A letter from Canada

This article first appeared in the November edition (Vol 120 No 11) of the Ethical Record published by the Conway Hall Ethical Society in London, UK.

It is with great pleasure that I write to you to report that my local humanist group in Vancouver, Canada has grown exponentially in the past three years. The membership has grown and the organizational activities have blossomed with a wide variety of programs. This is the first time that I’ve been part of such a burgeoning society and so I wished to share with you the story of our organization. Presumably the context for this growth has been international, and so many readers may see parallels with their own organizations in England and elsewhere.

Canada has hosted a secular movement since at least the mid-1870s when it was coupled to the local labour movement and to freethinkers who had settled in the country from England. This took place in what is referred to as Central Canada, home of the provinces of Ontario and Quebec, although there was no doubt a parallel movement on the East Coast. Here on the West Coast of Canada, the British Columbia Humanist Association (BCHA) has a more recent history being inaugurated in 1982 at a meeting held in a local union hall in Vancouver and then formally founded in 1984 and adopting its current name in 1990.

In the early years, the BCHA met once a month for a speakers’ program attended by thirty to forty people. Then in 2000, two members from Texas, Nancy and Dennis Duncan, and Lorraine and Glenn Hardie established an informal brunch meeting held at local restaurants. The brunch meetings were so successful that they were formally brought within the purview of the BCHA and beginning in 2008, the BCHA met weekly, on Sunday mornings, for tea and coffee followed by a speaker’s program. These meetings are held to this day in the Seniors’ Centre of the Oakridge Shopping Mall, Vancouver, and are followed informally by a luncheon in the mall’s ‘food court.’ We are now a solid fixture in the mall.

In 2012, the BCHA hired its first part-time Executive Director, Ian Bushfield, and elected it first female president, Dr. Annette Horton. The group then began to flourish due largely to the hiring of the executive director, its president, the election of an activist board, and, not to be underestimated, advertising our events on the ‘meet up’ pages of the internet, on our web page, and on our Facebook page. It is also reasonable to assume that the growth in our movement reflects a larger dissatisfaction with organized religion due to local and international events.

Our group now meets weekly with thirty-five or forty-five people in attendance on Sunday mornings, and we can boast a monthly book club, a public speaking club, a philosophy group, an annual picnic with our American counterparts, participation in the Gay Pride Parade, an annual winter solstice dinner, a table at a city book event, amongst other activities. This growth in Vancouver has then spread up the Fraser River Valley and over to Vancouver Island where there are now humanist and/or skeptic clubs meeting in the Comox Valley, Fraser Valley, Sunshine Coast, Victoria, the Kootenays, as well as at the University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University, and Kwantlan University. Our advocacy work has resulted in linking the BCHA to other allied organizations and in the 1990s we were successfully involved in ending the teaching of creationism and, more recently, ending the distribution of Gideon bibles in B.C. schools.

In just three years we’ve achieved a great deal, and we hope to keep growing in order to establish a permanent presence on the West Coast of Canada. Please check out our website and email us if you wish to attend a meeting at [email protected] or if you wish to visit us and give a talk contact Ian at [email protected].

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