In the fall of 1995, Jim Smith, David Murray and Peter Goldthorpe formed what is now the Toronto Debating Society. From the outset, people with all levels of ability and experience were welcomed, but the founding members wondered if there was enough interest in the community for a debating and speech-making club. The club promotion included:
“Ever felt you would like to polish your ability to speak up in a forum, make a point at a public meeting, or simply need an excuse to talk? Then this may well be for you.”
The vision and persistence of the core members created The Swansea Debating and Public Speaking Society:
The Swansea Debating and Public Speaking Society (1995-2001)
The inaugural meeting of the Swansea Debating Club, was held in the Hague Room at the Swansea Town Hall on October 18, 1995.
Following a welcome by founder and first President Jim Smith, the inaugural meeting included a presentation by David Murray on “Speech Making and Speaking Extemporaneously”. At an early planning meeting, David Murray reached into his wallet to become the first paid up member. The inaugural debate, chaired by David Murray, was held on November 8th 1995, with the motion: “This House resolves Remembrance Day should be forgotten.” Initially the founders imagined meeting at the town hall six - twelve times a year. Meetings soon grew to twice a month.
Jim Smith led the establishment of the Swansea Debating and Public Speaking Society with seven founding members for the 1995-96 season. In the following years, Peter Goldthorpe (1996-97), Francois Picotte (1997-98) and Eileen McKee (1998-99) were presidents.
In the 1998-99 season, membership reached 25 with 15 - 18 people attending most meetings. In 1998, video recordings were first introduced to assist members to improve in style and technique. During this time, formal adjudication was also introduced. The first impromptu debate was held in 1999 – a format which persists as a staple for regular seasons today. In 1999-2001, Dean Girard carried the gavel with 20 members and 8 – 18 people attending each meeting.
In early 2001, Swansea Debating Club activities were suspended after active membership fell to five or six people.
The Toronto Debating Society (2001-Present)
Following a decline in membership, Mike Kobzar (2001-02) reactivated the club with an intense recruitment campaign. In 2001, the club was renamed the Toronto Debating Society. The club remained a non-profit organization run by volunteer members, for members. In addition to the twice a month meetings, the Toronto Debating Society went on the road in 2001, with debates at Rotary and Toastmasters Club.
The 2001 World University Debating Championships that were held at University of Toronto served as model for a change of rules at Toronto Debating Society, to allow points of information in spring 2002.
A CITY TV debate and a write up of the club by National Post columnist, Joe Fiorito, helped to increase awareness of the club. In 2002, Jim Smith provided the initiative and resources to launch the important public face for the club, the Toronto Debating Society website, at www.debating.ca. Supporting the increased public prominence, Mike Kobzar secured the donated expertise to design the new Toronto Debating Society logo.
Members and past members attest to the value of the experience gained from club participation for social discussions, business meetings, negotiating and presentations. For those interested in improving their ability, the development of the adjudication process for each debate, as well as comments from the speaker and from members of the audience, is also helpful. Several times a year short education workshops form part of the meeting. From its inception, the club has welcomed new ideas and innovation. In 2003 there were as many as 23 lively and active participants at some meetings.
Jim Smith, founder and first president, remained an executive for the club until 2010. On April 27th of that year, Jim Smith was roasted and honoured by the club for his fifteen years of devoted service. Jim continues as an active participant in the club.
Now, as in the past, there are several new faces at each event and newcomers are always welcome. Members and visitors pursue all kinds of interests, and follow many types of volunteer activities, careers and professions.
The Toronto Debating Society continues to aim to attract all people who are interested in debating and public speaking. We hope you will join us.