Groups In Canada:
How They Started and How They Grew
In Alcoholics Anonymous, the border between the United States and Canada does not exist. Canadian A.A. is represented proportionally at the General Service Conference and on the Board of Trustees; and G.S.O. in New York serves A.A. in both countries equally. This partnership has benefited A.A. in both countries enormously. As the following pages will reveal, A.A.’s from the States were often a help in the spread of the program across the border. And the healthy, vigorous brand of A.A. in Canada breathed spirit into American A.A. For Canada’s soil has proved especially fertile for the Fellowship. In many of the provinces, strong service structures developed, producing dedicated leaders at the Conference level and on the General Service Board. As Bill W. said in 1951 of Canada, “No finer A.A. exists…When U.S. travelers return from Canada, they report how much more they brought away from Canada than they took in.”
A.A. began in Canada in 1940. The Reverend George Little of Toronto, a zealous temperance worker, read a book review of Alcoholics Anonymous written by Dr. Emerson Fosdick, of the Rockefellers’ church. Dr. Little ordered a copy of the Big Book to show to an alcoholic who had resisted all other attempts at rescue. The A.A. book turned the trick, and the two men went to work introducing this new way of life to other Toronto drunks. Dr. Little had to order five more copies of the book. (Quite independently, early in 1941 a Torontian, Laurie C. returned home after finding A.A. in New York; and Gordon B., who had found his sobriety in Chicago A.A., also came home. Although the two were put in touch with each other by the New York service office and diligently tried to carry the message, there is no record of any results.)
Dr. Little gave a copy of the Big Book to Rev. Percy G. Price, of the Metropolitan United Church, who was concerned with the problems of alcoholics and their families. Dr. Price was so impressed that he began recommending A.A. principles to alcoholics with whom he came in contact. And it was his suggestion that a group of six alcoholics meet for dinner with Dr. Little and himself. This, then, was the first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in Canada, at the Little Denmark Restaurant on January 13, 1943. They decided to meet weekly. When the good news was reported to the New York office, Bill W. was delighted that A.A. “is now established in Canada.” When the membership had increased to 36, they leased a clubroom at 160 Bloor Street. Soon this, too, was outgrown and an unused bank building at 1170 Yonge Street became the new meeting place and a well-known A.A. haven. Growth and accompanying growing-pains came along in 1945, which brought about group #2.
Some of the alcoholics who showed up in the first few years had already quit drinking and, indeed, had helped others to do so. One of these was a Toronto magistrate who had found sobriety in 1938 through the Oxford Groups. Using their principles, he was able to help many other alcoholics to quit drinking. This judge was one of those who attended the dinner at the Little Denmark, and his work on behalf of A.A. thereafter became legendary. Another was a flour merchant who by 1940 had succeeded in drinking himself out of business. He was one of those helped by the judge, sobering up for good in February 1942. He became active in A.A. as soon as the group was formed, and helped answer the many inquiries which came into 160 Bloor St. from all parts of Canada.
Also in 1943, a drunk in Windsor, Ontario’s southernmost city, got tired of drinking and honestly wanted to do something about it. He contacted A.A. in Detroit, right across the bridge, and began attending meetings there. Three months later, he had reached out to another Windsor alcoholic and was bringing him to the meeting across the border. When they were joined by a third, they decided to begin meeting in their own city. Windsor A.A. dates from October 22, 1943. Members from the Detroit group immediately began reverse visits, giving the new group their support. A meeting place was found in the Norton Palmer Hotel, and the coffee shop at Woolworth’s became the gathering-place for A.A.’s every morning. A few years later, a Thursday morning meeting was inaugurated at the second-floor offices of an A.A. contractor. Originally intended for night workers, it soon attracted other early birds and may have been the first morning A.A. meeting in the U.S./Canada.
About two years after Windsor A.A. began, one of the original three members moved to Leamington, about 20 miles away. He started a group there in September 1945. Leamington, in turn, carried the message to Tilbury, Chatham, Kingsville and Wallaceburg—all of which interchanged speakers and visitors, since they were within a radius of about 50 miles.
London, Ontario, was much like Toronto and Windsor. Dr. Little gave one of his Big Books to Canon Quintin Warner in London in mid-1941. Warner read it and gave it to a hospitalized alcoholic friend. After studying the book, the alcoholic made a decision to stay sober, and he and the Canon began to try to help others. On November 26, 1943, the first.regular open meeting of A.A. in London took place, with six Toronto members present to lend their support.
