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End of an Era
SFWRITER.COM > Canadian SF > Ontario Hydra
by Robert J. Sawyer
In October 1992, so that I could concentrate on other projects, I stepped down as coordinator of Ontario Hydra, Canada's oldest association of science-fiction professionals. I'd held this position since the group's founding eight years previously, producing recruitment brochures, mailing labels, and three editions of the organization's annotated membership directory. D. Larry Hancock took over as the group's temporary coordinator until a long-term replacement, Mici Gold, was found. As my final act, I prepared this history of Hydra. Robert J. Sawyer
Hydra was founded by Judith Merril, famous for the 13 "Year's Best" SF anthologies she edited. Early in 1984, Judy sent a memo to a bunch of what she called "good SF heads," inviting us to join her for "the First Night of Hydra North," Sunday, April 29, 1984, beginning at 5:00 p.m.
Said Judy: "The Toronto area 'SF Pro' population has reached a sort of critical-social mass." She proposed what turned out to be Canada's first association of SF professionals, a group patterned after New York City's Hydra Club, founded in late 1947. That Hydra's members included founders Lester del Rey and Frederik Pohl, plus Judy, Harry Harrison, Willy Ley, Fletcher Pratt, and George O. Smith.
Of the original Hydra Club, Judy said, "The word networking was not yet current, but that's what it was, and more supplying pleasure and stimulation, as well as useful contacts, for many of us for many years." Our own Hydra has tried to provide these same things.
Our first gathering was held at The Free Times Café, 320 College Street, Toronto. Judy's original invitation went out to 21 people, and my recollection is that 15 or so showed up. A good time was had, and we agreed to meet again.
After much discussion, we decided to hold future gatherings on Monday nights, various other nights being ruled out for a variety of reasons (I remember Thursday nights being scratched off the list because Terry Green was a big Cheers fan ah, the days before VCRs were common).
I was given the job of being the group's coordinator, charged with organizing gatherings, inviting new members, and so on. At the outset, I did all the mailings myself, but in Hydra's second year I got the individual hosts to take care of sending out their own meeting invitations on mailing labels that I provided.
We decided that meeting in a restaurant really wasn't the atmosphere we were looking for, and adopted a policy of getting together instead in members' homes. We'd originally tried monthly gatherings, but soon found that a quarterly schedule was more to people's tastes. We agreed as a general rule to get together on the second Mondays of January, April, and July, and the first Monday (because of Canadian Thanksgiving) of October, with meetings usually beginning around 7:30 p.m.
Of those who Judy invited to that historic first gathering at Free Times, only John Robert Colombo, Phyllis Gotlieb, Terence M. Green, Robert J. Sawyer, and Andrew Weiner remain members to this day (I, in fact, have the honor of being the only person to have attended every single Hydra meeting). Members who joined in the early years and still attend regularly include short-story writer Gustav A. Richar, who comes all the way from Pointe-au-Baril for our meetings, and horror expert Bob Hadji.
Lots of interesting people have shown up at Hydra gatherings, including anthologist Alberto Manguel, Montreal author Donald Kingsbury, American SF writers Roger MacBride Allen and George Alec Effinger, University of Toronto SF professor Peter Fitting, author Robert Charles Wilson (prior to his move to B.C.), authors Garfield and Judith Reeves-Stevens (prior to their move to Los Angeles), Cosmos artist Jon Lomberg (in whose house we once held a meeting, even though Jon wasn't there), and Ottawa writer John Park. Sadly, two Hydrans have passed away since the forming of the group: SF novelist Edward Llewelyn-Thomas and fantasy poet Gwendolyn MacEwen [founder Judith Merril passed away in 1997, and member Phyllis Gotlieb passed away in 2009].
Our membership has grown slowly, and not always steadily. I remember our July 1987 meeting at Andrew Weiner's home at which the turnout consisted of Andrew, Terry Green, and myself. Still, I worked hard over the years to increase our numbers (including sending letters of invitation to all Canadian Members of SFWA, as well as to every previously overlooked or emerging pro I could find in the Toronto area). For the January 1988 meeting, Terry Green produced a four-page mailing in hopes of rustling up more interest in the group.
Our membership evolved as time went on: gradually, we lost most of those who didn't actually write SF the booksellers, critics, teachers, and so on began to drift away, whereas more and more members of Toronto's burgeoning community of SF writers started to come out. Judy's original group of "good SF heads" had become almost exclusively professional writers and editors.
