In the winter of 1898 a small group of Montrealers formed a society devoted to the intellectual improvement of its members by means of speeches, essays and debates on social, political and literary subjects. A few weeks later, Messrs. Barrett, Natten, Parratt, Reddy, Saxe and Shaw, as well as the Rev. C. G. Rollit (the first president), met in the basement of the Church of St. James the Apostle on Ste Catherine street West and formally inaugurated the Literary Society which has ever since borne the name of the Church where it was founded.
At first, members were drawn from the Church congregation, the fees were one dollar per year. In 1901 this was amended so that people not associated with the Church could join.
Relevant topics of a social and political nature were on the early agendas of the group which met every two weeks throughout the year. Some of the topics included Free Trade, the Spanish-American War and Advantages of a University Education.
The logo was introduced in the third session with the motto Permitte Lucem (spread the light). A significant decision was reached in 1915: The Society disavows and disclaims any discrimination for racial or religious reasons, the basic principle being complete equality and toleration towards all races and religions. This spirit of openness has endured.
In 1925, the Society became incorporated under the laws of the Province of Quebec. Over the years, members have continued to benefit from stimulating talks as well as many social and cultural events.