A brief history of SQEBC

by Louis Lefebvre (McGill University, Montréal)

louis_2011 from his webpage.jpg

SQEBC was founded by a group of graduate students in ethology at the University of Montréal in the departments of Biological Sciences and Psychology. The student nucleus, most of them working with professor Georg Baron, had been brought together by a discussion group and they felt the need to unite all of the people in Québec interested in the field of ethology.

This need was formed in a particular context. First, there was a strong interest in the field, from the University level to that of the general public, that had been inspired by the Nobel Prize given in 1973 to Konrad Lorenz, Niko Tinbergen and Karl von Frisch. Second, this interest generated an intense demand at the graduate studies level, where there were only a few professors in the area. This situation was particularly evident at the University of Montreal: in psychology, the students interested by ethology had to find a supervisor who was not specialized in the area; in biology, Georg Baron directed many students while working to bring together his interests in neuro-anatomy and ethology. Third, the interdisciplinary aspect of ethology (at the time, the domain interested zoologists and psychologists equally) made growth difficult, with each department tossing the ball to the other. Fourth, the founding group had no clear idea of how to fill the void that it detected. It was obvious from the beginning, for example, that interesting links could be made with anglophone researchers in Québec, which excluded from the outset a linguistic definition like that of ACFAS. Before its official founding on November 15th, 1975 and its legal incorporation in June, 1975, SQEBC had a prehistory. It is the chronicle of this prehistory that I wish to describe here, thanks to the archives of SQEBC and the memories of a few of the founding members.

SQÉBC before SQÉBC : The Association of Graduate Students in Ethology

The first documented meeting of the founders of SQEBC was on December 10, 1974 at the University of Montréal biological station at St. Hippolite. From the beginning, the group insisted on formalizing what might have been an informal series of discussions: agenda, minutes, a secretary and chairperson that changed at each meeting, and appointment of the group as "the Association of Graduate Students in Ethology". Those present at this first meeting included Professor Georg Baron and his grad students of the time, François Doré, Viviane Gagnon, Robert Joly, Pierre Murray, François-Marie Pépin, Jacques Prescott et Léonard Ricard.


Monthly meetings were held until April 1975, with Dominique Décarie joining in January and myself in March. These monthly meetings generally included a seminar presented by a student on their thesis topic, updates on the common reference file kept by the students, and discussions on how to stimulate the study of ethology in Québec, the contacts made with various groups, and the lack of technical staff and faculty in the field. 


At a meeting on April 9th, 1975, it was decided that the group should, over the summer, contact all of the Québécois researchers interested in ethology and, in the fall, formally enlarge the association to the whole of Quebec. A meeting on October 8th, 1975, confirmed the interest of many people in a future "Société québécoise d'éthologie" (the name proposed at the time): favorable responses were received from UQAM (Jacques Beaugrand and Jean Gingras), Laval University (the archives mention, without names, 5 people in biology and 2 in psychology), McGill University (Don Kramer indicated an interest from 5 people), UQAR (Jean Ferron) and the School of Veterinary Medecine at Ste-Hyacinthe (Olivier Garon and his students). The archives note the lack of response from Sherbrooke University and Concordia (at the time Sir Georges Williams), which have since become extremely active.

The founding meeting

Following these steps, an application for incorporation was filed with the Government of Québec by the temporary board of directors (Georg Baron, Viviane Gagnon, Robert Joly, Louis Lefebvre et Roger Ward) and a formal founding assembly was called for November 15th, 1975. A statement of rules and regulations and a draft chrater was sent to all interested parties. Twenty-five people were officially present at the founding meeting (either this figure is incorrect, or the votes were miscounted, but the minutes indicate a total of 27 or 28 votes): Robert Steele (Champlain Regional College, Lennoxville); Don Kramer and Neil Brown (McGill Biology); Jacques Beaugrand (Université du Québec à Montréal, psychologie); Jean Gingras (Université du Québec à Montréal, biologie); Suzanne Marceau, Renée Larochelle, Claudette Beaumont, Daniel Paquette, Sylvie Boissonneault, Robert Joly, Jean-Pierre Sabourin, Jacques Prescott, Viviane Gagnon, Dominique Décarie, Léonard Ricard, Pierre Murray, François-Marie Pépin and Georg Baron (Université de Montréal, sciences biologiques); Suzanne Brissette, Nanouk Daudelin, Mireille Mathieu, Louis Lefebvre and François Doré (Université de Montréal, psychologie); Jean Ferron (Université du Québec à Rimouski). 

The assembly discussed several questions, among them its linguistic policy. It was decided that "given that the assembly is made up of francophones and anglophones, it will generally be held in French. However, for those who have trouble with this language, questions can be asked and comments made in English and, for those who do not understand French, answers may also be given in English. If information given by the Chair or any other member is also not understood, a summary can be given in English" (quoted from the minutes).

There was also the question of a name: the original proposal "Société Québécoise d'Éthologie" was replaced, based on a suggestion from Georg Baron, by ""Société Québécoise pour l'Étude Biologique du Comportement". The draft charter was approved or amended, rule by rule, and elections, sometimes heatedly contested by three or four candidates (which has rarely occurred since...), gave the following Executive Committee: Jean Gingras, President; Don Kramer, Vice-president; Louis Lefebvre, Secretary; Jacques Prescott, Treasurer; Robert Joly, counselor. The mandate of this first committee was to circulate information about the society and its activities related to the study of behaviour, to organize the first annual meeting and to set up a newsletter. There was also an interest in establishing a documentation center.

The declared goals of the society were to (1) "unite for scientific purposes all those interested in animal behaviour and in human and animal ethology; these people may come from biology, psychology, anthropology or any other domain interested in ethology; (2) to share knowledge and resources; (3) to encourage research, theoretical discussion and exchanges among researchers by means of seminars, conferences, etc.; (4) to ensure the dissemination of this knowledge through scientific publications; (5) to work so that ethology takes a more prominent place in Québec in both research and university level teaching; and (6) to increase the awareness of ethology in the general public."

SQEBC was born. Forty years later, has it reached its goals?

Louis Lefebvre
Department of Biology, McGill University


Louis Lefebvre
McGill University