Early on, Hydra had been largely ignored (although Taral Wayne did make snarky comments about us in one of his fanzines, decrying the notion that pros should want to get together socially without fans present). But by 1989 we were attracting a lot of attention, and I often got requests from fans and aspirant writers for permission to attend Hydra meetings. A formal membership policy seemed to be in order, so I coined one: Hydra was to be exclusively for established professional science fiction and fantasy writers, editors, and critics; it would be open only to people who have been paid money for their work in these areas. Of course, we were still a social group and all of our current members would always be welcome.
And still Hydra grew: In 1989 we averaged 12 attendees per meeting; by 1990, that number had grown to 18; in 1991, average attendance surged to 34; and last year  we averaged 30 people. In the fall of 1985, our mailing list had 26 names on it; by the end of 1991, it had grown to 49 names. Some of those, though, hadn't been to meetings for years. After written notice of my intentions, I dropped 15 names who hadn't attended at least one gathering during the previous year.
By October 1991, our frequent attendees included: Mark Askwith (Prisoners of Gravity); Carolyn Clink (On Spec); John Robert Colombo (Other Canadas); Cory Doctorow (Pulphouse); James Alan Gardner (F&SF); Phyllis Gotlieb (Sunburst); Terence M. Green (Children of the Rainbow); Robert S. Hadji (Encyclopedia of Horror); D. Larry Hancock (The Silent Invasion); Louise Hypher (Ontario Science Centre); Nancy Kilpatrick (Year's Best Horror); Dave Nickle (On Spec); Shirley Meier (Shadow's Daughter); Gustav A. Richar (Dandelion); Lance Robinson (Riverside Quarterly); Robin Rowland (Analog); Mark C. Sadler (Thin Ice); Michelle Sagara (Children of the Blood); Robert J. Sawyer (Far-Seer); Karl Schroeder (Tesseracts 3); Michael Skeet and Lorna Toolis (editors of Tesseracts 4); Mandy Slater (Son of a Dark and Stormy Night); M.R. Soderstrom (Figment); S.M. Stirling (The Stone Dogs); Jean-Louis Trudel (Solaris); Edo van Belkom (Year's Best Horror); Karen Wehrstein (Lion's Heart); and Andrew Weiner (Station Gehenna).
Despite our growing size, the same four people ended up hosting the vast bulk of our meetings: Robert J. Sawyer (eight times), John Robert Colombo and Andrew Weiner (seven times each), and Terence M. Green (six times). They also bore the costs of mailings, beer, wine, soft drinks, and munchies. Of course, those costs were minor when we were a small group, but starting with our January 1992 meeting, we introduced a policy of asking attendees to each kick in two dollars.
Over the years, Hydra members have been invited to several special events (including a book launching on April 26, 1989, for Garfield Reeves-Stevens's Nighteyes, held at Tour of the Universe in the basement of the CN Tower). We've also all been offered free admission to some area SF conventions. And at our January 1991 meeting at John Robert Colombo's place, the crew of TVOntario's Prisoners of Gravity recorded interviews with Hydra members.
Judy's original name for our group, Hydra North, lasted for a long while, but several of us objected to its branch-plant sound, so we changed it in 1987 to Toronto Hydra Andrew Weiner's suggestion, and a pun on the name of the electric-utility company.
By 1992, we had a lot of members coming from outside Metropolitan Toronto, and so we changed our name again, this time to Ontario Hydra (still a utility-company pun, and, incidentally, an anagram for "Hardy Oration"). Hydra generated a spin-off in 1991: Freelance, a similar association for comic-book professionals, run by D. Larry Hancock [now defunct].
As far as I can tell, there have been approximately 38 Hydra meetings, up to and including the one on October 5, 1992. Below are their dates and the names and addresses of the hosts (not surprisingly, several of us have moved once or twice during Hydra's eight-year history). Figures at the far right are total attendance, where available.
Hydra has been great fun. Many friendships have been formed or strengthened through its informal get-togethers, and I think we've all learned a bit more from it about this crazy business we're in. After eight years, though, it's someone else's turn to organize things, and I do hope one of you will indeed step forward to do so. Here's to Hydra's next eight years!
Attendance figures, where known, are given at right.
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