In August 1991, the first-ever Canadian conference of people who stutter took place in Banff, Alberta
The event was held on Aug. 22 to 25, 1991 at the Banff Conference Centre.
Below I describe three self-help seminars held in Banff during the first-ever Canadian conference of people who stutter attended by about eighty people. The event took place 29 years ago as of today’s date (August 2020).
The first of three seminars, regarding Canadian self-help groups for people who stutter, was led by Michael Niven of Calgary. Allan Chapman of Victoria led the second seminar and Peter Wyant of Regina led the third.
The seminars were a first step in evolution of the Canadian Association for People Who Stutter (CAPS) which was formed as a result of the Banff conference.
Some years later CAPS became the Canadian Stuttering Association (CSA). The shorter, less cumbersome name made it easier for the association to be identified in media reports and broadcasts. Many nonprofit organizations undergo such name changes in order to enhance their branding and communicate more effectively.
The suggestion for the name change came from a CSA member, who in volunteer work at the international level had observed that national and international stuttering associations typically went with shorter names – such as the International Stuttering Association and the British Stammering Association. He suggested a shorter name would make sense for the Canadian association as well.
In the following report, I refer to seminar leaders and speech pathologists by their full names. Other participants I identify by first name only as the conference did not circulate a permission form for clearance to post full names of attendees, at reports published after the event.
The organizing of the conference began in 1989, after Einer Boberg had set up, during a visit to Toronto while on sabbatical from the University of Alberta, contacts between the Alberta Stutterers Association (based in Edmonton) and the Stuttering Association of Toronto. The conference was the outcome of a two-year organizing effort involving the two self-help groups, one in Edmonton and the other in Toronto.
At an early point in the organizing, Jaan Pill of the Stuttering Association of Toronto, following up on a suggestion from Einer Boberg, had phoned Michael Niven  in Calgary, Allan Chapman (then living in Winnipeg), and Peter Wyant in Regina. The phone calls led to the seminars described below.
Additional background about Einer Boberg can be accessed at an article by Jaan Pill entitled: Einer Boberg’s Contribution to the Self-Help Movement (1998).
The wider topic of self-help is also addressed at an article by Jaan Pill entitled: Self-Help and the International Scene (originally published 2003).
Friday, Aug. 23, 1991 seminar on the current status of Canadian groups
Michael Niven of Calgary led this session. Four panelists each spoke for five minutes on self-help activities in four Canadian cities. Then the conference broke into groups of eight people.
The procedure of breaking into groups of eight ensured that each person attending a seminar would spend lots of time talking, instead of just listening to others speaking. The conference was organized in such a way that speaking time, from one day to the next, would be shared more or less equally among all participants. This is not an easy feat to achieve, but with good planning in can be done.
To ensure maximum diversity in each group, groups were determined beforehand, during the organizing of the seminars. Each person coming into the room was given a coloured card. The colour for each person was pre-determined.
When the group discussions began, the black-coloured card holders all sat together, the orange-card holders all sat together, and so on.
Later a spokesperson from each group reported back to the conference as a whole. Michael Niven ensured reports were kept brief. At the end, when all spokespersons had reported, there was an open-mike discussion.
The panelists described groups in Edmonton, Victoria, two groups in Toronto, and a group in Ottawa.
After this the conference broke into the groups of about eight people. After about 25 minutes, a spokesperson from each group reported back to the seminar as a whole.
The first to report was from Ron of Belleville, who said that some people in his group felt self-help meetings should be structured, and fluency skills should be monitored. He mentioned that self-help clearinghouses are useful in informing people about groups.
Next, Arun from Barrie said his group had mentioned that videotapes are a useful way to inform the public about groups.
He also spoke of news stories (for example, about the Banff conference) as a form of free advertising. He said some groups are open to everyone who stutters, while some are open specifically to graduates of treatment programs.
Joan from Vancouver said her group had found that speaking to people while they’re still attending a clinic offers a good way to get new members to join a group. She also described a group which had gained publicity by appearing as a panel at a local Rogers cable program.
