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In the late 1870s, the Governor General of Canada, the Marquess of Lorne, determined that Canada required a cultural institution to assist with Canada’s development. In 1883, the Royal Society of Canada (RSC) was granted its Royal Charter and, since that time, succeeding governors general have remained closely involved with the affairs of the society. One of the functions of the President of the RSC is to serve on the Governor General’s advisory council for appointments to the Order of Canada.

The founding document of the RSC outlines its mission:

The object of the Society shall be to promote learning and intellectual accomplishments of exceptional quality. The Society recognizes remarkable contributions in the arts, humanities and sciences, as well as in Canadian public life. -RSC By-Laws 3.1

The structure of the RSC followed the model of the Royal Society of London but with the important addition of literature and other elements found in the Institut de France. Like these counterparts, membership in the RSC was limited and by election. Initially, the RSC was divided into four sections, each of 20 Fellows. These sections were: (1) Littérature française, Histoire, Archéologie; (2) English Literature, History, Archaeology; (3) Mathematical, Physical and Chemical Sciences; and (4) Geological and Biological Sciences. The founding Fellows of the RSC included Sir Sandford Fleming, the originator of the world system of Standard Time, and Sir William Osler, one of the greatest physicians of his day. The “Fellows” of the RSC were nominated by a committee headed by the Principal of McGill University, Sir John William Dawson, and by the former Premier of Quebec, Pierre J.O. Chauveau. These two men served as the first and second presidents of the society.


As Canadian scholarship and research blossomed, the RSC also grew. Within three decades the Fellowship of the RSC doubled in number, with the sections of science growing most rapidly. In order to accommodate this growth, a fifth section, for biological sciences, was added in 1918.

The rise of the social sciences was also being recognized, as early as 1908. The accommodation of the social sciences into the RSC was structurally resolved in 1941 with the expansion of section II (and, later, section I) to include the growing number of social scientists. 

After World War II the growth of the RSC accelerated again, and by the mid 1950s the RSC had over 500 Fellows. Almost 70 per cent of the Fellows of the RSC were involved in scholarship relating to the natural sciences. In 1961 the three sections of the natural sciences were amalgamated into a single Section III with eight disciplinary divisions. In 1970 a division of Applied Sciences was added, and in 1974 Medical Science became the tenth division of Section III.

In fact, throughout 1974 the Society as a whole was reorganized toward its modern form. Section I became Académie I – l’Académie des arts, des lettres et des sciences humaines – a Francophone Academy. Section II became Academy II – the Academy of Social Sciences – an Anglophone Academy. Section III became Academy III – the Academy of Science / l’Académie des sciences. The disciplinary Divisions within Academy III were later regrouped into their contemporary four Divisions: Applied Sciences and Engineering (ASE); Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences (EOAS); Mathematical and Physical Sciences (MPS); and Life Sciences (LS).


The final phase of institutional restructuring occurred in 2005, when Academies I and II were reorganized as bilingual academies delineated according to discipline rather than segregated according to language.

There are three Academies of the RSC. Academy I is the Academy of the Arts and Humanities. There are three divisions of Academy I: an Anglophone division (I), a Francophone division (II), and a bilingual division for the Arts (architecture, creative writing, and the arts).

Academy II is the Academy of Social Sciences. There are two divisions of Academy II: an Anglophone division (I) and a Francophone division (II). 

Academy III is the Academy of Science. There are four divisions of Academy III: ASE, EOAS, MPS and LS. Each of Academy III’s four divisions is bilingual.

The RSC elects a total of approximately 75 Fellows per year. The RSC also elects up to 6 Specially Elected Fellows per year, for contributions to the objectives of the society other than by scholarship and research. Finally, a number of Foreign Fellows are elected annually.

The RSC is governed by a 19-member Council, and by a 9-member Executive Committee of Council. Financial support is mainly from three sources: Fellows’ subscriptions, membership contributions from 42 universities throughout Canada, and private sector support.

To accomplish its three objectives – to recognize, to advise and to promote – the RSC organizes “core” activities as well as new programming. While recognizing excellence is primarily achieved through the “core” processes of electing Fellows and presenting awards, the RSC advises governments and organizations through the provision of expert reports that address matters of national urgency from an interdisciplinary perspective. The RSC promotes Canadian culture through its presence in multilateral organizations, as well as through a variety of exchange lectureships with academies and universities abroad.

RSC Strategic Plan 2018-2022

Click here for the Plan.