In the Beginning

– by Lorraine Metcalf, Charter Member

As one of our chapter’s founders, it’s been rewarding to watch the development of our group during its formative years. From the fall of 1979, with less than a dozen known technical writers working in the lower mainland, to now, almost two hundred members strong, there’s every indication that this pattern of growth will continue, and, along with it, opportunities for our members to develop and improve their skills.

My first encounter with STC in was in 1973. As a Technical Writer/Editor at UBC’s Computing Centre, I worked with two other technical writers, Jon Nightingale and Sieglinde Hogg ,writing and editing documentation for programs running on UBC’s mainframe computer. Jon and Sieglinde had already discovered STC, and encouraged me to join. Back then, our only contact with other technical writers was at international conferences, and through the STC journal and international newsletter.

After attending my first STC conference in Dallas in 1978, I was hooked. I became one of many Vancouver area STC members referred to as members at large. My intense dislike of that term, coupled with encouragement and support from other members in Vancouver and from other STC chapters in Canada, led to the formation of our own chapter on February 21, 1984. It took a lot of work along the way.

Jon Nightingale actually got things jump started. By sifting through the 1979 STC membership directory, he contacted the nine members living in Vancouver, and two living in Victoria, and proposed that we establish a local group. Spurred on by an enthusiastic response, Jon corresponded with STC headquarters in Washington, D.C. about the possibility of forming a branch. We needed 15 members to become a chapter, so rather than wait, we opted for branch status.

The stage was set. Now all we needed to become an official branch were three signatures on the application form, and a name. 

The Name Game
Jon and I finally decided on the name Canadian Pacific. We wanted to avoid including Vancouver in the name to encourage prospective membership from outside the greater Vancouver area. We also wanted our name to be representative of Canada, and readily identify our location to our American colleagues, many of whom had no idea where B.C. was, never mind Vancouver.

After filling out the necessary paperwork, we officially became a branch by August 1979. Unfortunately, neither Jon nor I had much time after that to organize a meeting, but through the magic of networking, word of our small group spread throughout the lower mainland. We spent a lot of time talking to local members about getting together sometime, but no one actually got around to doing anything about it.

It wasn’t until the summer of 1983 that everything started to come together, thanks to the combined work efforts of founding members Diane Forsyth, Pat Lawson, John Sprung, Kathy Sayers, Will Wheeler, Duncan Kent, Jon Nightingale, and myself. People started talking about STC to their co-workers, students, and colleagues, and our membership grew to 17. More importantly, members wanted to do more than just talk.

On October 18, 1983, the Canadian Pacific Branch of the STC had its first meeting, with 13 people in attendance. Over wine and cheese, and coffee in my kitchen, we discussed the personal and professional benefits that participation in our group would bring.

The following month, we published our first chapter newsletter, as yet unnamed. We continued to meet regularly over the next few months, and our membership continued to grow.

By February 21, 1984, we were granted chapter status, and with a little seed money from STC headquarters, we were able to make long-term plans for our future. And what a future we had to look forward to!

 There was the joint ABCA/STC Canadian Regional Business Communications Conference at Douglas College in the spring of 1984, at which many of our members participated.

 By September 1984, our newsletter had an official name, Coast Lines, we had money in the bank for program development, and had an Employment Referral Service, managed by Kathleen Sayers.

 In 1985 Pat Lawson undertook an Employment Survey to establish a performance and salary base for local technical writers, and to determine what kinds of jobs were available, and what educational and professional experience were required.

 That same year, our newsletter, under the editorship of Angela Runnals and Trish MacVey, won an Award of Achievement in the international competition.

 And May 1985 marked the highpoint of our chapter’s history—we received the Society’s Chapter Achievement Award.

 1988 was another milestone year in our chapter’s history—after close to two years of planning, STC and SFU co-sponsored the Writers’ 88 conference, thanks to Sheena Ashdown and her hard-working committee.

It’s been very rewarding to watch the development of our group during its formative years: We’ve grown from a small group of technical communicators working in relative isolation to a large group of professionals well recognized by the local business community. In the early 90s, our chapter name was changed from Canadian Pacific chapter to Canada West Coast chapter (the reasons for the change resulted from a simple request to BC Tel for a listing in the phone book, a yet-to-be-documented story in our chapter’s history).

Since this article was published in Coast Lines, the Canada West Coast chapter has continued to grow and thrive, creating a strong base for the technical communications profession in British Columbia.