The Canadian House of Mathematics
This summer, we were supposed to come together and celebrate the 75th anniversary of the creation of the Canadian Mathematical Society in Ottawa. The early enrolments and proposed sessions clearly indicated that it would have been the largest gathering of Canadian mathematicians in history. We were proud and ready to narrate the accomplishments of our society from the time of the founding fathers to the present day. Many gifts and prizes were prepared to award a wide spectrum of Canadian mathematicians for their scientific, educational and administrative achievements in the Society. And then, all of a sudden, the whole world was faced with a new reality. We were hit by an unknown virus, COVID-19, and our regular daily life came to a halt! Quarantine, a word which until then we probably had to look up in dictionaries to grasp its full meaning, became our regular civil duty. In fact, we are still grappling with the aftermaths of the global pandemic.
In its 75 years of activity, the CMS has been through many ups and downs. However, it seems that it is facing its most difficult challenge at a mature age. Like many other organizations and institutions, the CMS had to adapt to the new reality, the first of which was the postponement of the 75th anniversary meeting. This was a very difficult decision to make since the chief scientific directors as well as session organizers and the CMS staff had put a lot of time and energy into creating a memorable meeting. Nevertheless, we went forward and we are enthusiastically prepared and expect to celebrate the 75+1 anniversary of CMS in summer 2021. COVID-19 has also had an impact on CMS publication revenues. There are several important issues under discussion at the Publication Committee. The development of an online, open-access publication, creation of a new journal, and the publication of CMS journals in house are among our major goals in coming years. In particular, the CMS is inviting members with a knowledge of the publication industry, its infrastructure, and necessary hardware and software to provide us with feedback and recommendations.
Despite the hard times, there are numerous positive and encouraging news. The CMS turned the undesirable situation into an opportunity to reach out to educators and students, listen to them and expand its education programs. With the lockdown in place, students were confined to the walls of their rooms and most of their communications with their peers and educators were drastically reduced, if not completely disrupted. Parents, who already wear many hats, had to add homeschooling to their daily duties. Among the subjects that most parents were struggling with or felt intimidated to teach was mathematics. Equally, mathematics educators, both at K-12 and university level, were now faced with the new reality of online teaching and mentoring and the myriad of uncertainties that it entailed. The CMS came forward and posted more math problems, education material and pedagogical strategies on social media and worked hard behind the scenes to organise two major events. While material on teaching abound on the internet, educators were looking for ways to connect, discuss and find a way to come up with a strategy that worked for them. The Society, and its members, many of whom were in the same boat and were experiencing the same anxiety, organized the CMS first ever virtual meeting focusing on education and research. Moreover, while online mathematics education was as uncertain as ever, mathematical graphs were dictating our daily activities and all of a sudden math had become important for the mainstream media and had to concern itself with messaging. Mathematicians gathered to discuss all this and much more during a 4-day online meeting which to many felt like a breath of fresh air after months of isolation. It was equally rewarding for the staff and organisers who had been looking for ways to better serve the community during these challenging times. The second education event put together by the CMS during the lockdown was the launch of the Society’s first ever competition for elementary school students, the Canadian Mathematical Gray Jay Competition, in an amusing and engaging format and on a friendly online platform. Although the competition itself will take place in October, its conception and preparation has taken a colossal effort by staff and Competitions Committee. Thus, while many of our programs had to be cancelled due to a global pandemic, much to our disappointment, we have found new ways to serve the community. This would not have been possible without the help of our partners and sponsors.
The CMS has also had time to reflect on how to be a better representative of Canada and further include and engage different voices inside Canada. In partnership with the RBC Foundation, the CMS has dedicated a fund to waive the competition registration fee for 400 Black and Indigenous students participation in the Canadian Open Mathematical Challenge (COMC) and Canadian Mathematical Gray Jay Competition (CMGC). This, we think, is a great way to foster the students’ interest in mathematics from a young age and make sure all mathematical talents are recognised regardless of factors that might normally pose barriers during a student’s academic trajectory. The Reconciliation and Mathematics Committee and the Diversity and Inclusion Committee are both freshly created and working hard with the staff to conceptualise programs that make our community more diverse and more inclusive.
At this critical moment, the rental lease of CMS office in Ottawa is also going to be expired in October 2020. Yes, at the age of 75, the CMS still does not have its own house! At this age, one hopes to have paid off all debts and mortgages and resides in a stable place. Unfortunately, this is not the case for the CMS. There is absolutely no doubt that this spatial instability does not reflect the prestige and glory, which should accompany such a Canadian entity. We are in a difficult period and it sounds contradictory to break the 75 years of leasing tradition by purchasing a place that the Canadian community can call home. However, in difficult times there are great opportunities too. On one hand, the prices are reasonable and even lower than the projected market figures. On the other hand, when life returns to normal, the prices will hike up so that for many years to come we could still not afford to buy such a building. Therefore, I enthusiastically relaunch the idea of buying the Canadian House of Mathematics. I personally see at least two phases for this project. During the first phase, we want to have a permanent and stable place for the Canadian Mathematical Society. After 75 years, the CMS deserves this gratitude. In the second phase, we should go further and think of the Canadian House of Mathematical Sciences to host CMS as well as several other scientific societies in Canada which are devoted to different aspects of mathematical, statistical and actuarial sciences. We can all share the same roof, collaborate more closely and provide a better service for all Canadians.
Our fellow Canadian mathematicians, this is the time to make the first phase of this project a reality! We need to put our hands and heads together to establish the Canadian House of Mathematics. We are numerous. With so many active members from coast to coast, the CMS count on your generous donations in order to initiate this project. As a matter of fact, one great donor is enough to come forward and put the whole house under his/her name, and if this is too ambitious, several major donors may share this honour. An ad hoc committee has been formed to study the feasibility and creation of the Canadian House of Mathematics. The committee is pleased to receive your questions and comments regarding this project.