John Macoun


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(1831–1920). Irish-born, Macoun tried almost single-handedly to roll back the natural history frontiers of Canada. After he emigrated to Canada West in 1850, the farmer-turned-schoolteacher's interest in the local flora developed into an obsession with Canadian botany. Devoting every spare moment to plants and his herbarium, he soon became a leading authority with a growing international reputation. Between 1872 and 1881, the federal government hired Macoun to investigate the potential of the western interior; he concluded, largely on the basis of natural vegetation, that the region was an agricultural Eden. He was rewarded for this work with an appointment to the Geological Survey of Canada, first as dominion botanist and later as survey naturalist. Over the next 30 years, he spent as much time as possible in the field, tramping thousands of kilometres in search of new specimens. Macoun believed his duty was to work up an inventory of Canada's great natural history heritage. His fieldwork had a profound impact on the development of life sciences. Thanks to his activity, natural history research came to be regarded as a legitimate concern of the GSC. His enormous collections also figured in the establishment of the National Museum of Canada.

From The Oxford Companion to Canadian History in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: History of the Americas.

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