By Erik Missio
This October 20, CSC-DCC celebrates its diamond anniversary—60 years of being “committed to ongoing development and delivery of quality education programs, publications, and services for the betterment of the construction community.”
From its beginnings in a Toronto design office in the early 1950s to its current status as a national, bilingual association with more than 1700 members in 15 chapters across Canada, CSC has seen name changes and new logos, along with the creation (or co-creation) of resources like MasterFormat, UniFormat, and this very magazine. The association has been there as the country’s design/construction industry moved from pen and blue paper to e-mailed attachments and building information modelling (BIM); it has borne witness to concepts like sustainability and energy efficiency being embraced, put aside, and embraced again.
Through all this change, the spirit behind its current vision statement has remained constant:
That Construction Specifications Canada is the construction community’s first choice for quality documentation, education, and networking.
Its values and core beliefs—quality, professionalism, teamwork, integrity, openness, and innovation—have also remained steadfast, even while the ways we design, construct, and maintain the built environment are quickly evolving.
In January 1953, specification writer Denis Brough, FCSC, RSW, wrote to 20 architects and engineers to gauge interest in forming a new group. A few years earlier, he had come across a U.S. magazine, The Construction Specifier, and was so pleased to see his profession represented in its pages, he joined the organization responsible, the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI). Now, he reasoned, it was time for Canada to have its own association.
That March, an informal meeting in Toronto drew 10 architects, engineers, and specification writers—not a bad start. By the third meeting (held in November), some 50 people gathered at the King Edward Hotel. The Specification Writers Association of Canada (SWAC) would officially be born on October 20, 1954. Fittingly, Brough became its first president.
In the spring of 1959, SWAC launched its magazine—then a quarterly known as The Specification Associate—to meet the needs of specification writers, architects, engineers, and others involved in the design and construction of commercial, industrial, and residential buildings.
Up to this point, the association was holding its meetings in office space provided by a local design firm. In June 1960, with membership now at 575, SWAC signed a three-year lease on its first permanent office. Three months later, the association bought a Chubb #9206, two-drawer, legal-size safe file at a cost of $365, which, to this day, continues to be a fixture of the association office.
In 1967, the association established its College of Fellows to recognize those who contributed to the improvement of specifications and the enhancement of the association. Other awards such as Chapter Award of Merit, National Award of Merit, President’s Award, and Life Membership were also created to honour those who helped improve not only SWAC, but also communication and collaboration throughout the larger Canadian industry.
By the 1970s, the association included some 16 local chapters throughout Canada. It also eliminated divisions between its constituency—“members” (i.e. architects, engineers, and specifiers) and “associates” (i.e. manufacturers, suppliers, and contractors) were now one. At this point, SWAC embraced the fact its members were not only specification writers, but also specification ‘readers;’ this was reflected in its name change in April 1975 to Construction Specifications Canada.
In the decades to follow, CSC would introduce guide studies about products, develop standard formats for specifications, and create a host of certifications, designations, and education programs to enable its members to demonstrate commitment to high-quality documentation. Partnering with its inspiration to the south, the Construction Specifications Institute, it would also co-author what has since become MasterFormat—forever changing how building materials are included in the specs.
Now, in 2014, the association continues to grow and change with the times. It is embracing digital tools for distance learning, and continually building on its annual conferences. Further, at both national and global levels, it is forever forging and reaffirming partnerships within the industry to ensure its continued relevance.
A multi-disciplinary organization, CSC’s greatest strength has always been its volunteers, who donate their time and share their expertise to improve the delivery of buildings and infrastructure projects. Now, for the association’s 60th anniversary, we reached out to readers of Construction Canada, and asked them to share the experience. “Why are you CSC?”
“I joined the Ottawa Chapter of SWAC in April of 1969 when I was office manager of a consulting mechanical and electrical engineering firm—Brais, Frigon, Hanley Associates. My duties included co-ordinating the preparation and production of project specifications and the firm’s first master specification for Divisions 15 and 16. (The hardware for the master specification database entry and storage was an IBM magnetic tape/selectric typewriter.) Because of my involvement with the production of project specifications, the partner in charge of the firm encouraged me to join and get involved in SWAC. The firm would reimburse me for my membership dues.
