In 2008, the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada commemorated
the 60th anniversary of its founding. A small group
of dedicated volunteers in Montreal founded the Multiple Sclerosis
Society of Canada in 1948 after contact with the newly established
National MS Society (USA). Support of MS research began in
Headquarters for the Society remained in Montreal until the
mid-1960s when the offices were moved to Toronto. Other advances
came with the establishment of regional divisions; there are
now seven divisions across Canada, from coast to coast. The
International Federation of Multiple Sclerosis Societies, of
which the Canadian Society is a charter member, was established
with MS in 1936 at the age of 23 during a time in which the
common advice was just to "go home and hope for the best",
Evelyn Gotlieb decided she would take on life her own way.
This included marriage in 1944 to Jack Opal although she made
sure that he talked to her neurologist before they became engaged
to make sure he knew what MS might bring. They started their
life together in a small apartment in west end Montreal.
Determination, however, could not stop MS from progressing
and when their daughter Minda was born in 1945, Evelyn was
using a wheelchair most of the time.
Juggling the demands of both family and MS, Evelyn did not
hesitate when she learned in 1946 from her neurologist Dr.
Colin Russel about a new MS organization a young New York City
woman, Sylvia Lawry had just launched in the United States.
She became an enthusiastic fund raiser for the new group and
then started the Dr. C.K. Russel Chapter of the National Multiple
At the same time, Harry H. Bell, a Montreal engineer, was
trying to find his own answers to MS. Diagnosed in 1942, he
had also been in touch with Sylvia Lawry telling her he wanted
to organize an MS research organization. She suggested that
the two groups of Montrealers get together and create their
own Canadian research support society.
Throughout 1947 and early 1948, the two groups met to decide
on objectives and by-laws. The federal charter creating the
Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada was issued August 6, 1948.
Evelyn Opal decided not to become a member of the board of
directors of the new society, saying she would rather work
more directly with the local Dr. C.K. Russel Chapter. (The
chapter later became the Montreal Association for Multiple
Sclerosis, which supported local services for people with MS
and directed research contributions through the MS Society
In November 1948, this small chapter presented the new MS
Society with a $3,000 cheque for MS research. Encouraged by
this support, the board of directors pledged $50,000 for MS
research over five years to the Montreal Neurological Institute.
The first instalment was paid in January 1949.
Lawry placed this ad in The New York Times in 1945 because
she was frustrated at not being able to find out any information
about the disease that had just struck her brother.
response to the ad was so overwhelming - though not with the
hoped-for cure - that Sylvia Lawry decided to form a group
to support MS research. The fledgling National Multiple Sclerosis
Society began operating in 1946, and news of its establishment
spread quickly to all parts of the United States and Canada.
From the very beginning the Multiple Sclerosis Society of
Canada has benefitted greatly from the remarkable foresight
that these leaders generously offered to people with MS and
their families and friends.