Vol. 3, No. 1 (Fall 2021)
Brian Hotson, CWCR/RCCR Editor
Although writing centres in Canada date to the mid-1960s (See Table 1) (Proctor, 2011, p. 418; Bromley, 2017, p. 35), writing tutoring and writing instruction, of course, didn’t begin with the first writing centres. Writing instruction has a progenitor dating to the first European colonizers in what is now called Canada (Halifax Gazette, 1752). Because the Canadian writing centre field is young, many of the key founders and figures in its development continue to add to its literature and practice. These writing centre practitioners in the past thirty years have created a significant body of work, including publications, repositories of information, modes of practice, national and regional associations and conferences, and proactive advocacy and social justice work. While there have been times in the past where shifts in writing centres in Canada have caused worries about centre funding and importance, writing centres will not disappear from Canada’s education field. In fact, writing centres will continue to grow in importance, as writing centres
are more vital in the Canadian context because Writing Centres are not “marginal” places of writing instruction as they may be viewed in the United States. In the absence of the universal composition requirement, the primary Canadian site for writing pedagogy is, unlike the American context, the Writing Centre. (Beard, 2009)
Writing centres in Canada are the fermentation ground for innovative theoretical and pedagogical work. Writing centres are entrenched in Canada’s educational institutions, as they provide a frame, model, and structure for a significant number of additional academic supports within educational institutions. While the story of scholarly writing at the COVID turn as it relates to writing centres is yet to be written, there is confidence that writing centres will be viewed as a significant contributor to stabilizing virtual education in Canada.
Table 1 – Canadian writing centres/labs by establishing date
How it started
Prior to the 2000s, several writing-focused associations and organizations existed, such as the Canadian Association for the Study of Language and Learning (CASLL, aka Inkshed (1982-2015)) and the Canadian Association for the Study of Discourse and Writing (CASDW, formerly the Canadian Association of Teachers of Technical Writing (CATTW)) founded in 1982 (About, n.d.). CWCA/ACCR past-president, Theresa Hyland, writes that the “grandmother” of CASDW and CWCA/ACCR is CASLL (Hyland, 2014, p. 12). Otherwise known as Inkshed, first officially and then affectionately, it began as a collaboration of Russ Hunt and James A. Reither, both of St. Thomas University in New Brunswick (Proctor, 2018).
The continuing legacy of Inkshed is the Inkshed Newsletter (1983-2015), also a brainchild of Reither and Hunt. These volumes remain a largely untapped resource of the development of writing theory and practice as well as of writing centres in Canada. I have created a searchable repository of the Inkshed newsletter (with permission of past newsletter editors, Russ Hunt, Margaret Proctor, and Roger Graves) for researchers to be able to search by keyword (B. Hotson, personal communication, June 3, 2021).
It is in the Inkshed Newsletter’s volumes that the first piece written specifically about writing centres in Canada (that I could locate) is found. Draft editing in the writing centre, written by Doug Brent, then writing centre director at the University of Calgary, was published in 1983 (Brent, 1983, p. 2-3). Here, Brent mentions the “rapidly proliferating institution of the writing centres” in Canada (p. 2), which began in earnest in the 1970s (see Table 1). Looking at the Inkshed Newsletter repository between 1983 and 2006, a number of writing centres related articles were published and events noted. In 1987, it’s recorded that Katherine McManus and Jacqueline Bowse (Memorial University Writing Centre) presented at CCCC’s on Evaluation in the writing centre: An unresolvable dilemma? (Inkshedders at CCCC, 1987, p. 2), with an excerpt of the presentation published in the newsletter as The dilemma of evaluation in the writing centre: A reading for two voices (Howse & McManus, 1987, p. 3-4), revealing a significant level of scholarship developing in writing centres studies. This is also the case in Jim Bell’s article, Small-scale evaluations for writing centres in these times of trouble (1996), a quantitative study of student evaluation of tutoring sessions in University of Northern British Columbia.
What is noteworthy is that at the inaugural AGM of CASLL in 1994, a suggested topic for their annual conference “The general crisis regarding writing centres” (Inaugural General Meeting of CASLL, 1994, p. 4) was proposed. Though this was not accepted, it shows a great deal of interest, developing scholarship, and a need for more singular focus of community in writing centres and the field of writing centre studies in Canada, as can be seen from the titles of the pieces being published. Writing centre professionals felt isolated and threatened by lack of funding and recognition within their institutions. Writing centre administrators, instructors, and tutors began to look for support and community beyond CASLL and CASDW, neither of which could provide for these specific needs (Hyland, 2014).
From STLHE SIG to independence
It would be another 10 years until the beginning of a writing centre association. At the 2006 Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (STLHE) conference in Toronto, a group of writing centre professionals met over lunch to discuss interest for the development of a writing centre association (Holock, 2007, p. 2; Canadian Writing Centres…, 2008; Landry, 2016, p. 38). This group, members of whom included Marion McKeown, Joanne André, Linda Bondoc-McLeod, Tyler Tokaryk, Martin Holock, among others (Holock, 2007, p. 2; Hotson, 2020), found that there was a great deal of enthusiasm and need for the development of an association as a community of writing centre practitioners. In 2007, CWCA/ACCR was founded and applied to become a special interest group of STLHE (Holock, 2007, p. 2; Hughes, 2007a, p. 15). The first AGM of CWCA/ACCR was held on June 18, 2008 at the STLHE conference in Edmonton. The new association met as a STLHE SIG at a meeting called “Canadian Writing Centres and Student Writing Special Interest Group (SIG) Annual General Meeting” (World of Learning, 2008, p. 4).
