers for the annual conference of Canadian Society for the History and Philosophy of Science (CSPHS), to be held virtually at the University of Alberta, as part of the annual Congress of the Canadian Federation of the Humanities and Social Sciences (CFHSS), May 29 to June 2, 2021. Given my ongoing “Canadian International Scientific Congresses” project, the natural topic for my abstract is the 1921 Meeting at the University of Toronto of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

There also was a request for joint sessions with temporally overlapping conferences, such as the Canadian Historical Association (CHA) and the Canadian Society for the History of Medicine (CSHM). So I thought I’d give it a try. My memory was confirmed, upon consulting my Quarantined Bookshelves, in four different cases. Insulin was discovered in the summer of 1921 at the University of Toronto by Frederick Banting and Charles Best.  At the National Research Council (NRC), it was the year of three administrative chairmen: A. B. Macallum (Nov. 29, 1916 – Feb. 19, 1921), R. F. Ruttan (Feb. 19 – Aug. 18,1921), and R.A. Ross (Aug. 19, 1921 – May 29, 1922). The Communist Party of Canada was founded that year on May 29, at Guelph, Ontario.  And, yes, 1921 was the year of that mould-breaking December 6, 1921, federal election.

1921 was such an important landmark in Canadian history that it is the temporal demarcation between two successive volumes of The Canadian Centenary Series. They are Canada 1896-1921: A Nation Transformed and Canada 1922-1939: Decades of Discord. The later volume even has an examination of the 1921 census results as its opening chapter. So great is my perspicacity that the Toronto AAAS ran right up to the dividing moment, running  from December 27 to 31, 1921.

Given my focus on the American Association Meeting, we should also look at some landmarks in US history.  The Republican Warren Gamaliel Harding was inaugurated as President on March 4, 1921.  That was a move to the right and laissez faire capitalism, in contrast with Canada’s choice of Mackenzie King’s Liberals (with 116 seats), the agrarian Progressive Party as the second biggest House of Commons caucus (65 seats) and the election of James Shaver Woodsworth and William Irvine as the first Labour MPs. Arthur Meighen’s ruling Conservative Party had been reduced to 50 seats. The host province for the 2020 CFHSS Congress had earlier thrown out their Liberals (July 29, 1921) replacing them by the group government advocates of the United Farmers of Alberta (38 out of 61 seats), supported by four Labour MLAs.

I’m sure that are many other events from 1921 worthy of remembering by CSTHA, but these are many other stories and we have an entire year to tell them.


1) Michael Bliss, 1982, The Discovery of Insulin, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, and McClelland and Stewart, Toronto,  304pp., incl. 16pp. ref. & 8pp. index

2) Istoria Kommunisticheskoy Partii Kanadie [History of the Communist Party of Canada], 1984, Izdatel’stvo politicheskoy litearturie [International Political Literature], Moskva [Moscow], 280pp.

3) The Canadian Centenary Series, McClelland and Stewart Toronto:

  1. a) Robert Craig Brown and Ramsay Cook, 1974, Canada 1896-1921:A Nation Transformed, xiv + 412 pp., incl. 7 pp. Biblio., 51 pp. Notes, 14 pp. Index
  2. b) John Herd Thompson with Allen Seager, 1985, Canada 1922-1939:Decades of Discord. xiv + 438 pp., incl. 65 pp. Notes, 14 pp. Index

4) Mel Thistle, 1966, The Inner Ring: The Early History of the National Research Council of Canada, University of Toronto Press, Toronto, xxxiii + 435 pp., incl. Ref. list in each ch., 13 pp. Index

5) Samuel Eliot Morison et al,1980, The Growth of the American Republic, Vol. II, Oxford University Press, Oxford and NewYork, xiii + 923 pp., incl. 46 pp. Biblio., 33 pp. Index

6) W. L. Morton, 1950.  The Progressive Party in Canada , University of Toronto Press, Toronto, xiii + 331 pp. incl. 12 pp. Biblio. Essay, 13 pp. Index

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