To cap off this surge of activity in 1943, the first big A.A. banquet in Ontario was held on December 16 at the Royal York Hotel, Toronto. Eighty people attended. A.A. spread rapidly in the next two years.
On October 26, 1945, the first A.A. meeting was held in Hamilton. An alcoholic in that town had contacted the New York office for help and was referred to Toronto A.A. After attending meetings there he was encouraged to arrange a meeting in Hamilton. The first organized group meeting in Sault St.Marie, Ontario, was at the Algonquin Hotel in mid-May 1948. Several members traveled from Toronto to speak at the inaugural meeting, and a contingent of members from Sault St.Marie, Michigan, crossed the bridge to show their support. The two towns continued to exchange members attending each other’s meetings. Fort William (Thunder Bay), Ontario, had its first regular meeting February 17, 1948, from a roundabout route. A psychiatrist in Winnipeg, Manitoba, named Dr. Pincock sent an associate, Dr. Bird, to Minneapolis, Minnesota, to look into Alcoholics Anonymous there from a professional viewpoint. Dr. Bird returned full of enthusiasm at what he had seen and carrying a Big Book. The two psychiatrists carried the message to several alcoholic patients, and a group was formed in Winnepeg. One of its members moved to Fort William, and, needing the help of other alcoholics, formed the first group there. At least one alcoholic from Ottawa, Ontario, contacted the New York office as far back as 1941, but it was not until October 1945 that the first Ottawa group was formed. Growth was rapid in Ottawa after that time.
Back in Toronto, the first women’s group was formed in 1945, and during that year and the next, the Midtown, East End, West End, North Toronto, Victor Mission and Parkdale groups were started. In late March 1947, the Toronto groups celebrated the fourth anniversary of A.A. in Canada with a weekend conference. Some 450 enthusiastic people showed up and had such a good time they decided to make it an annual affair. Over 1,100 attended the event the next year. In 1949, arrangements were made to hold it at the Royal York Hotel and call it the Ontario Regional Conference. Roughly 1,400 registered for it, and it has grown steadily ever since.
Another milestone was the visit of Bill and Lois W. to Toronto in the fall of 1947. Bill spoke to about 800 alcoholics at a closed meeting held at a West End school on Saturday night. On Sunday afternoon, he addressed a crowd of around 1,400 at an open meeting in the Tivoli Theater. The immediate result was a rush of new members.
A.A. growth and activity in Toronto reached the point in 1948 where it was becoming hard to handle properly, so a permanent secretary was hired, working out of a central office at 331 Bay Street. The 1170 Yonge Street clubroom continued as a reception centre for newcomers as well as a meetingplace.
Dr. George Little’s interest in A.A. continued undiminished and in 1947 he arranged for a weekly A.A. meeting to be held in the Mimico Reformatory. This was the forerunner of extensive and effective A.A. work in correctional institutions from coast to coast in Canada. The same year, a committee of three Toronto A.A. members presented a brief to the Ontario Minister of Health, urging that a long-term program to deal with alcoholism be considered. This resulted in the setting up of the well-known Addiction Research Foundation, first with offices and detox facilities on Harbord Street and later with headquarters at 33 Russell Street. An A.A. group met there on Thursday nights.
After World War II, both military personnel and veterans in Canada were left with drinking problems. When numbers of them found sobriety in A.A., it caught the attention of the brass. Before long, A.A. meetings began to appear on military bases and in veterans’ hospitals—at Sunnybrook Hospital in ’48 and at Camp Borden soon afterward.
When it was decided to have a General Service Conference (See Chap. 11), Bill W. came to the Ontario Regional Conference on March 3-4, 1951, to explain how this new Third Legacy would work. Ontario had to elect a delegate to attend the first G.S.C. the next month;, and after a close and exciting race, Adam C., from Toronto, was elected in 1953, he was unanimously selected as the first Canadian to serve on the Board of Trustees, 1953-57. The second delegate was Art L.; the third, Whit H. from Sarnia, Ontario. Whit attended the St.Louis International Convention in 1955 where A.A. “came of age.” Whit’s first act at the 1956 General Service Conference was to make a presentation to the admissions committee asking that a second delegate for the Province of Ontario be approved because of the enormous distances to be covered and the large A.A. population. The request was granted.