In 1970, I was elected (coerced?) to the Ottawa Chapter executive as engineering officer, and remained on the executive committee (including stints as chapter chair, chapter director, and 14 years as chapter treasurer) until 1992, when I was appointed to the position of association secretary-treasurer—a position I held until June 2007. I also spent two years as the association’s vice-president (conferences and awards). During this time, I prepared the first drafts of the association’s Conference and Trade Show Manual and Awards Manual. My time as a member of the Association Executive Committee also included a 15-week secondment as acting executive director, during a vacancy from December 1996 to March 1997, while holding down a full-time job as manager of construction at LCBO. Needless to say, my family did not see much of me that winter!
The most memorable moment of my membership occured at Conference ’98, in Halifax, when Life Membership was conferred on me. It was unexpected and occurred while I was emceeing the President’s Banquet and Ball.
Another highlight of my SWAC/CSC career was the publication of the association history book, Fifty years of Serving the Construction Industry, in 2006. I had been chair of the History Committee from October 2003 until the book’s publication.
Professionally, SWAC/CSC has been a constant source of information, networking, and pride throughout my career in the construction industry. Although the preparation of project specifications has never been the primary focus of my professional responsibilities, I’m sure the multi-disciplinary nature of the association and its ensuing networks and sources of information have aided me in my climb to the top step of Maslov’s Hierarchy of Needs. I have especially appreciated the networking and knowledge gained from the 30 annual conferences I have attended over the years. Personally, the fellowship and friendships experienced over my 45 years with SWAC/CSC have enriched my life immeasurably, and will be a source of pride and comfort in the future.”
−John M. Jensen, FCSC, Life Member (Toronto Chapter)
“I am a product of the Great Depression, having been born in England in August 1930, and starting my schooling with the world in turmoil. During the German Blitzkrieg, school venues changed constantly, and my education was always being disturbed. Lacking paternal direction or guidance, I wasn’t privileged to walk the hallowed halls of learning. So my formal teachings were terminated at the age of 14 when it was the norm in those days.
After floating around for a couple of years, I became an office boy for an architect who had just started practice and needed someone to answer telephone calls (in his absence), make the tea, sweep the floors, and run errands. Noticing I was an inquisitive child, he took me under his wing, teaching me all the basic fundamentals of architectural drafting and introducing me to specifications—mainly in proofreading for typos and then from there my future began to unfold!
My career in architecture was interrupted in 1948 by being conscripted into the British Army under the colours of King George VI, and spending some time in Germany in the British Army of the Rhine after World War Two. I emigrated from England to Canada in 1957, joining a practice in Winnipeg, which is now known as Number Ten Architectural Group. I became a member of CSC, eventually chairing the Winnipeg Chapter and becoming an RSW.
I moved to Regina in 1978, and joined another company, which at the time was named BLM Architects, to prepare the specifications for the Regina General Hospital and Pasqua Hospital Regeneration Program, also shortly thereafter prepared the documents for both of the Twin Towers on 12th Avenue. I was immediately coerced into becoming the Regina CSC Chapter Chair for two years, then national director for eight. I was ultimately recognized by my peers and inducted into the CSC College of Fellows, and bestowed Life Membership when I retired.
I still remember when I moved from becoming simply a card-carrying member of the association to a passionate participant. Many moons ago, I was a student of the SWAC Correspondence Course. One of the lessons related to legal gobbledygook, and I came across a question that I believed I had already answered in a previous step; I was not sure if it was a trick question, but I responded accordingly. Imagine my delight when the results were sent me and the instructor—a lawyer and SWAC member—concurred with my opinion and gave me 100 per cent. This gave me confidence in myself. It was instrumental in me being invited to lecture on the history, necessity, and value of CSC-based specifications, at the University of Manitoba’s School Of Architecture and also led to me to being invited and recognized as an “expert professional witness” (successful) by the province’s Court of the Queen’s Bench. None of this would have occurred had I not have become a CSC member!”
−Ivan “Michael” Robinson, FCSC, Life Member (Regina Chapter)
“I have been a member for 45-plus years. Why? Because I believe in the association, and what it stands for. It also adds a great degree of professionalism to our Division 04-Masonry as we do care.”