Patricia from Calgary said her discussion group felt that people who haven’t had therapy can benefit from optional practice sessions offered by self-help groups. She said that for graduates of treatment programs, groups offer emotional support as well as help with maintenance of fluency skills acquitted at a clinic. She added that monitoring of speech skills is essential but should not be mandatory.
Jim from Hinton said his discussion group had noted that local therapists can assist you in recruiting for new members. He said self-help groups can enhance members’ social skills and added that speaking time at meetings should be shared equally.
John from Calgary said that pamphlets and newspaper articles can help to promote a self-help group. As well, his discussion group felt groups should be for all people who stutter, whether they’ve had therapy or not. He said that when meetings are large, it’s a good idea to break into smaller groups.
Self-help groups and speech professionals
During the general discussion which followed the reports, Marg Salisbury, a speech therapist from London who was also a member of a self-help group, suggested that maybe a speech therapist should be available to groups on a consultation basis.
Another person said she was very concerned about the idea of having a speech professional come to a meeting to comment on how people are doing.
A speaker from Vancouver said that the operative word is “self help”: we have self-help groups, and such a group ls not an organization that is set up for clinical psychologists or speech pathologists.
A speaker from Calgary commented that although in some sense self-help members may indeed find themselves acting as “amateur speech pathologists,” she said there’s not much else you can do when there are not enough treatment services available.
A speaker from Victoria said the function of the Victoria group is not to be speech therapists. If anything, he said, “we model the skills that we possess, but that is it. And [we decided] that we definitely want separation from a recognized professional speech-language pathologist.”
A speaker from Regina suggested that a group should be restricted only to people who’ve had therapy, and that people who’ve not had therapy should attend only as observers.
Marg Salisbury of London clarified her earlier comment. She said she didn’t think a speech therapist should chair meetings or attend without a special invitation. “I just meant,” said Marg, “she should be available for a consultation, to make an appointment, a 15-minute appointment with individual members.”
Grant from Calgary said he found it disturbing, as a person who hasn’t had therapy, that some people who have had therapy “almost have an elitist attitude: Because you haven’t had it, you can’t be a member of our support team.”
Andrew from Toronto said that, “As people who are all stutterers, we’re breaking into the haves and have-nots, which is those that have had therapy, and those that have not had therapy.” He said a self-help group should be able to address both groups of people.
Overall, the consensus appeared to be that self-help groups should serve both people who’ve had therapy as well as those who have not.
Sunday, Aug. 25, 1991 seminar on self-help groups in the 1990s
The next seminar was led by Allan Chapman of Victoria. Based on themes which emerged at Michael Niven’s seminar on Friday, Aug. 23, 1991, Allan offered four questions that the seminar could address:
- How to improve the value of the self-help groups to their present members
- How to create new groups in communities that may not already have one
- How to increase the group’s profile in the community, and bring in new members
- How can groups use the concept of effective self-talk as a component of fluency maintenance and support
To give more time for small-group discussion, the seminar did not include a panel this time. The conference divided into eight-person groups based on coloured cards that were passed out at the door. Each group chose a spokesperson and discussed the four questions for about 45 minutes.
On the first question, how to improve the value of self-help groups to their members, we had the following responses:
Geoffrey from Regina said his group decided it’s helpful to bring in guest speakers; to keep the group structured; to have clearly defined agendas; and to change the chairperson regularly so it doesn’t become a one-person show.
Don from Vancouver, representing the orange group, said it’s useful if, at least once a year, people review the group’s purpose, and make any adjustments as necessary. He said it’s also helpful tor members to get support from the group when facing an upcoming speech task such as a job interview.
Ed from Winnipeg said it’s a good idea to have bigger centres tie in with smaller centres, while Claude from Vancouver said older members could be assigned to new members to help them get oriented. He added that it’s good to maintain a balance between social and structured meetings, and that some groups have an elected executive, while others prefer a more informal structure.
On the second question – how to create new groups – Geoffrey said it’s useful to contact speech therapists for members for a new group. Claude from Vancouver said it’s vital that there be someone in the new area who is going to act as the nucleus.
