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Dr. Ian McTaggart-Cowan's field journals are now available to the public and biography to be released in September


August 2015: Ian McTaggart-Cowan’s long life (1910-2010) was filled with a series of impressive achievements. He was a founding member of the Nature Trust of BC, an assistant curator and biologist at the Royal BC Museum, professor and department head of Zoology at UBC and, at one time, the most widely known ornithologist in the province. He also became Dean of Graduate Studies at UBC, served as Chancellor of the University of Victoria and was appointed to both the Order of Canada and the Order of British Columbia. 

The biography published in February of 2015 by Harbour Press, written by Ron Jakimchuck, Wayne Campbell and Dennis Demarchi (R.P.Bio.): Ian McTaggart-Cowan: The Legacy of a Pioneering Biologist, Educator and Conservationist. Harbour Publishing is a highly regarded British Columbian company. The link is here:

The College of Applied Biology is proud to have played a small part in the efforts to transcribe Dr. Ian McTaggart-Cowan's field journals through a $2,500 donation to the University of Victoria. “Cowan's field journal collection is a rich source of data and information that have the potential to inspire current and future generations of researchers. As issues of conservation dominate the popular narratives of our time, his journals offer an extraordinary and unique glimpse into British Columbia's diverse ecosystems through his descriptions of landscapes, providing important scholarly and scientific information about bird and mammal populations, and baseline data for climate change research."

Here is the link to the collection

All original materials- field journals, images, personal papers, CBC films and lesson plans. were donated to the University of Victoria's Cowan Collection in the Special Collections area of the university library by the Cowan family.

The Real Thing: the Natural History of Ian McTaggart Cowan will be published in September, 2015

“All my life I have tried to explain to colleagues, family, students – anyone who will listen to me – the beautiful, fascinating things that I see!”

In the opening pages of his 1956 field guide The Mammals of British Columbia, Ian McTaggart Cowan encouraged his readers to join him in “unraveling the innermost secrets of the lives of mammals.”[1] His biography, The Real Thing: The Natural History of Ian McTaggart Cowan, is a continuing invitation to explore not only the innermost secrets of the lives of mammals, but of the man himself who with his gentle, paradoxical and radical cohort of naturalist/scientists had an extraordinary influence on the conservation of wildlife in North America.

Ian McTaggart Cowan came into many people’s lives first through the small pocket companion guides, which also introduced but birds, reptiles, amphibians, shells, plants and more. Species by species, we learned the names of our fellow British Columbians, and became members of a “fascinating” community.  But this kind of knowledge has been an ongoing threat to resource interests; even something as innocuous as a field guide was a dangerous political weapon to some.

Delving into the journals of Cowan’s long life and the writings of his cohorts revealed that those who defend nature and the hunters, trappers and indigenous people whose lifestyles depend on nature, have long endured political suppression. Cowan’s attempts to raise awareness about the impacts of killing predators, dams, industrial logging, pesticides, pipelines, globalization and climate change were typically met by political silence; even in the face of warnings that these issues would impact human health. His solution was to engage people through an infectious enthusiasm for the natural world and accessible, robust science, whether it was writing field guides, broadcasting the first nature television shows or packing community halls with his talks. Cowan built on the culture of nature that has always been present in British Columbians but trivialized by powerful interests. He also recognized the importance of a strong organizational infrastructure whether it was universities or non-profits that provided a platform and a political voice to rural and urban people for the protection of wildlife, subsistence lifestyles or just the sanctuary of nature. He, himself, was a subsistence hunter all his life and respected traditional knowledge keepers of the land. 

Cowan wanted his biography to be a shameless showcase for the natural history of BC. The book follows his formative years as he painstakingly recorded in his journals what lived in the regions of the province, the Rockies and the north, before the dam builders, timber barons and oil companies silenced their calls and songs.  Whether it is his early bioblitzes before the flooding of the Peace, Kootenay or Nechako Rivers, his pioneering work on predators in the Rockies or unraveling the evolution of small mammals in the coastal islands of the Great Bear, there is a story for every region.

Written by Briony Penn, the biography is published by Rocky Mountain Books ( and will be available in bookstores and through online retailers. It is distributed in Canada by Heritage Group Distribution (


[1] √Cowan and Guiguet, The Mammals of British Columbia (Victoria: BC Provincial Museum, 1956), 13.