−Eugene George (Grand Valley Chapter)
“I was a CSI member in 1999 when I joined CSC as a way to understand the organization in preparation for the first joint conference/region event, which was to be held in Banff in 2002. I’ve now come to every conference since! Why? Because I have met many outstanding individuals from all across Canada through this organization. These people are passionate about their industry, passionate about the association, and passionate about life. Many of them I’m now proud to say will be lifelong friends.”
−John Lape, AIA, FCSI, CSC (Calgary Chapter)
“Back in the late 1980s, I worked for the Department of National Defence as an HVAC technologist when our organization was ‘right-sized’ (or whatever the politically correct term for laying people off was at that time). I was faced with the choice of taking a redundancy package or changing professions and becoming a specification writer. I was two weeks into the job before I discovered I was an architectural, and not HVAC, spec writer. This was a real re-training in the broadest sense, since I didn’t even like architects at the time!
After a couple of months in the job, my supervisor, a man by the name of Shelley Knox, and who was very involved with CSC, decided I should go to one of the CSC Ottawa Chapter’s technical sessions. That first session was a demonstration on how to lay ceramic tile, and the technical representative for a company laid out a whole ceramic tile with mortar and grout installation before my eyes on a board room table in the Ottawa Construction Association offices, and explained in detail why things had to be done a certain way. From that moment on, I was hooked on technical information and hooked on CSC.
What got me even more hooked was a few years later when I was appropriated as a ‘volunteer’ for the Ottawa Conference. I then started meeting people, networking, and learning more and more stuff. I was like a sponge and couldn’t get enough; a few years later, I was asked to join CSC’s Technical Studies Committee.
The first meeting was intimidating. When I arrived, I thought I was in the wrong place, because the folks in the room were a bunch of CSC past-presidents, the president-elect, and another fairly senior specification writer. It took me a few days to realize these people were struggling with the same concerns about the industry as I was and that my opinion mattered just as much to them. So, I sat there with Wayne Watson, John Clinckett, Eileen Bredeson, Ian Bartlett, and Dinshaw Kanga discussing our industry, and realized they were not as intimidating as I had first thought.
Over the years, I have continued to volunteer for CSC all the way up the ladder to president and beyond, attended CSC Conferences, networked with a lot of great people, and made friends right across the nation. I would not change a single thing if I were given a chance.
In 2007, I ‘retired’ from my day job in the federal government and started my own spec-writing business. Thanks to my networking within CSC and the industry in general, I have never had to do any serious marketing or promotion of my business, but still turn down projects so I don’t get overloaded.
CSC has taught me so much about business and life in general, and I continue to volunteer for the organization whenever they have a need of me. CSC has been good to me and for me. That is why “I am CSC.”
−Thomas (Tom) Dunbar, FCSC, RSW, Life Member (Ottawa Chapter)
“I have been a proud member of the Winnipeg chapter for more than two decades. Most of those years have been spent serving in many capacities including chapter chair (twice), program director (numerous times), and planning the chapter golf tournament every year since 1997. I joined under the inspiration of John Burgoyne and Marcel Bertrand, both of whom have sadly passed away. They promoted the association as a vehicle to better myself as a technical representative through the great networking the association provided. I wanted to be the best representative I could be, both for myself and for my employer’s benefit. Right from the start, I knew I had made the right choice.
Twenty years later, I can admit with conviction my career would not have been as successful if I had not been a member of CSC. The doors opened to me have made it easy to become effective through the construction scene, not just in Winnipeg, but nationally as well. I am more confident, more comfortable, and more knowledgeable about my role. I know my CSC involvement has opened the door to more contacts than I likely would have had without being a member. The real bonus is I have also made lifelong friends, from coast to coast, and I value this the most. Thank you, CSC.”
-Ken Rowson (Winnipeg Chapter)
“I joined because my boss said so, but I stayed because of the people. (And because you only get to do this once in a lifetime: www.youtube.com/watch?v=FNaLTK3ubfA)” [Editor’s note: Corinne was association president during the 2011 conference held in Montréal—a city renowned for the circus arts. This video shows her practising her big entrance.]
−Corinne Golding, FCSC, RSW (Calgary Chapter)