In 1965, Toronto, Ontario, was the site of the 30th Anniversary International Convention of A.A., held at the Royal York Hotel and the Mapleleaf Gardens. (See Chap. 21) It was etched in the memories of those who attended because of its emotional impact, because it was the last convention when many of A.A.’s early giants were still alive—and because it was the first to be held in Canada.
In 1955, there were already 198 groups in Ontario, with 2,866 members. By 1985, the province had 1,126 groups with an estimate membership of nearly 21,000.
In Montreal, Quebec, just before World War II, a young physician interested in alcoholism, Dr. Travis Dancey, had obtained a copy of the Big Book. He took it to the mental institution where an alcoholic patient, Dave B. was incarcerated, and tried to show it to him. Dave, angry and rebellious, literally threw the Big Book at his would-be benefactor. Dr. Dancey was taken into the service, and when he returned to Montreal in 1944 and saw Dave, the latter was newly-sober in A.A. Dave, through a sister who was desperately concerned about him, had written the service office in New York and had received from them a copy of the Big Book along with a “message of hope. encouragement and love.” Correspondence with the office arid study of the book kept him sober for the long months while he tried to carry the message to other drunks and get A.A. started in Montreal. Finally one alcoholic joined him and then another—and they stuck. Dr. Dancey recalls that when he returned, Dave not only dragged him around to A.A. meetings, “but he had the effrontery to explain the spiritual principles of the program to me!” Dave B., a tireless twelfth-stepper, was beloved throughout his lifetime – and still is today—as the founding father of A.A. in the Province of Quebec—and especially by French-speaking Quebecois. He went on to become Delegate on Panel 2 and later Class B (alcoholic) trustee 1962-64. Dr. Dancey became the first Class A. (nonalcoholic) trustee from Canada, serving from 1965 – 74.
Plans for the great 50th Anniversary International Convention in Montreal in 1985 naturally included a part of the Friday night program devoted to honoring Dave B. Although severe emphysema limited Dave’s physical activity in later middle age and made his public appearances more and more infrequent, he and his family were planning to appear in the Olympic Stadium July 5th. But on December 9, 1984 Dave passed away. Members of his family were present as he was recognized post mortem, and Dr. Travis Dancey was on the stage to take his appropriate part in the ceremony.
The first meetings in Montreal were held in members’ homes; then once a week in a room in the Montreal Forum building. As A.A. spread and grew, there were turbulent meetings and painful disagreements, but the groups kept multiplying. By 1955, there were 40 groups in the city with about 1,500 members, and other groups existed throughout Quebec. Prison groups and hospital groups were well under way.
At first the French-speaking Quebecois preferred to attend the English-speaking groups, on the grounds that language should not be a point of demarcation. However, as their numbers increased and members joined whose English was so poor they could not get adequate help from the meetings, it was decided to form a French-speaking group—the first in the world! Its first meeting was in Montreal in September 1947. Thirty-eight years later, there were approximately 1,500 French-speaking groups in Quebec, with an estimated 24,000 members! Their literature needs are served through an organization called Le Service des Publications Francaises des A.A. du Quebec (See Chap. 2), which translates and publishes the A.A. books and pamphlets in French. La Vigne A.A. is the French-language journal, similar to the A.A. Grapevine, that helps carry the message.
The rest of the Province of Quebec is even more French in language and culture than Montreal, and the strength of A.A. throughout its height and breadth is extraordinary. A.A. was brought to the picturesque walled town of Quebec City by Claude, a native of the Maritime Provinces who had sobered up in Montreal and was then transferred. He was not happy about the change, as he spoke not a word of French and the only name he had as an A.A. prospect was a French-Canadian. When he contacted the young man, it turned out—by one of those A.A. “coincidences” – that they had crossed paths in the Army overseas. The prospect got sober and they went to work with other alcoholics. Within a couple of months, a group was going in Quebec City with more than 30 members.
(MORE ON GROWTH ELSEWHERE IN QUEBEC?)
Quebec had 73 groups with 1,041 members in 1955. On A.A.’s 50th anniversary, it had 1,333 reported groups with a membership of over 26,000.
