In the late 1870s, the Governor General of Canada, the Marquis of Lorne, determined that Canada required a cultural institution to promote national scientific research and development. Since that time, succeeding Governors General have remained involved with the affairs of the Society. In 1882, the Royal Society of Canada was founded with the personal patronage of the Marquis of Lorne. A year later, in 1883, the Society was incorporated by a statute of the Parliament of Canada.
From its founding until the early 1900s, the structure of the RSC imitated the model of the Royal Society of London, but with the important addition of literature and other elements found in the Institut de France. Like their counterparts, membership to the RSC was limited and by election. Initially, the RSC was divided into four sections, each of 20 Fellows. These sections were: (1) Littérature française, Histoire, Archéologie; (2) English Literature, History, Archaeology; (3) Mathematical, Physical and Chemical Sciences; and (4) Geological and Biological Sciences. The founding Fellows of the RSC included Sir Sandford Fleming, the originator of the world system of Standard Time, and Sir William Osler, one of the greatest physicians of his time. The Fellows of the RSC were nominated by a committee directed by the Principal of McGill University, Sir John William Dawson, and by the former Premier of Quebec, Pierre Chauveau. These two men served as the first and second Presidents of the Society.
As Canadian scholarship and research increased, the RSC also grew. Within three decades, the fellowship of the RSC doubled in number. After several phases of restructuring, the RSC evolved its contemporary organization. In 2010, His Excellency the Right Honourable David Lloyd Johnston, Governor General of Canada, was elected as an Honorary Fellow of the Society.