Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada

History

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 1949.

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 in 1967.

Founders

Evelyn Gotlieb Opal

Diagnosed 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 Sclerosis Society.

Harry H. Bell

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 of Canada.)

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 installment was paid in January 1949.

Sylvia Lawry

Sylvia 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.

The 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.

Publications

Volunteers in Action - A Brief History of the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada by Robert Fraser and its companion With Passion and Commitment - The Continued History of the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada by Deanna Groetzinger traces the history of the MS Society from its earliest beginnings to the dynamic organization that it is today.