British Columbia/Yukon Territory
Out west in British Columbia, in 1944, a nonalcoholic Oxford Grouper obtained a copy of the Big Book and passed it along to Charlie B., a drunken real estate broker, who got sober. Together the two friends set out to twelfth-step alcoholics in Victoria, Vancouver and other parts of the province.
(NEED MUCH MORE ON FIRST GROUPS AND LATER HISTORY)
In 1955, British Columbia had 94 groups with a membership of 1,653. By 1985, it had 597 reported groups and over 8,600 members.
A.A. in the Yukon Territory was founded by Dal D., who had gotten sober at the Kingsway group in Vancouver in January, 1948. A major in the Canadian army, he was transferred in March to Whitehorse, in the Yukon. At one of his last Kingsway meetings, he was introduced by another member to his sister-in-law, May Stickney, “visiting from Whitehorse. She was not an alcoholic, but told him her father, Boyd J., had become a hopeless drunk.
When Dal arrived in Whitehorse, he discovered the officer he was replacing was in the hospital with a broken leg. When Dal visited him, it turned out to be a Twelfth Step call! The officer, Jim B., eventually returned to his home, Calgary, and joined the group there. Dal also contacted May Stickney and was introduced to her father and mother. He recalls, “A.A. was introduced into the conversation and I made it known I would attempt to start a group. . .When Boyd J. drove me to my quarters, I knew he was interested. Before we parted, he said he would help all he could, but it might be too late in life for him to join A.A. He was 52! I replied to him that he was alive and it would be his decision whether to carry on as he was or to change to a sober way of life.” Boyd chose A.A.
The next day, Dal visited the local newspaper and asked them to run an ad in the personal column. The editor read the ad, handed it back to Dal and said he doubted there was anyone in town who wanted to stop drinking and if they did, he was sure they would on their own. He refused to run the ad.
Coming out of the newspaper office, Dal saw a spectacular log building across the street that turned out to be the Anglican Church. On an impulse, he entered and told the rector of his hope to start an A.A. group. The rector was literally bowled over, for only the evening before, a very respected citizen of Whitehorse sat in his office and wept in drunken despair. The rector had tried to comfort him and had told him his only hope was to contact A.A. Dal immediately got in touch with the man, Marvin W., who was principal of the local high school. They met with Boyd J. at the latter’s home on. April 1, 1949 – the Yukon’s first A.A. meeting. The rector succeeded in getting Dal’s ad printed in the newspaper, and a post office box was rented for any inquiries.
The first reply came from a Jack P. just as Dal had to leave town on a brief trip. He wrote Jack to contact Boyd J. meanwhile. As it happened there was a long-standing animosity between Jack and Boyd, but Jack was desperate enough to contact Boyd anyway. “When I knocked on the door,” Jack was to relate afterward, “I was greeted with a handshake and invited to come in and have coffee. I thought to myself, if A.A. can turn an enemy into an acceptable friend, it can accomplish anything.”
Dal had lots of help from nonalcoholics including the senior medical officer at the army base, the commanding officer of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the local Roman Catholic Priest. So the group grew, and by the time Dal left two and a half years later, it had 13 members. By 1985, the Yukon had eight A.A. groups with about 110 members—a respectable representation in a very remote and sparsely populated territory. In fact, Dal said he was amazed at the respect and relief with which Alcoholics Anonymous was met in the Yukon, since it was “full of uncouth characters, fugitives from life, running away into the bottle.”
The moving force behind the coming of A.A. to Calgary, Alberta, was a nonalcoholic, John J., who had been deeply concerned about his older brother Bill’s heavy drinking. A series of benders during 1944 left Bill all but dead. John J., together with Bill’s wife, Mary, had lived through the “madness and horror”, and had prayed for an end to the lunacy. Finally, in November, when he asked brother Bill J., if he “wanted seriously to kick the booze habit,” Bill answered, “More than anything else in the world.” That set John into high gear. He sought out an uncle who was a doctor and also a doctor in a veterans’ hospital. Both were compassionate but told John that based on their experience with other alcoholics “they felt hopeless about doing or saying anything that would help Bill with his problem.”
