In 1957, at the height of the Cold War, twenty-two courageous scientists from both sides of the Iron Curtain met in Pugwash, Nova Scotia, at a lodge maintained by Cyrus Eaton. The group was responding to the manifesto issued by Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein in 1955, which called for a gathering of scientists from around the world to discuss how to rid the world of nuclear weapons. Eaton offered to host the meeting, as, since 1954, he had been hosting scholarly groups at his “comfortably equipped residence there by the sea,” later dubbed Thinkers Lodge.
Cyrus Eaton, born and raised in Pugwash, attended Amherst Academy and then McMaster University. After emigrating to the United States, he built a fortune in the emerging gas and electric utility industries. However, in 1928 and 1929, two devastating fires destroyed much of Pugwash. Eaton resolved to rebuild the town of his youth.
Eaton bought the land where the burnt-out wharves, hotel, and shops had stood. He cleared away the debris, built a seawall, and established a park for the residents. He bought the seaside home originally occupied by the Henry Gesner Pineo family and commissioned celebrated Nova Scotian architect, Andrew Cobb, to remodel and expand the house. Additionally, Eaton purchased the adjacent Lobster Canning Factory from Frank Allen and a small gatehouse. The park running along the Pugwash River to the Northumberland Strait plus the three buildings were placed into a not-for-profit Canada Registered Charitable Organization called the Pugwash Park Commissioners.
From 1930 to 1954, Cyrus Eaton operated the three buildings as a seaside bed and breakfast and teahouse. In 1954, he began hosting retreats and round tables for scholars and scientists, which addressed subjects as diverse as the Suez Crisis and the role of Continuing Education. All conferences emphasized education, the power of dialogue, and international understanding. In 1957, Eaton hosted the first Pugwash Conference on Science and World Affairs. Bertrand Russell later wrote:
Most important of all, the 1957 the meeting was held in an atmosphere of friendliness. Perhaps the unique characteristic of this and subsequent Pugwash Conferences was the fact that the members consorted with each other in their spare time as well as during scheduled meetings, and grew to know each other as human beings rather than merely as scientists of this or that potentially inimical belief or nation. This most important characteristic was in large part made possible by the astute understanding by Cyrus Eaton of the situation and what we wished to accomplish by his tactful hospitality.
In 1995, the Nobel Peace prize was awarded jointly to the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs and Joseph Rotblat, the conference's leading spirit who believed that “science and research should serve the cause of peace.” Rotblat’s medal is displayed at Thinkers Lodge. In 2008, Thinkers Lodge was declared a National Historic Site of Canada. That same year, a world-class restoration of Thinkers Lodge and the Lobster Factory began. The majority of the restoration was completed by 2013, and interpretive panels were added to help tell visitors from around the world about the historic importance of Thinkers Lodge.
To this day, important conferences and retreats continue to be held at Thinkers Lodge, including several that have addressed the climate change crisis. In 2017, the documentary, “Climate Change and the Human Prospect,” was filmed at Thinkers Lodge, marking 60 years since the first Pugwash Conference on Science and World Affairs.