Founding the Canadian Psychological Association: The Perils of Historiography

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Abstract

This article addresses the question of when and where the decision was made to form the Canadian Psychological Association (CPA). To be sure, a number of scholars have already examined this question. What is interesting, however, is that they have provided ambiguous answers. The purpose of this article is three-fold: First, to document the sequence of events that led to the decision to form the CPA; second, to highlight some of the ambiguities contained in the literature regarding the beginnings of the Association; and third, to explain how and why these ambiguities may have arisen. The article illuminates a number of historiographical issues of importance for those writing the history of Canadian psychology.

This article examines the founding of the Canadian Psychological Association (CPA). Specifically, it addresses the question of when and where the decision was made to form the CPA. To be sure, a number of important scholars have already examined this question, if only in passing (e.g., English, 1992; Ferguson, 1992; Wright, 1974). What is interesting, however, is that they have provided ambiguous answers. The purpose of this article is three-fold: First, to document the sequence of events that culminated in the decision to form the CPA; second, to highlight some of the ambiguities contained in the secondary source literature regarding the beginnings of the Association; and third, to explain how and why these ambiguities may have arisen in the first place. The article illuminates a number of historiographical issues of critical importance for those writing the history of the CPA and the history of Canadian psychology more generally. BEGINNINGS OF THE CPA

The summary that follows is sketchy for there is very little in the way of original primary source material regarding the establishment of the CPA. The paucity of material is partly due to the fact that George Humphrey, the first Secretary of the Association, kept poor records (Bernhardt, 1961).1 It is also due to the fact that what records were kept went with Humphrey when he left Canada for England shortly after the Second World War (Humphrey, 1959; Inglis, 1982).2,3 What follows is based on all the material I have been able to obtain from the National Archives of Canada, the University of Toronto Archives, newspapers, and the secondary source literature. It is possible that there are still papers buried in someone's drawers that will one day see the light of day and perhaps further elucidate the events of this period.

The sequence of events that led to the decision to form the CPA began in 1938. In the spring of that year, a questionnaire was distributed to Canadian psychologists "to ascertain their views on the question of forming a Canadian Association" ("Organization of a," 1938, p. 1).4 "The response was very favourable" but the matter seemed to warrant further discussion ("Organization of a," 1938, p. 1). The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) was holding its summer meeting in Ottawa, Ontario, June 27 to July 2, 1938 (Moulton, 1938a, 1938b). With a considerable number of Canadian psychologists planning to attend (see American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1938), a dinner meeting was arranged for Wednesday, June 29, 1938 at 6:30 p.m. at the Chateau Laurier for those interested in partaking in a "Discussion on the subject of the organization of a Canadian Psychological Association" (AAAS, 1938, p. 56).

The dinner meeting was held under the Chairmanship of Edward Alexander Bott of the University of Toronto ("Organization of a," 1938). Altogether some 40 people attended this first meeting ("Organization of a," 1938). Among those present were psychologists5 employed in various academic institutions. They included Sperrin Noah Fulton Chant of the University of Toronto and George Humphrey of Queen's University ("Organization of a," 1938). There were some American psychologists who attended this meeting as well. …