On the third question – how to increase the group’s profile – Geoffrey said it’s a good idea to register with a local self-help clearinghouse, while Don said it’s useful to set up a booth at health-service conferences.
Ed suggested that an “800” number could be set up where people could phone to get information about stuttering. Claude said that members themselves can do recruiting, by talking about the group when they meet people who stutter in their day-to-day lives. As well, you can have free announcements on cable systems.
Abe from Swift Current said that social activities such as barbeques involving several groups are a good way to publicize the existence of self-help groups.
With reference to the fourth question – regarding the role of self-talk – Geoffrey referred to the manual, “Facilitating Fluency,” by Will Webster and Marie Poulos. Les from Fort Nelson, B.C. said that members could tell of situations that have caused them problems. The group could then discuss what type of effective self-talk would be beneficial in that sort of situation.
In the half-hour of open-mike discussion which followed, Marie Poulos from Ottawa provided a clarification, for Ron from Kamloops, on the distinction between the terms “speech therapist,” “speech-language pathologist,” and “speech clinician.” Michael Niven spoke about the value of refresher clinics sponsored by self-help groups, and Ben spoke of his interest in starting up a group in Kelowna.
Fay from Vancouver, meanwhile, said it’s important to assess local needs before starting a group. She said that what works in Vancouver might not work well in Kelowna or Hinton.
Sunday, Aug. 25, 1991 seminar on creation of a national network
Peter Wyant of Regina introduced the final seminar by noting that “This isn’t a local or regional event. This is really a national event. We’ve had national media coverage, and I think it’s up to us – if some of my preconceived notions come across – it’s up to us to start from this point and make the process evolve further.”
He added: “I hope that it’s a natural evolution. I don’t think that we’re forcing anything. But that’s really what this last session is for.”
Again, we broke into group of eight, and this time the questions were as follows:
- In terms of a national organization, do we need one, and why?
- Should the structure be formal or informal?
- Should we have another conference in two years?
- Where should the next conference be held?
First question: After the small-group discussions, Fernando from Toronto reported that his group said that a national organization would strengthen all self-help groups across the country by offering a central information source. It would also help to publicize our self-help groups, help us keep in touch with research, and represent us at international meetings.
John from Edmonton added that a national organization would tap into more sources of funding, and if nothing else it could organize the national conferences every couple of years.
The speech professionals at this seminar met as a separate group. Einer Boberg of Edmonton, spokesperson for the group, said that, “Yes, we definitely think that we should have, or that you should have an organization, as long as it’s organized by you.”
Ira of Calgary said: “Most of the points have been made about why [we need a national organization], but I think we can sum it up by saying there is no going back now. Stuttering ls out of the closet. They’ve locked the door; we can’t unlock it.”
Brad of Swift Current said that his discussion group noted that a national organization could help in the formation of new groups.
On the second question – whether structure should be formal or informal – Fernando’s group decided “it should be a formal organization, to be efficient and to be better recognized in terms of international conferences, and so on.”
John from Edmonton reported that “Most of our group felt we needed a little more structure than less, but we didn’t want too much.”
Einer Boberg recommended that the organization have a provisional organizing committee – and provisional bylaws which would automatically self-destruct after three years.
Grant of Calgary said his discussion group felt the organization should be structured, “but a very flat structure, having a board of directors. The board of directors should be elected from every region of the country and should change on a regular basis.” He said the groups should be autonomous, getting help from a national headquarters, but with autonomy over the operation of the groups at the local level.
Ira spoke on behalf of a “grassroots,” “decentralized” kind of structure with a flat hierarchy, with encouragement of organizational-skills development at the regional level right across Canada. Brad added that a national organization could publish a useful national newsletter.
On the third question – should there be another conference in two years – the consensus was: Yes. John from Edmonton said it would be nice to have it more often in future. Grant said it would be good to have a smaller regional conference in alternate years. Ira said the 1992 international conference in San Francisco can help us get ideas for the next Canadian conference.
Brad said it would be a good idea to keep costs to a minimum so many people would be able to attend. He added: “I want to say it would be nice to have a little help at the airport for delegates, and also to organize free time a little more than we did here, so that we would be able to stay together more as a group, not everyone go their own way.”
