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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Dr. A.R.A.Taylor’s 1944 Arctic Collection

You might think that working in a herbarium, a place crammed full of dead plants, would be a bit dull, but the stories that accompany those plants can be really interesting.  Each collection was made by an explorer and each specimen caught that person’s eye for a reason.  My favourite part of working in the herbarium is solving the puzzles that come up from time to time.  One of our recent accomplishments has been putting together the bits and pieces of information we had about a collection that had been stored in the herbarium for many years.

We had boxes and boxes of pressed arctic specimens, cryptically labelled with abbreviations and dating from 1944.  The labels were mainly scraps of paper with a date, some roman numerals and the initials A.R.A.T.  Some were identified, some were partially identified and some were unknown species.   We knew who A.R.A.T. was: Dr. A.R.A. Taylor had taught biology at UNB from 1946 to 1987.    He had been responsible for “resurrecting” the herbarium from many years in storage in the Old Arts Building when he started here (Young, 1986).   The arctic plants turned out to be part of his personal collection, picked up incidentally during a Geodetic Survey of Canada expedition led by T.H. Manning along the northeast coast of Hudson Bay.  Taylor collected, pressed and dried approximately 800 plants on that trip!

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In 2010 volunteer David Smith started by tallying all of the information he could glean from the scraps of paper.  Meanwhile, Elizabeth Mills and some students began trying to track down more information about the expedition. They eventually found T.H.Manning’s account of the trip published in “Explorations on the East Coast of Hudson Bay” (Manning, T.H. 1947).   From this and some partial maps, we generated an itinerary of their travels and linked that to the site numbers and locale details found on the labels.

Dr. Mary Young has spent the past 5 years resourcefully working her way through the collection, confirming the identities of the specimens, or, in fact, identifying them from scratch.  This was generally not an easy task, given that the specimens were over 68 years old!  Some were in quite rough shape and some had disintegrated entirely.   The specimens were then mounted and databased and filed into our main collection.   Thanks to all of these efforts, this collection has found a home in the Herbarium and will soon be available to researchers around the world, contributing to our ecological knowledge of the arctic.