By February 1945, Bill J. had been dry for about three months and was feeling better, but John knew it wouldn’t last. On March 11, he was cleaning out some old magazines from their mother’s basement and ran across a 1940 article in Your Life magazine entitled, “A Miracle Cure for Drinkers,” about Alcoholics Anonymous. He immediately dashed off a letter to A.A. in New York. A copy of the Big Book arrived a few weeks later and John gave it to brother Bill. When he came back the following evening, Bill was closing the book and putting it on the coffee table. John asked, “Well, Bill, what’s the verdict?” After a moment’s silence, the alcoholic slammed his fist down on the book and exclaimed, “That’s IT!”
The book had a lasting impact on Bill J., who remained sober until his death from a heart attack two years later. But when John suggested shortly that they start a group, Bill would have none of it. He was sober and was determined to go it alone. John quickly wrote again to Bobbie B. in New York and told her of his frustration. She replied with some names of prospects and words of encouragement. John ran around talking with these and other contacts, without success.
Meanwhile, Bill J.’s wife, Mary, had told a friend’s father, Wes Collins, about her husband’s newfound sobriety. Wes told his pastor, Rev. Lawlor about this “A.A. thing”, and Lawlor mentioned it to Rev. Andrew Lawson. In early September 1945, a parishioner of Lawson’s told him that her husband had an alcoholic problem and had tried desperately to quit drinking. What could be done? Rev. Lawson phoned Rev. Lawlor who phoned Wes Collins who walked over and told John J. about the call for help. That night, John gave brother Bill the name of Harry L., but Bill was still hesitant. After more talk he finally said, “Okay, I’ll talk to him, but he’d better damn well mean business.”
The following day, Bill J.. and Harry R. felt an instantaneous rapport with each other. Bill gave his new sponsee his Big Book, and Harry began to recover. Still Bill had no interest in forming a group! John was forced to continue his correspondence with Bobbie B. and his pursuit of his prospects. Through the New York office, he also received encouragement from A.A. in Vancouver and Edmonton. In mounting frustration, John told Harry R. in mid-October that he was planning to get a few individuals together to explore the possibility of forming an A.A. group, and would Harry like to attend? Harry said he “most decidedly would.” But brother Bill still refused!
So the first meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous in Calgary was held October 17, 1945, at the home of John J. ‘s mother at 821 18th Ave. S .W. attended by Harry R. (who became the leader), Frank E., Jim J., Niel S.—and John J. as an “alcoholic by proxy.” By then, John had available several copies of the Big Book and a large selection of A.A. pamphlets! The meetings continued weekly on Tuesday evenings, with other prospects attending spasmodically:
Dave W., Ed B., Billie T., Jack P., Harvey C. and Art “Robbie” R. The’ latter, referred by Rev. Lawson, turned out to be a “tub thumper for A.A.” The meeting on January 1, 1946 was held at Robbie’s home, and there, coaxed by Robbie, Bill J., showed up, at long last.
John J. was elected secretary of the group, which acquired a post office box and stationery with the letterhead, “Calgary Fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous.” By June, there were twenty members, and the group had to move out of members’ homes to the Harris Sky Rooms. A year later, the membership had more than doubled, the group had moved to the Avenue Grill, and a second group had started in the Airdrie district. Efforts were being made to inform the medical profession, community clubs and church groups.
Bill and Lois W. visited Calgary A.A. in the spring of 1948. Bill spoke to a capacity crowd of 500 at a public luncheon in the Crystal Room of the Palliser Hotel, followed by a press conference. That evening he spoke to the A.A.s at the Danish Canadian Club Hall. The next day the visitors were taken to see the sights in the Banff area. Bill and Lois’ visit gave Calgary A.A. a tremendous boost and a further increase in members. Bill dropped in again three years later, on a surprise visit. He had just been at the presentation of the Lasker Award in San Francisco and had detoured through British Columbia to see his father. As many A.A.’s as could be rounded up on short notice had breakfast with the co-founder at the York Hotel.