At this conference, there were four sessions specifically for writing centre professionals, Beyond the Five Paragraph Essay: From Assignation to Elaboration in Undergraduate Writing Practice; Exploring the Pros and Cons of Implementing Synchronous, Online Tutoring in Writing Centres; Addressing the Unique Needs of Graduate Writers; and Communication Café: A Proactive Approach to Engaging ESL Students. These sessions were presented by a mix of large and small universities and colleges―University of Toronto, University of Saskatchewan, University of Ottawa; Athabasca University, University of Ontario Institute of Technology, Durham College, and Ontario College of Art and Design (A World of Learning, 2008).
However, CWCA/ACCR did not thrive as a STLHE SIG for several reasons: 1) STLHE is a forum for teaching and learning administrators―there were very few sessions that related directly to the field of writing centres; 2) STLHE conference fees were (and remain) prohibitive for many; 3) STLHE would not allow, at first, for CWCA/ACCR to hold an AGM as a SIG; 4) No paper presentations or workshops were allowed within the SIG; all papers had to be presented to the conference generally, significantly lowering the possible numbers of conference papers on writing centres; 5) Many CWCA/ACCR members were also members of CASDW and CASLL, and the STLHE conference was held at different dates and locations to these associations, making the cost in time and money of attending both the Congress and STHLE conferences prohibitive; 6) A major sticking point was CWCA/ACCR’s attempts to develop their own web presence, as well as a scholarship, neither of which was supported to a great extent by STLHE. As a result of these issues, attendance by CWCA/ACCR’s members to the STLHE conferences steadily declined.
This was evidenced in 2012 when the CWCA/ACCR’s AGM was attended by only four members: three, Liv Marken, Brian Hotson, and Past-Chair Marion McKeown, attended in person, and CWCA/ACCR Chair, Linda Bondoc-McLeod, via video link. At this meeting, Hotson was elected Chair, Theresa Hyland Vice-Chair, and Bondoc-McLeod moved into the Past-Chairship. Hotson moved with the association’s approval to officially end CWCA/ACCR’s association with STLHE in June 2012 (B. Hotson, personal communication, July 5, 2012).
Part of the planning for CWCA/ACCR for 2013 was to reconstitute the association’s web presence, create social media accounts, and to hold a conference “that would specifically address the needs of the Canadian writing centre community and that would not be prohibitively expensive” (Hyland, 2014b, p. 12). This first conference was co-chaired by Laurie Waye (University of Victoria) and Hotson and was held in 2013 in University of Victoria. The conference was held just prior to the beginning of the Congress of the Humanities to coincide with the CASDW and CASLL conferences (the CASLL conference was held in Vancouver a few days after the CWCA/ACCR conference). The conference was a success and a bellwether of interest and desire for community among writing centre professionals. Hyland reported,
The results [of the conference] were phenomenal, over 100 participants for the first conference and 85 for the second. The one-day format was appreciated, which kept costs to a minimum, and the community had a genuine forum to discuss both practical matters and action research, as well as make connections…
The sheer numbers of attendees at subsequent conferences in 2014 reveals a continued desire for CWCA/ACCR as a national organization. With 120 members from across Canada and US, the association’s success is evident not only from its growing membership, but also from activity of the members and the interest of universities and colleges in the association nationally and internationally. (Hyland, 2014b, p. 12)
Looking forward by looking back
As a national body, CWCA/ACCR continues to develop as a centralizing hub for research and practice, especially in three areas: writing tutoring, professional writing centre administration, and writing instruction. CWCA/ACCR’s continued growth, especially in higher education, can have a reciprocal effect: the more active the association is, the more impactful the work of the association and its members can be. Table 2 provides a timeline of significant events of the development of the association.
Table 2 – Chairs and presidents of CWCA/ACCR with a timeline of events
CWCA/ACCR’s progenitor is now 15 years old. While this may seem a short period of time, it was quite difficult to track down key documents relating to CWCA/ACCR’s development. Early annual reports, website archives, meeting agenda, listserv conversation, memberships lists―a great deal of this is missing. As I began to look deeper into the development of CWCA/ACCR, a history appeared of key moments, important decisions, and of steps forward and back. The association began with a desire for community, which is nicely encapsulated by Hyland: “I need to stay close to my Writing Centre roots, and just hang out with others who have the same needs as I do and have met those practical needs in interesting and creative ways” (Hyland, 2014). Hyland is correct in her descriptions of the work of CWCA/ACCR and its many members―creating and working in the literature of writing centre and writing studies fields and developing the administrative practices that make the creating and working succeed, while keeping in contact with our diverse and expansive community. The development of position statements and virtual conferences shows the continued growth and maturity as well as adaptability of the association.
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