Our History

By Bob James, Past President


This history was originally written in March, 2004. I am indebted to Charles Delbeek, one of the founders of MAST, for providing a couple of little corrections to the original text, and for providing the names of some of the attendees at the founding meeting. I have also added some recollections of Russ Jardine, who was at that meeting. Finally, I have added a few words to bring the history up-to-date.
Bob James. October, 2007.

The Marine Aquarium Society of Toronto (MAST) was founded in June, 1986. Scott Dyer was the main driving force behind its formation. The founding meeting was held in his apartment. I don’t have a list of all the attendees, but I understand that they included Charles Delbeek, Russ Jardine, Goran and Paula Jovanovic, Ian Shapiro, and a few others. Scott, of course, was there and he became MAST’s first President, and editor of the first issue of its Journal.

Russ Jardine is still an active member of MAST, although he did disappear from the scene for a few of the intervening years. I asked him for his recollections of that founding meeting, and found his reply insightful and amusing. It read as follows:

Hi Bob: Yes I was there and the main thing that I remember was the fascination of all of us with his amazing growth of natural wild life. None of us had seen an aquarium so full of hair algae before. We thought that this was a sign of a healthy tank. We have come a long way since then.

From that meeting to today the club has moved:

From any fluorescent will do, to actinic, to metal halide.
From under-gravel filters, to no substrate, and back to sand beds.
From massive water changes, to bioballs, to no bioballs but big protein skimmers.
We have also moved through many changes in the chemicals we add to the tank and certainly the way we test our waters.
The most amazing revelation that I have seen is that what works for one member may not work for another. Yes, it is a science, but not an exact one. We have not completed our journey of learning in this hobby and maybe that is why it is so enjoyable and frustrating.

Russell Jardine.

Turning back to Scott Dyer: he was a hugely personable guy, and wasn’t shy about aiming high. At the time MAST was being formed, George Smit was probably the foremost authority on reef systems, though he didn’t give many presentations. Fortunately, George was working in Chicago at the time, and Scott convinced him to come up to Toronto to speak at MAST’s first public meeting, held on September 10, 1986. The Journal of the Marine Aquarium Society of Toronto, Volume 1, Number 1, reports that there were nearly 100 people in attendance to hear George. Twenty new members joined MAST at the meeting, bringing membership up to 46 people. A very impressive start!

The first Journal also states that MAST is “Dedicated to the Development of the Marine Aquarium Hobby in all its facets.”That remains MAST’s mission to this day.

By the second issue, Paula Jovanovic became the Journal’s editor. Scott, in his President’s message in issue three, says, “Over the past year I have been very impressed with the willingness of MAST members to help each other for no other reason than because they are fellow hobbyists”. I think MAST is remarkable for having sustained that wonderful spirit of cooperation throughout its history.

In the next issue, published towards the end of 1987, the Journal adopted its current name, “Atoll”. That issue reported that MAST membership had reached 130. Again, that is impressive for such a young organization.

It is interesting to note that the style and content of Atoll has not changed dramatically over the years. It was blessed with some authoritative contributors in its early days, notably Charles Delbeek, who was an active MAST member. Perhaps authors were more willing to publish in Atoll, because they had fewer alternatives available to them than they have now. Browsing old issues does give some broad smiles, since some first-class, fish-related cartoons were a regular feature. Have we got too serious of late? In the early 1990’s, a lot of good material was published on the Internet, and Atoll editors could usually get permission to republish it in Atoll. This was a valuable service to all the MAST members who did not have Internet access. However, as Internet access has become much more common, there is less and less value in re-printing articles that members can get direct from the source. Atoll has therefore put more focus on material about members, such as the Tank-of-Issue articles. Atoll, at least in its electronic format, now also makes use of colour photos, which was (and remains) prohibitively expensive in printed format.

Getting back to the chronology, the next major milestone in MAST’s history was in April, 1989, when it held the first Marine Aquarium Conference of North America (MACNA). Far too few people know that it was MAST that initiated this famous annual event. And it was not a pale foretaste of better things to come. The list of speakers at the first MACNA was extremely impressive, including Martin Moe, Helmut Debelius and George Smit. The meetings were in the Royal Ontario Museum and the banquet at Hart House (U of T) – very appropriate and very classy. While MACNA’s have got bigger and flashier, for sheer knowledge, camaraderie and fun, I am not sure any have surpassed the very first. (I say this as someone who had just joined MAST and attended the conference, but had absolutely nothing to do with its organization.).

In the summer of 1989, Scott Dyer had to resign as President, due to other demands on his time. While he must have had great support from many people whose efforts are not documented, I think all will agree it was remarkable that Scott left such a great legacy, as a result of his three years at the helm.

Dave Burrows acted as Interim President for a short while, until officially elected President in November, 1989. At about the same time, J. Charles Delbeek became editor of Atoll, with Volume 3, Number 3, being his first issue. Charles was still editor, when Atoll Volume V, Number 3 was published in the Fall of 1991. It was a Special 5th Anniversary issue of 60 pages! It contained a lot of highlights from the past, and was an impressive document. Looking over that issue, I see that MAST was then at the forefront of new technology, at least in North America. For example, Charles’ article on Dietrich Stuber’s aquarium in Berlin detailed the usage of calcium hydroxide and strontium chloride long before the information appeared in commercial magazines. These days, the Internet has greatly facilitated the rapid exchange of information, making it unlikely any club can remain ahead of the pack for long. Nevertheless I think MAST, by way of its members, continues to be a great source of technical knowledge and practical advice. In 1991, as now, there was also a focus on ethics and the impact of our hobby on the reefs. In that issue, Charles gave heartfelt thanks to all the commercial organizations that advertised in Atoll and thus kept MAST financially viable. The list of commercial organizations that support MAST has changed quite a bit over the years, but we remain indebted to all advertisers for their much needed support. A special thanks to Hagen (Canada) for their support since day one.

