History of the CIIA

The origins of the Canadian Institute of International Affairs (CIIA) go back further than its founding in 1928. Descriptions of its formation usually begin with the 1919 Paris Peace Conference. (E.D. Greathed, “The Antecedents and Origins of the Canadian Institute of International Affairs,” in Harvey L. Dyck and Peter Krosby, eds, Empire and Nations: Essays in Honour of Frederic H. Soward (Toronto, 1969); T.B. Millar, “Commonwealth Institutes of International Affairs,” International Journal vol.33 (winter1977-8); Carter Manning, “The CIIA 1928-1939: An attempt to ‘Enlighten’ Canada’s Foreign Policy,” Unpublished BA (Hons) thesis, Harvard College, 1971 (copy in the CIIA library).) British and American participants there expressed their concern at the widespread public apathy and ignorance of international affairs. The Royal Institute of International Affairs (RIIA) was founded in London in 1920 in response to this concern and amongst the original members of the RIIA were ten Canadians. By 1926 there were in Canada about twenty-five members of the RIIA (many of whom were also members of the League of Nations Society which had been formed in Canada in 1921). The Americans meanwhile returned to New York to discover that the Council on Foreign Relations had been formed the previous year and they joined it rather than forming an American international institute.

In 1925 a delegation of six Canadians, under the chairmanship of John Nelson (a Vancouver journalist for Maclean’s and ardent Rotarian who later was a supervisor of public relations for Sun Life Assurance Company of Montreal), attended a conference in Honolulu at which the Institute of Pacific Relations (IPR) was founded. The experience of the Canadians at this conference impressed upon them the need for the creation of a Canadian organization which would do preparatory research to ensure effective Canadian participation in future IPR conferences. Owing to the efforts of Mr. Nelson, the basis of such an organization was soon laid by bringing together in Vancouver, Montreal, and Toronto informal groups of persons interested in the work of the IPR. Some of the Canadian members of the RIIA were included in these groups.

In the autumn of 1926, Canadian members of the RIIA and Canadians interested in the work of the IPR met in Toronto. At this meeting it was decided to set up a Canadian organization affiliated with the Royal Institute and with the IPR. In 1927, the RIIA agreed to accept affiliation with a Canadian Institute of International Affairs, and following a 1927 IPR conference, branches were formed in Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto Vancouver and Winnipeg. The Winnipeg Branch was formed from three local groups which had come together as the Canadian League in 1925. The Winnipeg branch, the largest of the original 1928 branches, was one of the most active branches during the ‘thirties’. John W. Dafoe who was editor of the Winnipeg Free Press became vice-president and later president of the CIIA.

Representatives elected by the newly formed branches met as a national council in Ottawa on January 30, 1928 and, by adopting a constitution, formally organized the Canadian Institute of International Affairs, in affiliation both with the RIIA and with the IPR. The founding members of the Institute came from all five branches: Ottawa – Sir Robert Borden and C.A. Bowman; Montreal – Sir Arthur Currie, John Nelson, and Frederick N. Southam; Toronto – Sir Joseph Flavelle, Newton W. Rowell, Charles S. MacInnes and N.A.M. MacKenzie; Winnipeg – John W. Dafoe and John MacKay; Vancouver – Reginald W. Brock and Stanley Brent. Following the example of the Royal Institute, the Canadian Institute adopted its two fundamental by-laws: “Firstly, that the Institute should not offer any opinion on the conduct of public policy and secondly, that its membership should be confined to British subjects.” (No such restriction on membership now exists).

In 1927 there had been 32 members of the RIIA resident in Canada. By June 30, 1928, the membership of the five original branches of the CIIA was 144. In 1929 a branch was formed in Regina, in 1931 in Edmonton and Halifax, in 1932 in Saskatoon and Calgary, in 1933 in Hamilton and Kingston, in 1934 in Fredericton and Windsor, in 1936 in Victoria and Saint John, in 1937 in London. Since then, there have been branches in Quebec City (1943), Sherbrooke-Lennoxville (1944), Base Borden (1947), Kitchener-Waterloo (1947), St. John’s (1949), New York (1963), Wolfville Region (1964), Sackville (1966), Saguenay (1966), West Kootenay (1966), Niagara Region (1974), and, most recently, Thunder Bay (1981). Women’s branches were formed in Ottawa, Toronto, London, Winnipeg, Saskatoon and Vancouver, and eventually amalgamated with the men’s branches in those communities. In the seventies French-speaking branches were formed in Montreal, Sept.- Iles, Quebec and Moncton

From 1928 to 1932 the branches were the centre of Institute activity. In 1930 John Nelson wrote: “Unlike similar organizations in Great Britain and the United States, the Canadian Institute has taken the form of widely separated units rather than of one central organization” (CIIA Minutes vol. I). The autonomy of the branches helped strengthen the branches by allowing variety in the membership within a national organization. Business-men dominated the Winnipeg Branch and they were very active in Montreal as well. The tendency of these branches was to view international relations in economic terms. The Ottawa branch was composed of government officials, and academics were numerous in the Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal branches. As the composition of the branches varied, so did their activities and areas of interest.
In 1928 the annual membership fee was $10. Half went to the branch, and the other half went to support the research and publications of the RIIA. International Affairs , published by the RIIA, was sent as part of the membership to all Canadian Institute members. The CIIA contributed to the IPR both financially and in the preparation of papers for the international IPR conferences.

