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In Deep Thought at Thinkers’ Lodge

For the week of Monday July 7, 2014

“I appeal, as a human being to human beings: remember your humanity, and forget the rest. If you can do so, the way lies open to a new Paradise; if you cannot, nothing lies before you but universal death."

— Bertrand Russell, Russell-Einstein Manifesto, 1955

On July 7, 1957, the first Pugwash Conference on Science and World Affairs took place in Pugwash, Nova Scotia, in what would become known as Thinkers’ Lodge. Named after the small Nova Scotian village, the three-day conference grew into an esteemed international movement that calls for nuclear disarmament and world peace.

Participants at the First Pugwash Conference in Pugwash, Nova Scotia
© Courtesy of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs

The Pugwash movement began at the height of the Cold War in the 1950s. Pitting the Western Powers led by the United States against the former Soviet Union and its allies, the Cold War was a battle for technological dominance, especially nuclear weapons technology. The rapid development of nuclear weapons alarmed many scientists who, after seeing the tragic atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan during the Second World War, feared catastrophic consequences.

German-born theoretical physicist Albert Einstein and British philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell expressed their concerns in the Russell-Einstein Manifesto. The document was signed by 11 of the most prominent scientists from around the globe. Released in 1955, the Manifesto warned against the dangers of nuclear weapons and called for international co-operation.

After hearing about the Manifesto, Canadian-American entrepreneur Cyrus Eaton offered to host and pay for the first conference. On July 7, 1957, 22 scientists from both sides of the Iron Curtain met at Eaton’s summer residence in his hometown of Pugwash. Eaton believed that his spacious property was perfect for hosting scholarly meetings, as it provided a relaxing yet inspiring environment conducive to this type of informal discussion. His sprawling 14-room house had already earned a reputation for hosting previous intellectual meetings and conferences, starting in the early 1950s.

General view of Thinkers’ Lodge, showing its setting on a spacious property
© Parks Canada Agency /Agence Parcs Canada, Danielle Hamelin, 2007

The first conference may have been small, but it was a rousing success! Future conferences led to the 1963 Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and the Biological Weapons Convention, as well as the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention.

As the birthplace of an important nuclear disarmament movement and for its role in fostering intellectual debate and discussion, Thinkers’ Lodge was designated a National Historic Site in 2008.

To read more about Cold War Canada, please read: Soviet Spies in Canada and Digging in For Survival in the This Week in History archives.

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