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Brink on Davidson

Please note: In the transcript below, Vernon Brink (VB) is always the speaker unless noted otherwise. David Brownstein (DB) is the interviewer.

DB: So why might he have been slow?

VB: I think, in fairness, he had quite a few other interests. He and his son John, of course as you know, became quite good ham radio operators — very early interest in radio, crystal sets and all that sort of thing and on and on.

(Audio transcript for “Davidson and the BC botanists” begins.)

You’re asking me why he didn’t relate to other people with botanical interest? Well, I think there was a certain amount of pride of place and background. The British Columbia of the day when John Davidson arrived was a fairly rough-edged community. Loggers, miners, farmers, the population was overwhelmingly rural and there was only a very small coterie in the Lower Mainland particularly that could be said to be, in the UK sense, educated. That’s not to say that the people did not go on to high school and things like that but. I wouldn’t say it as so much egotism but as it was the fact that the community he regarded in British Columbia was a little bit on the rude side. He tended to treat people with a certain amount of disregard. I think that was a little bit unfortunate too at times.

(Audio transcript for “Davidson and the BC botanists” ends.)

His focus was on botany, first and foremost. He tolerated birders, like Turnbull; he tolerated the microscopists. I think it was a kind of tolerance rather than any real involvement or affection, and he distanced himself from the people, in whatever [discipline it was] called, microbiology for example. And he distanced himself to some degree from the zoology people as well. This is, I get, of some concern. I’m very well aware of the considerable disaffection with John in many quarters; but at the same time, the people on that side did not in fairness recognize John’s pre-eminent qualities as well. A little bit of disaffection on both sides, if I might say.

(Audio transcript for “How the educated elite viewed Davidson” begins.)

I think it was, what, 1911, when John Davidson arrived in British Columbia. As Provincial Botanist, I don’t really think that he had very much idea at that time, nor had anyone else exactly, what the University of BC would come to be. But as you well know, the ranking educators of the day were involved in McGill College, associated with McGill University. They, I think, thought John Davidson as associated with Riverview and not in any sense with McGill College and the university to be. For right there only...there’s a certain amount of correspondence there I know, but my sense is that John Davidson in those early days, was relegated to Riverview. It’s an error that I’m sort of associated with because agriculture is very much associated with the land clearing at UBC.