In the early 1990’s, Debbie and I were friendly with Dave and Sharon Burrows (we still are). So Dave, who was President, soon had me involved with the MAST Executive. My account of subsequent events is therefore inevitably a personal one. There is a bit of a gap in the MAST records, so I don’t know exactly when my first Executive meeting took place, but I see that by June 1992 I had become Vice President. It was about that time that Dave sold me on the idea of hosting MACNA V. We had worked together in another organization, and knew we would form the core of a very dedicated and cooperative team, with our respective wives playing a crucial supporting role. Our only concern was that we not get bogged down in bureaucracy. And so it was that in July, 1992, the MAST Executive unanimously agreed to form a Committee of two (Dave and I) with sweeping powers to make all decisions with respect to MACNA V. Not too long afterwards, but long enough for MAST to have publicly committed itself to MACNA V, Dave was posted to Romania. What a bomb shell! By October, I was President and MACNA Chairman – more than I had bargained for.

MACNA V was held in September, 1993, with the theme,“Bringing the Hobbyist and Scientist Together in Celebration of Marine Life”. It was innovative in its speakers list, which included two renowned scientists (Dr. Daphne Fautin & Dr. Robert Richmond), perhaps the best fish photographers in the world (Rudie Kuiter & Scott Michael), as well as the gurus of the reef-keeping world (Sprung, Delbeek & Paletta). It was held downtown at a classy hotel, and featured dinner at Ontario Place, and an Imax show at the Cinesphere. It was an incredible amount of work and emotional strain, but immensely satisfying – something I will never forget.

MAST has maintained a steady course over the last ten years. Of course, there have been a few ups and downs, but the overall trend has been positive. Two events have become annual favourites, “The Coral Cutting Workshop” and “The Annual Auction”. Tank tours remain difficult to organize, but a popular feature when we can pull it off – usually at least once a year. There has been a good selection of speakers from both within the club and from the wider aquarium community. For example, Robert Di Marco is internationally known for breeding many species of clown fish, and we are proud to have him as a member. Despite living in Montreal, he manages to attend a few meetings, and has given a number of great talks to our club.

The last three ‘special events,’ with guest speakers from the USA, have all been a success.

In April, 1998, we had Julian Sprung, at George Brown College, and it was one of the best presentations I have heard him make.
In December, 2002, Eric Borneman visited us, and the event was held at Ryerson University. It was the first time most of us had heard Eric, and he was a big hit, both for his well prepared presentation and forthright question and answer session.
In April, 2006, our twentieth anniversary year, we celebrated by bringing in Anthony Calfo. We had another great talk from Anthony, followed by a lively question and answer period. The presentation was in the excellent lecture theatre at the Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College.
Following Anthony’s presentation, we had a first-class anniversary dinner at The Summit House Grill on Eglinton Avenue. Apart from good food and companionship, the party atmosphere was greatly enhanced by the amazing nautically-themed decorations. What Bruce Walden can do with balloons has to be seen to be believed.

As an aside, I must say one of the rewards of being President (and doing a lot of work) is the chance to meet MAST’s out-of-town guests. I greatly enjoyed entertaining Julian, Eric, and Anthony, during their brief stays in Toronto.

MAST’s first Web site was established by Laura Sutor in 1997. It was a good start, but unfortunately suffered through a lack of resources to add new material, and depended on donated web space. It remained in operation for about a year. The Executive made a decision in 2001 that a Web site should be re-established with a professional web hosting company. Ron Watt was the new Web Master and did a great deal of work to get it established. He received much help from Brian Burgener, who subsequently assumed the role of Web Master, allowing Ron to concentrate on editing Atoll. The Web address is www.MASTcanada.org.

Brian has now taken over Atoll editor as well as the Web Master title – a heavy load – thanks, Brian.

I don’t have detailed membership numbers available throughout MAST’s history, but I believe it has fluctuated between about 80 and 130 for most of the last 15 years. It peaked, in 2004, at about 150. Moreover, at that time, meeting attendance was consistently high, often in the 60 to 70 range. Both numbers have slipped a little since then, but MAST remains very healthy. We have good relationships with several retail store owners and managers, and an impressive Web Page. Both have resulted in more hobbyists learning of our existence, and being encouraged to join. Our members remain a diverse group but, perhaps because of our Web page, we are tending to attract a somewhat younger, technologically savvy crowd, which bodes well for the future.

MAST is more financially sound than it has ever been, and we do not intend to hoard the money. One priority has been to increase the frequency of out-of-town guest speakers and we have some impressive events being lined up. Look out for Mike Paletta in the fall of 2006; plus Bob Fenner and Bruce Carlson in the spring and fall of 2007.

The willingness of MAST members to share information is, as always, impressive. Camaraderie is high. Whether you are new to the club or an old timer, whether you are an accomplished aquarist or a rank beginner, you are made to feel welcome at our meetings. That is the way it should be. And it makes me feel proud to be associated with MAST.

From To Presidents
June, 1986 Summer, 1989 Scott Dyer
Summer, 1989 October, 1992 Dave Burrows
October, 1992 October, 2009 Bob James
October, 2009 June, 2011 Mark Krysztofiak
June, 2011 June, 2015 Steve Karakatsanis
June, 2015 Present Betty Vinson

Charles Delbeek, Founding member of the Marine Aquarium Society of Toronto
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