Through 1949-50, the members were embroiled in controversy over the advisability of using a house provided by the Alberta provincial government. (It should be remembered that the Traditions were not yet formally accepted, though the principles were being generally followed.) George D., who moved to Calgary from Edmonton, brought word that meeting facilities there were provided by the government. (George D. became Alberta’s first delegate, on Panel 1.) After a great deal of debate, the group moved into the “Chapter House” in early 1950 with many dissenters. Although a Continental Society (later an Alano Club) was formed to legally occupy the house and maintain it for the use of A.A., thus satisfying the letter of the Traditions, this did not satisfy those who opposed the whole idea. The latter, by 1951, had left to start groups of their own: at Wesley Church on 7th St. S.W., at the Garnet Block on Hillhurst, and later at the York Hotel. Mary C. formed a women’s group that met in her home. At the Alano Club quarters, a Beginners’ Group was initiated in 1953 by Matt N. (who later served as Western Canada Regional Trustee 1973-74.) Presenters who followed him included Jack Q., Bill H., Bert 0. Dave G., Ted K. and Ed A.
Groups started in Edmonton in 1945 and in Red Deer in ’47. (NEED MORE ON THE REST OF ALBERTA)
Alberta, in 1955, had a total of 40 groups with 571 members. By A.A.’s 50th year, the number of groups had swelled to 416, and the number of members to 5,200.
A.A. started in Regina and Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, at roughly the same time. And in Regina, two separate individuals share the honor. The first of these was Sandy K., who had been on a 13-year bender ending in trips to jails and hospitals, and had no hope of recovery. But early in 1947 he came across a reprint of the famous Jack Alexander article and wrote to the Alcoholic Foundation in New York for literature. He had his last drink March 20, 1947. A few months later, feeling the need to find other alcoholics, he went to Calgary to attend the A.A. meetings there and learn how to start a group in Regina. By the beginning of 1948, Sandy had found a couple of drunks to work with, but they didn’t stay sober and he was left a loner until he finally got another group of four together on November 4, to begin meeting regularly at his house.
Meanwhile, in early 1947, Bob H. of Regina wrote to Akron, Ohio, for information about A.A., and received in return a copy of the Big Book and other literature. As Bob H. was in the brewery business, he preferred to remain very anonymous, but by August 1947, he had organized a group with seven members which met at the Dominion Bank Building. Soon afterward, the groups started by Sandy and Bob must have gotten together, as the records show one Regina group. By March 1949, it had 20 members; by late summer, 40, who were meeting in the recreation room of a downtown plant. The New Year’s Eve party that year was attended by more than 100, including family members.
Cam McK. introduced A.A. to Saskatoon when he joined the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix in May 1947 as a sports reporter. Cam had previously been a hard-drinking sports reporter with the Winnipeg Free Press, but had drunk himself out of the job and had gone to work as a paint salesman out of Calgary. And it was there he joined A.A. in May 1946. After staying sober as a lone member for a period, Cam got a group going in ’48 with a membership of fourwhich grew to 29 within a year.
Ministik was probably the next spot to organize a group—in February 1948, with six members. The next year, four more were added, and in the spring of ’50 Ministik had its own clubrooms and 22 members. In Lumsden, a town about 50 kilometers from Regina, Sheff and Marj B. had the A.A. message carried to them in July 1947. They began attending meetings in Regina, where they maintained a close association and were very active, but they later organized a group in Lumsden as well.
Prince Albert saw the start of A.A. in 1949, through the efforts of Burton. Lewis, then editor of the Prince Albert Herald. Elmer H., one of the leaders in P.A. over the years, made his first A.A. contact in 1947 after driving into a train and nearly killing himself and three other people. Elmer wrote to Winnipeg at that time asking for information about A.A. but took no action on it until four years later. He asked one of his old drinking buddies to join him for a beer, only to learn his friend was in A.A. Elmer asked if he could join, and his buddy answered, “Of course.” Elmer attended meetings but slipped, and finally had his last drink on January 2, 1952.
Elmer H. recalls the help that was given to them by Cam McK. and others from Saskatoon. Along with another member of P.A.’s #1 group, Angus C., Elmer and one or two others started a second group, the Starlight 1954 group, which met in the basement of Elmer’s store. Jake C. became the mainstay of the group and helped start the annual Gateway Roundup, which has made Prince Albert famous throughout the A.A. Fellowship in Canada and the U.S. In the last several decades, Cecil C., a fur merchant in P.A. and ubiquitous circuit speaker, has been the moving force behind the Roundup which draws thousands of A.A. visitors to this town of 35,000. This, in turn, has made Prince Albert have the largest per-capita A.A. membership in the Prairie Provinces with 14 groups. (“Cec” C. was delegate from Alberta on Panel 7 and Western Canada Trustee of A.A. from 1977-80.)
