Tales from the Jurassic Period: Ramblings from a Dinosaur
May 31, 2019 | Heather Ebbs
Five or six of us sat around a table in some seedy downtown Ottawa hotel in late 1985 or ’86. It was my first time at a FEAC [Freelance Editors’ Association of Canada] meeting. I had recently started freelancing after five years as in‑house editor, typesetter, layout person, telephone answerer, accountant and general dogsbody for a small publishing firm, and I was thrilled when I discovered a listing for an editors’ association in the telephone book.
Doyne Ahern chaired that meeting, and one of the first things she did was ask if one of us would volunteer to take minutes. Thus began my volunteer career in FEAC/EAC/Editors Canada. I served as local (National Capital Region, or NCR) secretary, treasurer, membership secretary and chair before moving to many and varied roles at the national level.
Back in those early years our numbers in the NCR branch (now Editors Ottawa–Gatineau) were small. Some of the people I remember, besides Doyne, are Jane Buckley, Heather Lang, Judith Whitehead, Henry Knoll, Karin Lynch, Jennifer Rae-Brown, Sandra LaFortune and Agnes McIvor. Meetings were held in a downtown hotel, then in the RA Centre and eventually in the Arts Court, but I vaguely recall a couple of other venues, too. And our exec meetings were always held at someone’s house—Jane Buckley’s dining room springs to mind.
Back then we weren’t called a branch; the clusters of us outside Toronto were just called groups or regions. Member meetings in Toronto were de facto national meetings. The national executive nominally included the chairs of the NCR, British Columbia and Montreal regions, but everyone else on the executive lived in Toronto, and the national executive was the Toronto executive. And given the expense of travel and FEAC’s scanty coffers, executive meetings almost never included one of us from out-of-Toronto. We were represented, instead, by a National Coordinating Committee (NCC) chairperson. The NCC was established in spring 1986, and I believe Elizabeth Reid was its first chair. Subsequent chairs were Lee d’Anjou and then Olive (Ollie) Koyama. Ollie was the last chair of that committee, as it was dissolved after our national restructuring in 1991.
One thing that bound us together was the biennial “think tanks” held in the Gananoque–Kingston area, where the national executive and a couple of members from each of the regions would gather to share concerns and ideas. (And get to know one another: I have a vivid and marvellous memory of a group of us sitting about after dinner, listening to Steve Roney’s rich voice as he sang “Barrett’s Privateers”.) It was at one of these, I think in the fall of 1989, that a few of us from the outposts presented our crazy idea that we regions had grown up a bit and were ready to give the Toronto folk a break from parenting. And in early 1990, someone (Wendy Thomas, maybe?) called me to ask if I’d be interested in being the first non-Toronto president of the association. Torontonian Shaun Oakey had also been approached, but when the two of us talked it over, Shaun kindly suggested that I should be P and he VP because it was important in our first year as a national + branches system to have someone from outside Toronto as president. Shaun then took on the role of Best Vice President Ever —I talked over everything with him.
What a year 1990–91 was! With a more truly national executive (well, most people were still from Toronto, but my Ottawa colleague Kathleen Wright was national technology chair, and the regional representatives were funded to come to some meetings), the executive meetings were fewer in number but much longer in duration. The first one was a doozy—I remember driving home afterward totally exhausted, and a day or two later writing a lengthy letter to all 18 members of the executive in an effort to help us feel more united. A letter, by the way, that had to be mailed by Canada Post; email wasn’t in common use yet, although Kathleen was looking into this fascinating new technology that many of our members had expressed interest in. I spent many hours on the telephone that first year, talking to both general and executive members (and especially to my right-hand man, Shaun). Meanwhile, Ruth Chernia took on the immense task of establishing and running the new and massive Toronto branch. For FEAC as a whole it turned out to be a tremendously productive year, but dearest to my heart were the two votes held by mail-in ballot, enabling the participation of all members from coast to coast to coast in the votes to restructure the national executive and to approve the draft Professional Editorial Standards.
Year two, 1991–92, was much easier, as those of us going into our second year nationally were more comfortable with our roles and as Ruth had wrangled Toronto into great shape as a branch. We even held one of the exec meetings in Ottawa, which was great for me. That year also marked the first year of the restructured executive, down to 11 from the previous 18. Among other accomplishments, the first edition of the Standards was published, we began setting up a national archives, we established a long-range planning committee under the magnificent John Eerkes, and we held our first joint conference with another organization.
BC’s Peter Colenbrander took on the presidency after me, and I hung around as past president. It was under Peter’s gently guiding hand that the next momentous change for FEAC took place, when we dropped the “F” word and became EAC, opening our doors to full membership for in-house editors. The step wasn’t taken lightly. The Long-Range Planning Committee, under first John Eerkes and then Nancy Flight and Käthe Roth, surveyed editors (members and non-members) across the country; members discussed the change extensively at regional meetings; articles on the topic appeared regularly in Active Voice; and the public relations committee communicated thoroughly with the members and the branches about the corporate identity implications. Peter credits Ruth Pincoe (who succeeded him as president) and me with drafting the motion that was sent to members for voting in February 1994, but in truth I recall many voices participating. I think in large part because of the thorough communication over more than a year, the change from FEAC to EAC was overwhelmingly endorsed.
That change has proven immeasurably positive for our association, but at this point I’ll let others take up the tale, as my term as past president ended soon afterward. Since then I’ve continued to poke my dinosaur beak into various things EAC/Editors Canada, including membership, certification, the Fairley award, standards, Editing Canadian English and more.
It’s been fun writing this brief tale of those early years in FEAC; so many wonderful people, places and activities have been brought to mind. Thanks for the memories!