Chapter 3

Dear Sir, I am keenly interested in birds.

North Vancouver 1923–1925

Ian Cowan as a boyscout, 1919

Ian Cowan as a boyscout, 1919

Image Cowan_PP_006 courtesy of University of Victoria Special Collections.
Boy scout and friends

Boy scout and friends

Photograph by Hamilton Mack Laing. Image J-00247 courtesy of the Royal BC Museum, BC Archives.
Jim Munro at Okanagan Landing, 1928

Jim Munro at Okanagan Landing, 1928

Photograph by Hamilton Mack Laing. Image J-00269 courtesy of the Royal BC Museum, BC Archives.
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An advertisement had come out from the Dominion Parks Branch that any Scout who kept a diary of birds for a year and submitted it would receive a field guide to the birds of Canada.11

A letter to the curator of the BC Provincial Museum, Francis Kermode, sent by the young Ian Cowan suggests his journal was well under way with observations in October of 1925.

Dear Sir,
As I cannot see any record in your catalogue of British Columbia Birds of Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus being found in this district, I am writing to tell you that on October 22, 1925, while I was walking up a road beside a big meadow which is surrounded by low scrub bush and dead stumps in which a colony of blackbirds nest every year, I heard a clucking noise coming from a bunch of grass. On getting closer I was able to clearly discern this bird, it had a yellow head and neck and dark-brown body. I was so close to it (being only about 15 ft. from it) that I could not fail to recognize it as the Yellow-headed Blackbird. When I showed myself it flew straight up and then headed straight south. If I can be of any help to you by observing birds in this district I will be more than pleased to do it.
Yours truly,
Ian Cowan 12

Cowan recalled the next exchange of correspondence:

Within a matter of a few weeks after I sent in that diary I got a letter from Jim Munro. He said that he was interested in my diary, that there were one or two things he wanted to correct, a few misidentifications. And that if I had any questions, I should drop him a line. So I did. And I got another letter [from Munro]. Here was the Chief Federal Migratory Bird Officer writing to this kid, and not off-hand, he was writing to me as a scientist! I remembered that all my life and who would have guessed that he and I [one day] would be co-authors of [A Review of the] Bird Fauna of BC.13

The budding young naturalist couldn’t have guessed the background events that had led to this simple exchange of correspondence, a correspondence and friendship that would continue until Munro’s death in 1959. Nor could he have guessed that Munro was part of a larger secret brotherhood that was to extend its influence into virtually every wildlife and conservation institution of North America and guide Cowan through his formative years. Nor did he learn until much later, when he himself joined the brotherhood, that Munro, like his fellow naturalists and scientists, had vowed to mentor the next generation to strengthen conservation and legitimize their vocation.

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11 Cowan, interview, November 30, 2000. [No evidence for this competition has been found to date in the National Museum of Nature, Percy Taverner Collection. √Chantal Dussault, personal communication, October 26, 2013.]

12 Ian McTaggart Cowan to Francis Kermode, October 25, 1925, BC Provincial Museum, GR-0111, Box 03, File 04, BCA.

13 Cowan, interview, November 30, 2000.

 

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