Collector’s Stories: James Fowler

James Fowler (1829-1923)

Background Information

James Fowler (originally Fowlie) was born in Bartibog, New Brunswick on July 16th, 1829 to George Fowlie and Jane McKnight. It is unknown when or why James changed his last name from Fowlie to Fowler. He grew up on a farm with a gristmill and a sawmill. His father died when he was only 14 and it would have been expected of him to take over his father’s job, but his mother encouraged him to go to school instead. Following that he took theological studies in Halifax at the Free Church College. After that he taught for a short time before returning home where he was ordained in 1857. He married a woman named Mary Ann McLeod on July 1st, 1858. They had two daughters. He moved around to a few different parishes, and during this time he was also very interested in natural history. He was interested in conchology, geology, meteorology, and particularly in systematic botany. He became the minister at a rural congregation that did not have much to offer so that he could study the flora in that area and he later studied flora from around the province. In 1876, he resigned his pastorate and following that he made the first catalogue of New Brunswick vascular plants and bryophytes. In 1880, he left New Brunswick and went to Kingston, Ontario to assume the position of lecturer in natural science, librarian, and curator of the museum at the Queen’s College located there. He taught geology, botany, and zoology. After eleven years at the Queen’s College, he was promoted to professor. In 1894, different courses were created and some were moved to other locations, so Fowler became the first full-time professor of botany. While at Queen’s College, Fowler developed a huge herbarium with approximately 50,000 specimens with 15,000 different species by the time of his retirement in 1907. There are 489 of his specimens located at the University of New Brunswick Herbarium. He passed away in Kingston, Ontario on January 11th, 1923 at the age of 93.

Further information, including a biography from the Canadian Dictionary of Biography, regarding James Fowler can be found in the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick website.

Written Works

As previously mentioned, after resigning, Fowler started working on cataloguing New Brunswick’s plants. Fowler published many different lists of plants found in New Brunswick. Three lists pertaining to New Brunswick plants,  a document containing correspondence letters between Asa Gray and Fowler and a book called, “Flora of Saint Andrews,” are held in the herbarium.

*Note: When researching Fowler, the archives were not visited due to a limited amount of time.

By Jillian Richards, 2017

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Author: UNB Herbarium

Vascular Plant Collection at University of New Brunswick, Fredericton, New Brunswick