On the fourth question – on the location of the next conference – Fernando said Ottawa would be good in terms of federal exposure, while Toronto might be better in terms of media exposure. He added that “I guessToronto could be considered as a second place.
John said his group felt that “Ottawa seemed like a good idea to all of us. We liked the idea of rotating the location, but not only East-West but to spread it out throughout the whole country.” He said an advantage of larger centres is that we can attract local people who stutter.
Speaking for his discussion group, Grant said that Ottawa would allow us to have a strong national profile and is less expensive than Toronto. “There’s also the opportunity,” he said, “if we did it in Ottawa proper, we could use the national media Conference Centre, and that gives us a very high media profile.”
After these reports, we had an open-mike session, in which people could add to earlier comments about a national organization or sum up their feelings as the conference drew to a close.
First to speak was Jaan Pill. He said, “It’s very important that we’ve made a point of making sure that we get input from everyone.” He also spoke in favor of flat hierarchies, and a clear separation between speech-language pathologists and self-help groups.
Ron of Belleville said, “We’ve talked about this thing, a national organization, and we’ve talked a lot about East and West, but nobody has mentioned the problems of Quebec, or they haven’t mentioned the French-language class that Karen Luker teaches, and I think this should be addressed, also.”
Peter Wyant referred to a point made by Ed from Winnipeg. “I think Ed bringsup a very critical point”, said Peter, “and that is that we’re self-help groups, and we’re here to help ourselves, but most of us probably wouldn’t be here without the professional help that we’ve got so far.”
Melin from Sacramento, California, said that when she reports back to the NSP [National Stuttering Project – subsequently renamed the National Stuttering Association] on the U.S. West Coast, “I will have of course a very good, happy report about everything. I think you all did a fantastic job… The accommodation [was] great, the food was fantastic … and you were all so very nice, and very friendly, and I really did have a very, very good time.”
Kulwinder from Williams Lake , B.C. said: “It’s really been great that all of us, that everybody from all walks of life, have been able to get together for this truly historic event.” He added that he believed the national organization “should be very formally structured, with a strong executive and everything else.”
Peter Wyant said: “My last comment is that I’ll certainly see you all in Ottawa in two years.”
Banff 1991 Agenda
The Banff 1991 conference had the following agenda, the outcome of a two-year planning process:
Final Banff Agenda
Thursday, Aug. 22, 1991
12:00 p.m. Check-in begins at Conference Centre
5:00 Registration begins
7:30 Welcome reception/refreshments
Friday, Aug. 23
8:00-9:00 a.m. Practice sessions
9:30-12:00 Treatment programs: Past, present, and future: Bob Kroll and Einer Boberg.
Optional workshop: Spouses and friends of people who stutter. Discussion leader, Julia Boberg.
12:00-1:00 p.m. Lunch
1:00-3:30 Current status of self-help groups
Seminar leader: Michael Niven
3:30-6:00 Free time
6:00- Dinner and open mike. M.C., Jaan Pill
Saturday, Aug. 24
8:00-9:00 a.m. Practice sessions
9:30-12:00 Neuropsychology of stuttering; self-talk: Will Webster, Marie Poulos
10: 30- 11: 00 Coffee break
1:00-3:30 Social skills, assertiveness
Jim Beaubien and Karen Caesar
3:45-5:00 Treatment of stuttering in children: Deborah Kully
6:00 Western BBQ and dance. Guest speaker: Fred Murray; M.C., Willard Mohr
Sunday, August 25
about 8:00 a.m. until 10:30 a.m. Self-help groups in the 1990s. Seminar leader: Allan Chapman
about 10:30 until 12:00 – Creating a national network. Seminar leader: Peter Wyant
12:00-1:00 – Lunch (which included a panel on maintenance organized by Marie Poulos as the culmination of the PFSP practice sessions which Marie Poulos and Karen Luker had organized for 8:00 a.m. on previous mornings. There also had been parallel 8:00 a.m. CSP practice sessions, led by Deborah Kully, on previous mornings.)
As well, during the conference there was time set aside for viewing of videotapes.
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