Nature Canada

Who inspires you? | Remembering Great Canadian Naturalists

This blog was written by Nature Canada guest blogger Sherry Nigro.

Most Canadians regard Nature as part of our collective identity – but where does our connection to Nature begin? 

Much of the credit lies with great Canadian naturalists past and present.  Their ability to celebrate, educate and advocate, for the geography, flora and fauna of Canada, has inspired generations of naturalists.  They are explorers, scientists, teachers, environmentalists, policy makers, health care providers, spiritual leaders and artists.  They are farmers, fishermen and hunters.  They are parents, grandparents, friends and social clubs.  Here are a few of the Canadian naturalists who have inspired me.

Indigenous peoples
The wisdom of Canada’s First Nations and Inuit has always been captivating to me- how they lived in harmony with the natural world based on their deep knowledge of plants and animals, the cycles of Nature and their respectful spirituality.  Imagine the hardships of the prairie blizzard, the mosquito infested boreal forests, the heaving relentless oceans.  Survival depended on their ability to create shelter and clothing, obtain food, and utilize the offerings of the natural world.  And it depended on their ability to see beauty, find joy, and develop a sacred connection to Mother Earth.  How fortunate we have been to have these wise stewards and environmental champions as part of our Canadian heritage.

David Suzuki, picture from the David Suzuki Foundation.

David Suzuki
He is a passionate environmentalist who came into my living room to explain the mysteries of Nature.  Named one of the greatest Canadians of all times in 2004, David Suzuki has inspired hundreds of thousands of Canadians to care about the natural world.

David Thompson
Perhaps most famous for his cartography skills in mapping the interior of the continent in the late 1700s, David Thompson‘s keen observational skills introduced the Canadian wilderness to Europeans.  He was prolific with interest in astronomy (indigenous peoples knew him as Man Who Looks at Stars or Stargazer), plants, animals, birds and natural phenomenon.

Robert Bateman, pictured by Acadia University.

Many of the early explorers were naturalists; Henry Kelsey, Alexander Mackenzie, Samuel Hearne, Anthony Henday left journals that document their travels detailing geographical, biological and sociological aspects of the great Canadian wilderness[1].

Mabel Frances Whittemore.

Robert Bateman
What David Suzuki did with television, Robert Bateman did with a paint brush.  His detailed renderings of animals in their element have raised awareness of the strength, grace, ferocity and fragility found in Nature.

Reginald Whittemore & Mabel Frances
Reginald Whittemore founded what would eventually become Nature Canada in 1939 when he launched the magazine Canadian Nature. The magazine was published in honour of Reginald’s late wife, Mabel Frances — an educator and nature lover whose main goal in life was to share her passion for nature with others.

Other great Canadian naturalists include Catherine Parr Trail (1802-1899) who was one of the first to document wildflowers and native plants.  Leon Abel Provancher (1820-1892) was a Catholic priest and naturalist who is known as the father of Natural History in Canada.  Ian McTaggart Cowan (1910-2010) is the father of Canadian Ecology.  Jack Miner (1865-1944) used the practice of banding to better understand migratory birds. He established bird sanctuaries that still exist today.  Louise de Kiriline Lawrence (1894-1992) became a renowned ornithologist.

Of course I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the influence of my parents.   Both were born of Saskatchewan homesteader stock and have a deep respect and love for Nature. They always made time to share their discoveries- the first crocus of the spring, moose tracks in the yard, an osprey nest, a spectacular sunset.  There is research that shows that parents are instrumental in helping children connect to nature[2]. Research aside, my relationship with Nature is very much related to my parents’ values and beliefs.

At a time when we worry that Canadians are losing touch with Nature, it is important to remember the great accomplishments of our naturalists, and how they engage, educate and inspire us, whether they are career environmentalists, weekend hobbyists or great bed time storytellers.

Tell me, who inspires you?

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[1]Waiser, Bill.   2016.  A World We Have Lost:  Saskatchewan before 1905.  Fifth House Limited. Markham, Ontario.

[2] The David Suzuki Foundation. 2012. Youth Engagement with Nature and the Outdoors: a summary of survey findings.

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