In addition to the above-mentioned Saskatchewan communities, by 1950 A.A. groups were established in Davidson, Kerrobert, North Battleford, Wilkie, and Yorkton. In October of that year, the first Provincial Roundup was held in Regina, at the Hotel Saskatchewan attended by 250. The following year, the movement spread to Lloydminster, Moose Jaw, Meadow Lake, Wawota and Weyburn. In Regina and Saskatoon, other new groups were forming. Groups throughout Saskatchewan sprang up like mushrooms during the rest of the 1950’s. New groups frequently were responsible for the start of other new groups. For example, the original Hughton-Rosetown group split into two groups. Then the Hughton group members started the groups at Elrose, Dinsmore, Kyle and other towns in the area; and Rosetown spawned a new group at Zealandia. For another example, the Kipling group had a direct influence on the beginning of groups at Montmartre and Wawota.
A.A. groups in Saskatchewan numbered 52 by 1955, with 562 members. By 1985, the province had 321 groups with a membership of 3,800.
The Maritime Provinces
A.A. visitors to St.John’s, Newfoundland, are reminded that this is the farthest eastern group of Alcoholics Anonymous in North America. Just how far is emphasized by the fact that it is 3. 1/2 hours (i.e., 1 1/2 time zones) east of Maine! And because they are somewhat separated from the rest of Canada by distance and by water, the Maritime Provinces—New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland—have a character of their own – a character shaped in part by the fact that Scots and Irish predominated among the early settlers. These same characteristics made the Maritime A.A.’s a solid, strong and dedicated lot.
Although there were some lone members in the Maritimes before 1947, it was not until that year that the first group was organized, and it happened in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia. Fred P., a New Glasgow native, had reached his bottom in New Orleans and joined A.A. there. He came home for Christmas in 1946 and while there passed on the A.A. message to some of his boyhood friends. Encouraged by their reaction, he placed a two-line personal in the local paper, which collected a dozen or so prospects who admitted they had a problem and wanted out. Before Fred left, just after New Years 1947, the first group meeting in the Maritimes was held.
Next came Prince Edward Island. Walter B. of Charlottetown, in search of an answer to his drinking problem, had traveled to Toronto to find A.A. Back home, in the spring of 1947 Walter rounded up enough alcoholics desiring help to form a group. It was followed soon afterward by a group in Summerside. In July 1947, Claire C., a Montreal A.A., visited Moncton, New Brunswick, to visit friends. Knowing of her recovery, they had spotted other likely prospects for Claire to talk to. She was able to start a group before she left, which flourished from the beginning.
In Nova Scotia, A.A.’s first foothold was in Halifax. Although two or three alcoholics learned of A.A. and tried to get together in Halifax as early as 1946, they slipped too frequently to form a viable group. It was not until the next year that Al M. received some A.A. pamphlets in the mail from a concerned sister in Brockton, Massachusetts. Inspired by what he read, he made a grand tour of A.A. in Montreal, Brockton, Boston and New York. Returning home, he rounded up the earlier slippers and found other recruits. Before year’s end, regular meetings were being held. They were given a tremendous shot in the arm when Bill F., “the sage of the 24th St. Clubhouse” in New York, visited Halifax for a week and shared his experience.
The next year, 1948, was one of growth and expansion. New Brunswick, which adjoins Maine and literally surrounds it on two sides, received help from A.A.’s there, as well as from Montreal. And groups began in St. John, Fredericton, Edmonston, Bathurst and Campbelltown. In Nova Scotia, Yarmouth, Bridgewater, Antigonish, Kentville and Truro joined the fold. Three groups were added on Prince Edward Island. And in October, the Maritime Intergroup Association was organized with headquarters in Moncton. It was modeled roughly after the New York Intergroup.
Until 1949, Newfoundland was a separate Colony of Great Britain. And in that year, when it joined Canada, it also acquired its first A.A. group, in cornerbrook. Jerry M. had left home and become a drunk in Montreal. He reached New York, where he joined A.A. before returning to form a group in his own town. Shortly afterward, a group began in St.John’s, the capital city.
(NEED MORE ON MARITIMES SINCE 1949)
The four Martitime Provinces—New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland—together in 1955 had 74 groups and 1,387 members. In A.A.’s 50th year they had 474 groups with a combined membership of about 6,000.