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In 1932, a generous grant from the Massey Foundation made possible the appointment of Escott Reid as the Institute’s first full-time National Secretary, a position he held until 1938. Reid began to build an effective central organization to encourage and co-ordinate branch research activities. Ties were strengthened with the IPR and the Commonwealth Institute through a series of joint conferences. In 1933, the Institute helped to organize the IPR conference in Banff, and hosted the first British Commonwealth Relations Conference in Toronto. Reid suggested the holding of annual study conferences (ASC), to be national meetings where ideas could be exchanged. The first ASC was held in May 1934 in Montreal. The conferences were largely round table discussions, and members of branch study groups were invited to participate. Reid also encouraged expansion of the CIIA membership and greater public participation in the work of the Institute. In 1935 the Winnipeg branch began sponsoring radio broadcasts on international affairs. From 1936 to 1951 the Rockefeller Foundation provided funds to support the Institute’s research, speakers, study groups and conferences.

Up to the outbreak of World War II, the divergent points of view in the Canadian public regarding Canada’s policy in the event of a conflict were reflected within the membership of the CIIA and provoked some lively public and private debates. The Institute’s varied membership ensured, however, that it would remain a forum for the expression of all views and not become a platform either for government policy or for one alternative to established policy.

Nor was Canada’s foreign policy during the war the only topic for vigorous debate. In September 1938, Edgar J. Tarr, a Winnipeg businessman who was the President of Monarch Life Insurance Company and who had served as both President of the CIIA and IPR, led the CIIA delegation to the second British Commonwealth Relations Conference which was held at Lapstone, Australia. On the eve of the war there were lively differences between and within delegations on the issue of whether or not to present a united front to an aggressor. (F.H.Soward, “Inside a Canadian Triangle: the university, the CIIA and the Department of External Affairs – a personal record,” International Journal XXXIII (winter 1977-8), p.70.) At a British Commonwealth Relations Conference held in London just before the war ended in 1945, the question of Commonwealth coherence in the post-war period was debated. (James Eayrs, “VI Peacemaking and Deterrence”, In Defence of Canada (Toronto, 1972), 210ff) The CIIA delegation at that conference was again under Tarr’s leadership. In the meantime, a CIIA-sponsored conference at Montebello in 1943 had provided a significant opportunity for members and government officials to discuss Canada’s role in the post-war world. A session on future relations between Canada and the United States was later held in Niagara Falls in 1951.

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The Post-War Era

During the war years and afterward, a close relationship based largely on personal contact developed between the Institute and the Department of External Affairs. (Alex I. Inglis, “The Institute and the Department”, International Journal XXXIII (winter 1977-8), p 88-103) A steady stream of Institute National Secretaries, among them Escott Reid, Benjamin Rogers, and John Holmes, left the Institute to pursue careers in the department. In 1946, the first issue of the International Journal appeared. The Journal was intended from the outset to provide a platform for informed Canadian views on international affairs. Its existence in itself encouraged Canadian commentators and academics to analyze international questions from a Canadian as well as a regional or international perspective; its creation reflected their desire to do so.

From 1940-1955, the Carnegie Corporation supported the establishment of the Institute’s library and public information services. Generous funds were further provided in 1950 by Edgar Tarr in his will for the building up of the library, named then, the Edgar Tarr Memorial Library. In 1951, Edgar McInnis came to the Institute as its full-time Executive Director. Under his guidance. The CIIA’s research and public education programmes expanded, often in cooperation with other organizations and with the Department of External Affairs.

John Holmes, who had been national secretary from 1941 to 1943, returned to the Institute in 1960 as president (later director-general). In recognition of his contribution to the Institute, the library was renamed the John Holmes Library in the mid-seventies.

During recent decades, the Canadian Institute of International Affairs has co-operated closely with the Department of External Affairs (now the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade) in promoting free and open interchanges between officials and members of the public on international issues. The CIIA conducted a series of seminars which provided some of the basic thinking for the Trudeau government’s review of foreign policy in 1968. (Millar, “Commonwealth Institutes of International Affairs” p.25.) In 1974, it undertook a sounding of public opinion prior to the world population conference in Bucharest. In 1982, it surveyed the views of its members prior to the United Nations Special Session on Disarmament in New York. During this period, the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) and other government departments continued to provide speakers for Institute meetings, and members of both federal and provincial ministries participated in the Institute’s conferences. The CIIA also built an increasing number of partnerships with other private and voluntary institutions, the business community, the universities and the media. The range of its contacts and partners in effect helped it to hold to the principle that it should be a place for the free expression of all opinion, and not the advocate of a single point of view.

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The Institute Today

For over sixty-five years, the Institute has maintained the objectives of its founders by providing a forum for the unfettered study and discussion of Canada’s position and policies in the world community. Its private, non-partisan nature has been endorsed by national leaders of all persuasions. As the only voluntary organization in Canada concerned with the broad range of international issues, it has close relations with similar organizations throughout the world and arranges co-operative activities with them.

Today, there are 18 Institute branches, with a membership of 1,500. The Institute carries on an extensive programme of public education through its speakers’ bureau, conferences, publications, and the activities of branches across the country. It collaborates with the business community through its briefing tours to world capitals and other special programmes. In addition, it maintains the John Holmes Library, a unique Canadian resource for students and scholars, and publishes a variety of reference books and periodicals headed by the International Journal, Behind the Headlines and Institute Perspectives.

Never has the Institute’s purpose–”

to promote a broader and deeper understanding of international affairs and of Canada’s role in a changing world by providing interested Canadians with a non-partisan, nation-wide forum for informed discussion, debate and analysis

–been of greater relevance to all Canadians. Our trade, politics and national life are profoundly influenced by events which take place and forces which emanate from outside our borders. We cannot begin to meet the economic and other challenges that Canada faces without a thorough understanding of the intrusive and changing world around us. The CIIA’s activities and programmes are aimed precisely at helping interested Canadians acquire the knowledge and understanding needed for individual, corporate and national success in the world of today.

ed. November 1995
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