For the months of June and July, we are thrilled to present a series of blog posts by Collections Intern Rebeka Beganova. Rebeka (she/her) is a post-secondary student with a passion for research, literature, and history. Having completed an Associate of Arts Degree at Okanagan College, she is glad to be joining the MAV team during her last summer in Vernon before heading off to UBC Vancouver. There is no better way to say goodbye to her hometown than to explore its local history!

A black-and-white image of a man with a beard and wearing a hat looking down at a piece of wood in his hands.
Allan Brooks photographed ca. 1925

This famed ornithologist and artist has secured his rightful place in Vernon’s history. Those who know of Allan Brooks from his local reputation alone may envision him as an all-around nature lover, at one with the landscapes and wildlife of the Okanagan. However, this peaceful image overlooks the pragmatic edge to Brooks’ character. His views on nature preservation were much more complex than a simple slogan of “protect the animals.”

The Problem at Hand

Brooks’ methodology directly opposed the theory of the “balance of nature.” This theory states that without human interference, the natural interactions between predator and prey will maintain the balance between overpopulation and extinction. Brooks’ disagreement stemmed from the fact that predators are a lot less reserved than people then understood. Many are bloodthirsty, he claimed – relentless. In one lecture he pointed to the house wren, a bird that enjoys burying hatchlings under piles of sticks to starve them.

His proposed approach to wildlife preservation was to actively eliminate predators; not trust that they will die off at their own pace, but hire trappers and hunters to keep them at bay, for the sake of the survival of smaller animals. Not only was this concept shocking to animal lovers, but it also went against an age-old ideology that was so accepted, it was being taught at universities.

Spreading the word

In the 1920s and 30s, Brooks set out on a mission to project his message as far as it could reach. On March 17, 1924, he addressed the public at All Saints Parish Hall with a lecture revealing the intricacies of bird life. His talk then turned to the problem of vicious bird predators and the unsettling reality that in the untouched wilderness – where perfect harmony was supposed to exist – dwindling numbers of precious species were furrowing scientists’ brows. Brooks’ speech was so compelling that the audience mourned it did not fall on more ears.

Later that same year, he lectured at a meeting of the Vernon and District Fish and Game Protective Association. This time, the speech outwardly focused on the predator problem. Brooks is recorded as stating, with perhaps characteristic wit, that those inclined to protect nature’s killers “had about as much ground to stand on as would anyone who wanted to protect the potato bug or the onion maggot as being necessary to our well-being.” In 1933 he spoke before the Women’s Canadian Club, and finally, on October 28, 1937, Brooks abandoned all subtlety and published an article in The Vernon News clearly outlining his strict prescription for the flourishing of wildlife, titled “The Predator Must Go.” In the end, it is not clear how many minds Brooks managed to convince. What is clear is that Brooks took his role as a wildlife ambassador seriously enough to make sacrifices and ruffle feathers.

To explore more of Vernon’s history, check out our other blog posts!

Rebeka Beganova, Collections Intern