Nature Canada

Announcing the 2017 Douglas H. Pimlott Award Winner: Dr. Ian A. McLaren

On occasion the conservation world loses a giant, and Ian was such a person.  Nature Canada awarded the Pimlott Award to Ian in 2017.  We were truly saddened to learn of his passing in 2020. Read more about this incredible naturalist here.

This post was written by guest blogger Rebecca Kennedy.

For his lifetime achievements and contributions to the fields of marine biology and regional ornithology, Nature Canada is honoured to present Dr. Ian A. McLaren with its 2017 Douglas H. Pimlott Award.

Image of Ian McLaren

A longtime professor and researcher in marine biology and ecology at Dalhousie University, Dr. Ian McLaren has spent an enthusiastic and inquisitive life in the Canadian outdoors. After attaining his doctorate in 1961 at Yale, Dr. McLaren returned to his hometown of Montreal to work as an assistant professor in the Marine Sciences Centre at McGill. In 1966, he relocated to Dalhousie University in Halifax to be an associate professor of biology. There he spent the majority of his academic career, teaching undergraduate courses in subjects such as biological diversity, ecology, vertebrate and invertebrate biology, and population and community ecology, and acting as a supervisor or committee member for over 60 graduate students and post-doctoral fellows.

Always aware of the need for habitat protection, Dr. McLaren was heavily involved in the establishment of both the Nova Scotia Nature Trust and the Sable Island Preservation Trust (now Friends of Sable Island NP), which has led to the protection of the province’s unique coastal ecosystems and offshore islands. His research garnered from times spent on Sable Island off the coast of eastern Nova Scotia led to a definitive study of the Ipswich Sparrow, a subspecies of the Savannah Sparrow, which breeds only on that island. During the 1950s and early 1960s, Dr. McLaren spent 12 seasons in the Eastern Canadian Arctic (now Nunavut) mostly with the research vessel Calanus but also a 6-month stint of camping in isolation with his wife Bernice near Frobisher Bay, where he studied the limnology of Ogac Lake, with its relict landlocked cod.

His passion for the islands spills into his family life. Bernice fondly recalls a first summer of their marriage spent in a tent in the Canadian North. The couple also spent many late summers with their three children on Seal Island off the southwest tip of Nova Scotia.

Formally retired, Dr. McLaren he continues to stay extremely active both personally and professionally as professor emeritus at Dalhousie, and continuing to birdwatch, publish avian research and use his voice of reason to advocate for pertinent causes. He tirelessly pushes for the preservation of habitats, the need for urban green spaces and Nature Canada’s campaign to keep cats from roaming unsupervised. He speaks on climate change, Species at Risk, and the biomass “harvesting” of the Acadian forest. As a supporter of the Nova Scotia Young Naturalists Association, he is a voice of encouragement and support for the next generation of nature researchers.

Notable publications and articles

During his career, Dr. McLaren has been a prolific researcher and writer, publishing more than 100 scientific peer-reviewed articles and book chapters on subjects ranging from the biology of seals and plankton in Arctic Canada, the rules of growth and production of marine zooplankton, and the relationships of marine fish recruitment to zooplankton distribution and abundance.

Dr. McLaren is an avid birder and his passion for ornithology has led to work both formal and avocational. He is the author of the comprehensive All the Birds of Nova Scotia (2012). This unmatched resource for serious birders compiles and evaluates a broad range of historical and contemporary data gathered by both ornithologists and amateur birdwatchers. In the work, Dr. McLaren describes the status and key identification issues for all bird species, distinctive subspecies and variations thought to have occurred in Nova Scotia up to 2010.

Additionally, Dr. MacLaren coordinated the third posthumous edition of Robie Tufts’ much-loved Birds of Nova Scotia (1995). Since 2010, Dr. McLaren has served as editor of the magazine Nova Scotia Birds. He is a past regional editor for the American Birding Association magazine North American Birds.


Notable awards and associations

Throughout his career, Dr. McLaren has been heavily involved on numerous boards, councils, committees of regional and national conservation, and natural history organizations. He became a member on arrival in Nova Scotia of the Nova Scotia Bird Society, for which he also served as president. He continues his involvement as a director, editor, contributor, and speaker.

Osprey photographed by Jim Adams

He is a recipient of the Queen Elizabeth Silver Jubilee and Diamond Jubilee medals as well as a 2012 recipient of the American Birding Association’s prestigious Ludlow Griscom Award for Outstanding Contributions in Regional Ornithology.

Dr. McLaren is a longtime member and a former chair of the Board of Directors for Nature Canada, for which he has been a steadying guide and presence during our organization’s challenging times. Fellow Board Member Joan Czapalay, who nominated Dr. McLaren for the award, states, “He is tireless, courteous to all, and has a wonderful sense of humour.”

The Douglas H. Pimlott Award is Nature Canada’s highest award and is given to someone who, whether as a professional or a private citizen, has made significant contributions to conservation. Learn more about the award, including eligibility and past recipients here.

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