The History of the HAO

By 1968, Humanist groups appeared on the Canadian scene in Toronto, Vancouver and Victoria. Several people in Ottawa including Joan and Peter Gawn, and Enid and Don Page, were meeting regularly as members of the Rationalist Press Association and the British Humanist Association. This group became motivated to form a Humanist group in Ottawa after reading an article in the Ottawa Citizen about the activities of the Montreal Humanist Fellowship under its president, Dr Henry Morgentaler. In response to an advertisement in the two major Ottawa newspapers, more than a dozen people met at the Page and Gawn households during 1968 to plan the founding of a local Humanist group.

The first inaugural meeting of the Humanist Association of Ottawa (HAO) took place on Friday, 6th December, 1968 in the home of Betty and Bill Slade. Joan Gawn became HAO's first president. Joan Gawn and Don Page were elected to represent the new Ottawa group at the fledgling HAC, and both served as founding HAC executive members. These HAC meetings took place quarterly at Dr Morgentaler's house in Montreal. Don was responsible for developing the HAC constitution and along with his first wife Enid, also drafted the HAO constitution.

The HAO quickly became a monthly discussion group, with meetings held in private households. Public meetings were held as often as possible with speakers, usually at the National Library on Wellington Street. The founding members insisted from the beginning that the HAO, like the HAC, should be more than just a discussion group. The rapidly growing non-theistic segment of society needed public policy changes that reflected the secular outlook. Therefore, they decreed that HAO should become active in the issues of the day and bring to political attention the need for such reforms. An early activity provided local support to Dr Morgentaler as he briefed the federal government on the need for abortion law reform. Another effort, led by Gavin McEwen, developed a brief to the LeDain Royal Commission recommending the decriminalization of recreational drugs.

Over the years, HAO was active in producing resolutions ranging from Gun Control to Gay Rights which were subsequently passed at the annual general meetings of the HAC. Appropriate government ministries were also sent copies of the resolutions.

Written by Sheila Ayala with acknowledgements to:
Don Page for the early history of HAO.
Blodwen Piercy for providing the list of resolutions.
Steve Zabarylo for maintaining HAO records in such precise order.