President's Corner

President’s Corner

Colin A. Haig, M.Sc. (

Why did you join the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada?

For the adventure, the promise of wonderful memories, the new experiences, the friendships, the knowledge, the expertise, the sense of community. Perhaps you see it as a chance to learn, a chance to lead; a chance to inspire the next generation of stargazing enthusiasts and astronomers.

As your new President, I hope to draw on those wonderful experiences that were the reasons I became and stayed a member. In 2017–2018, we’ll celebrate the joys of the past 150 years and ensure we are on the right path for the next 150. It’s a great honour to serve you, and it is daunting as well. Finances are tight but healthy, membership has topped 5100 people, and things are looking up. Yet there are urgent matters to attend to, and the stars do not wait for us.

We urgently need to put our energy into four key areas: Diversity, People, Sustainability, and Science. Canada’s 2016 census data is now available, and the RASC membership is not representative of the general population. This is a lost opportunity, that we must address quickly. Women represent 16% of our membership, 26% of the professional astronomy community, and 51% of our population. Children 10 to 14 years old are 5% of the population and 15 to 19 are 6%, and we have a handful of youth members. To improve our diversity, we must change our culture to be open and welcoming to more people, regardless of their background, beliefs, gender, sexuality, or age. Are you comfortable making people welcome at your Centre? Are you aware of our Anti-Harassment Policy? Do you realize that your behaviour in person or on social media creates the culture for our guests and new members? Let’s create a culture that is open, welcoming, safe, and fun.

If we have the right culture, and are retaining members, this will help with sustainability. As stewards, you and I need to ensure the RASC will be around 150 years from now. This means we need to take care of our people—the volunteers and staff who make everything happen. We need to build the skills through coaching and mentorship to aid more people with presenting, running a Centre, leading a stargazing party, and cultivating the next generation of leaders. Financial sustainability is critical. At present, your membership fees bring you a lot of benefit, but there is nothing left over to pay for the fight against light pollution, to build better programs, to create new resources, or tackle the other important things that we aspire to do.

Past President Craig Levine shared some elements of our Strategic Plan with you. We’ll be rolling that out immediately, by sharing it directly with you and at Centre meetings. One of our first results is we now have a Fundraising Committee and are looking to hire a fundraiser, to help us do more outreach and tackle the big, inspiring “moonshot” projects that will catapult the RASC into the next 150 years.

You and I need to ensure the funding is in place to create opportunities for Canadians to do real science and to inspire the next generation of young scientists. We can’t do this if the piggy bank is empty. We’ll be asking for your help with this in the coming months—not necessarily your money, but your enthusiasm, energy, and ideas. Can I also ask you to start tracking your volunteer hours? I’d love to see us report on how much time people generously give each year. We hope to formalize this reporting with an easy-to-use tool that builds on the past efforts by Ron McNaughton, our IT team, and others.

Thank you to the amazing and enthusiastic crew in Ottawa and the volunteers and staff in our organization that made the 2017 General Assembly a great success. I was personally touched by the opportunity to co-present many awards with Past President Craig Levine. Science writer Ivan Semeniuk brought a tear to my eyes with a small speech. Our members honoured him with the Simon Newcomb Award, and so for the first time in his career, he was recognized for science writing in astronomy. Clearly, this is long-overdue recognition. I was also touched by many Service Award winners, who felt in some way they were not deserving, yet had contributed their amazing talent for over a decade. Join me in Calgary at the next General Assembly!

Our first National Star Party was a success, and the 150th Anniversary team promises we will have a humdinger of an event in 2018. As we celebrate our sesquicentennial, our volunteers have promised a lot of fun and even quirky activities, ranging from new publications to podcasts on the weird and wonderful history of our Society. I am looking forward to seeing what you all come up with!

Whether its star parties, or eclipse chasing, members like you will be sharing their recent adventures to the USA and across Canada. We’re sure to hear of new discoveries, see amazing images, and hear tall tales. This “Great American Eclipse of 2017” compelled me to look back to Manitoba’s 1979 February 26 event and to discover some others. A total solar eclipse on 1959 October 2 over Massachusetts may have inspired American poet Delmore Schwartz’ Summer Knowledge: New and Select Poems. Let me leave you with his words:

Each minute bursts in the burning room,
The great globe reels in the solar fire,
Spinning the trivial and unique away.
(How all things flash! How all things flare!)
What am I now that I was then?
May memory restore again and again
The smallest color of the smallest day:
Time is the school in which we learn,
Time is the fire in which we burn.

His words should inspire a sense of urgency to do all the memorable things, so we can joyfully say to all who ask: “At the RASC, our business is looking up!”


Last modified: 
Monday, October 2, 2017 - 10:23pm