A baby bird in a nest.
An undated photo of a baby loon next to an egg; loons are among the migratory bird species for which ornithologist James Munro advocated. Photograph taken by James Munro’s nephew, Maurice Munro.
A person wearing glasses and a suit.
An undated photograph of James Munro (public domain image).

Nature’s champion

On April 22, Earth Day will be commemorated in 192 countries around the world. Since its inception in 1970, the event has sought to raise awareness of the need to protect Earth’s natural resources and foster a global environmental movement. Over the years, Vernon has been home to many environmental champions, one of whom was considered a leading authority on waterfowl in western North America.

James A. Munro was born in Kildonan, Manitoba, on November 8, 1884. He grew up in Toronto, where he was introduced to naturalists including Dr. William Brodie, Sam Wood, and John Edmonds. Munro moved to Okanagan Landing in 1910 with his wife Isabella, who was recovering from tuberculosis.

Here, Munro crossed paths with fellow ornithologist Major Allan Brooks. While they reportedly went on numerous field expeditions together and held each other’s abilities in high esteem, their strong-willed and opinionated natures often led to disagreements.

Chief federal migratory bird officer

Here, Munro crossed paths with fellow ornithologist Major Allan Brooks. While they reportedly went on numerous field expeditions together and held each other’s abilities in high esteem, their strong-willed and opinionated natures often led to disagreements.

In 1913, Munro became a member of the American Ornithological Union, and by 1920, assumed the role of Chief Federal Migratory Bird Officer for the four western Canadian provinces. He held this position until his retirement in 1949, during which period he authored more than 175 publications on the birds of British Columbia.

a LEGACY RECOGNIZED

Over the years, Munro’s concern about the human-induced degradation of waterfowl nesting habitats across the province grew steadily. He was deeply trouble by the observed pollution of lakes and streams and was one of the first to draw attention to this issue. His advocacy spurred further field studies investigating the effects of economic expansion and population growth on migratory birds, fish populations, and mammals.

Munro passed away in 1958, and a decade later, the Canadian Government erected a monument commemorating his achievements at Summit Creek, near Creston. This marked the federal government’s first acknowledgment of the accomplishments of one of its dedicated conservationists. On the occasion, Ian McTaggart, Dean of Graduate Studies at UBC, remarked that Munro “had been the chief spokesman in western Canada for the cause of migratory birds for 38 years.”

If you are interested in reading more about James A. Munro, click here for a comprehensive obituary by James L. Baillie. 

 

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

Gwyneth Evans, Archives Manager

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

 

 

major allan Brooks

June 28, 2021

 

For July and August, the Vernon Museum will share a series of articles that explore some of the many heritage sites around the North Okanagan. To plan a visit to any of the sites featured, please visit https://vernonmuseum.ca/explore/heritage-field-trips/.

from India to okanagan landing

The Allan Brooks Nature Centre, perched on a grassy knoll overlooking Vernon, memorializes a conservationist and artist who once called the city home.

For more than 40 years, Major Allan Brooks lived at his Okanagan Landing home, despite the fact that he was born thousands of miles away—in Etawah, India.

A Born Naturalist

Allan Brooks was born on February 15, 1869, to William and Mary Brooks. William Brooks was a bird enthusiast and collected specimens extensively throughout India.

William had three sons, but it was the youngest, Allan, who showed the most interest in his father’s occupation. According to his future wife Marjorie, when Allan was only a baby, he was allowed to handle skins from his father’s collection, which he did with the care of a born naturalist. 

 

(Left) Allan Brooks at the age of two in India, and (right) Allan Brooks, aged eight, in England.

 

The Power of Mentorship

At four years old, Allan was sent to Northumberland, England, where he lived for the next eight years. As a boy, he was mentored by John Hancock, considered the father of modern taxidermy, who taught him skills like egg-blowing, butterfly collecting, and botany. Unlike his fellow school-aged children, Allan did not have much use for games, and instead used his free time to explore the moorland around Northumberland.

In 1881, William Brooks, now a widower, moved his three boys to Milton, Ontario. It is there that the teenaged Allan began to fully explore ornithology. When he was 16, he visited Thomas McIlwraith, a founding member of the American Ornithologist’s Union, in Hamilton, Ontario. The following year, Allan Brooks made the first of several important discoveries in the form of a passenger pigeon colony nesting only a few miles from his home.

Celebrated Artist and Naturalist

When Allan Brooks was 18, the family moved to a farm in Chilliwack, British Columbia, a location rich in bird and mammal life. Allan took the opportunity to expand his skills in sketching and painting, hinting at the artistic career to come. Despite his many youthful adventures, Allan’s happiest memories were of the trips he took with his father to Burlington Bay on Lake Ontario, home to many rare bird species. 

Although Allan Brooks experienced several life-changing events after reaching adulthood—from working as a trapper in B.C.’s interior, to representing Canada at the 1914 National Rifle Matches in England, to serving overseas during World War One—he may be most remembered as the celebrated artist and naturalist who lived out his last years in Vernon.

Gwyn Evans