Posted on February 15, 2011.
By Diana Broome
It all began in late 1981 at a restaurant in Calgary where a group of corporate information professionals met regularly for lunch. I had recently relocated to the city from Vancouver and was fortunate to be welcomed into their network. They were — Bev Bendell, Montreal Engineering (Moneco); Rodney Muir, Home Oil; Carl Harvey, Dome Petroleum; and Liz Johnson, Energy Resources Conversation Board — all recognized leaders in the Calgary community.
I was working for the Alberta Energy Company, now EnCana.
The main topic of lunch conversation was the fact that there was no professional association representing their interests. The bloom was off the rose for the once-booming petroleum industry and information professionals were very concerned about threatened layoffs and library closures. Library technicians were being hired for professional positions, particularly in Edmonton which was the nucleus for government libraries. Records managers were making a foray into the library profession, pushing information professionals out of their libraries and into the RM world. Academic and public librarians had the Canadian Library Association for support, but CLA offered little for information professionals working in special libraries.
I shared my very positive experiences about belonging to SLA’s Pacific Northwest (PNW) Chapter.
At that time, SLA had two Canadian chapters – Toronto and Eastern Canada. There was no representation for Western Canada. With the exception of BC, most information professionals in the prairie provinces belonged to the Toronto chapter but were not able to participate in programs or networking opportunities. There were no local SLA programs in any of the Western Canadian cities.
Economically, BC had a strong affiliation with the U.S. Pacific Northwest, primarily because of the forestry industry. Because SLA had chapters in Washington and Oregon states, BC information professionals had closer ties to their American neighbours rather than their Eastern Canadian colleagues. Most information professionals in BC chose to belong to the PNW Chapter which was based in Seattle.
Being an SLA member in Vancouver, I was able to take advantage of occasional chapter meetings in Seattle and PNW members would come to Vancouver in April to host a dinner meeting for their Canadian members. Our American friends loved to have a weekend in Vancouver during the spring when the blossoms were in full bloom!
Our Calgary founders believed there were very valid reasons for wanting western Canadian representation. For example, the annual SLA salary survey covered eastern Canadian information professionals but did not accurately reflect the salaries of their western Canadian counterparts. There was also no local programming at an appropriate professional level, with the exception of the annual PNW meeting in Vancouver.
As a result, the Calgary group decided that it was an opportune time to have an SLA presence in Western Canada.
We conducted a survey of Western Canadian association members to determine their chapter affiliation preference — a proposed Western Canada Chapter, the Toronto Chapter, or the Pacific Northwest Chapter. Based on the survey results which expressed a favourable interest in a Western Canadian chapter, we submitted a petition to SLA requesting provisional status. We were required to specify the geographical area for the proposed chapter and included British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and the territories in our petition.
The SLA Board of Directors granted provisional status in 1982. Bev Bendell was the first president of the provisional chapter.
The two Canadian chapters were very supportive of a new Western Canada chapter and did not object when we were granted provisional status. We had two years to secure 25 members and to sustain that minimum membership level for twelve months in order to be eligible to apply for full chapter status. We had our work cut out for us.
For the next year we focused on building our chapter membership, putting in place local contacts in each major city in the region, and drafting our bylaws. The core membership was based in Calgary. Our goal was to apply for full chapter status in time for the June 1985 Board of Directors meeting which was going to be held in Canada.
The road to full “chapterdom” was not without major bumps along the way.
In January 1984, we announced our intention to apply for full chapter status, so that the other chapters affected by the boundary change could adapt their by-laws on membership affiliation accordingly. SLA members residing in BC would belong to the new chapter unless they chose to belong to a different chapter.
The PNW Chapter strenuously objected to BC being included in the provisional chapter’s boundaries. We had advised the PNW chapter executive of this proposed change in 1982, but the information was not passed on to the next executive. The PNW chapter executive realized its membership base would be reduced if BC members belonged to the Western Canada Chapter rather than PNW. This would mean less funding from SLA as the annual chapter financial allotment is based upon the number of SLA members within a chapter’s boundaries.
Of even greater concern, the PNW chapter had a loyal following of several influential members in Vancouver who were rightfully very upset that the new provisional chapter included BC in its geographical boundaries. The community was split between long-term PNW members, and information professionals who wanted to belong to a Canadian chapter, preferably western-based.
We reassured BC members that they could still choose to belong to PNW rather than Western Canada. It would be their choice. We also had many phone calls with the PNW executive to explain our position and to reassure them that we would not actively persuade SLA members in BC to join the new chapter. It was a stressful, emotional time.
We were deadlocked for months over the boundaries issue. SLA established a Special Arbitration Committee to decide on each chapter’s boundaries. At the SLA winter meeting in Philadelphia in January 1985, the SLA Board of Directors approved the Committee’s recommendation that British Columbia be included in the Western Canada Chapter. With the dispute resolved, the members residing in the provisional chapter’s geographic area adopted the by-laws on April 18, 1985.
June 7, 1985 was a proud, historic day! As provisional chapter president, I attended the SLA Board of Directors meeting in Winnipeg. The annual conference was in Canada which was very fitting. The board voted in favour of granting the provisional chapter full chapter status. On this day, the Western Canada Chapter was officially born.
That night I celebrated with our SLA sisters from the southern states who were determined to find a good rib joint in Winnipeg. And they did!
The PNW chapter executive gradually accepted the new chapter but the emotional rift amongst the Vancouver members remained for a number of years. Eventually, we successfully held a joint PNW WCC meeting in Vancouver in the spring, carrying on the April meeting tradition. Both chapters have engaged in other collaborative ventures over the years.
The Western Canada Chapter could not have happened without the vision and determination of Bev, Carl, Rodney, and Liz. They are truly the founders of the chapter and I was fortunate to have been a part of their journey to create an SLA presence in Western Canada.
Where are they now?
Bev left the profession in the early 1990s to move to Canmore and pursue her first love —mountains. An avid climber and skier, she found her true calling working for the Alpine Club in Canmore. Always committed to her roots in the library profession, Bev was the club’s volunteer librarian for several years.
In 2007, Bev Bendell donated $100,000 to the club. The club decided to user her donation to create a permanent library fund, the Bev Bendell Library Conservation Fund, which is committed to the growth and enhancement of the club’s library collection.
On a sad note…Bev died of pneumonia in July 2008.
Carl left the profession in the 1990s to move to the Crow’s Nest Pass region with her family.
Rodney eventually left Home Oil for a position with the Calgary Police Department. She took early retirement in 2004 and returned to the police department on a contract basis in 2008.
Liz stayed with the Conversation Board until her early retirement a few years ago. She resides in Calgary.
Their legacy lives on. The chapter planted its roots in Calgary and now thrives in all corners of the region. Thanks Bev, Carl, Rodney, and Liz. It is all because of you and your dream.
Diana Broome is Information Services Co-ordinator BC Teachers’ Federation