Scagel on Davidson
Robert F. Scagel, one of John Davidson’s students, later became the head of the UBC department of botany and is now a professor emeritus. Listen to or read the transcripts of an interview with Scagel in which he recalls his days as a Davidson’s student and provides details of Davidson’s personality and the early history of the UBC department of botany.
Please note: In the transcript below, Robert Scagel (RS) is always the speaker unless noted otherwise. David Brownstein (DB) is the interviewer.
My first contact with John Davidson was as an undergraduate student and initially, you may recall, the University of BC operated in what were called the Fairview Shacks, which was right beside the Vancouver Hospital. And then at some point, and I can’t remember the exact year, I think it was 1910, the university was established on the present site, the UBC campus. John Davidson, I’m not absolutely positive, some of the earlier information about John Davidson—because it was hearsay as far as I was concerned—but John Davidson had come to BC from Scotland. He was a member of the Linnean Society and he was originally occupied a position with the provincial government as provincial botanist I think was his title. And he was there for a number of years, and then the provincial government abandoned that department. And I guess from the beginning John Davidson was involved in the herbarium in the department as well as the botanical garden. The original botanical garden, I can remember it when I was here as an undergraduate student, was just west of what is now the West Mall, at about the corner of University Boulevard and the West Mall. It was a relatively small botanical garden but it had quite a number of very fine collections that John Davidson had been instrumental in getting. And eventually, of course, they lost that site because of the pressures of the university to develop other aspects of its campus, so unfortunately a lot of very fine specimen trees that John Davidson had been instrumental in getting into the garden were lost.
But in 1944, when I was an undergraduate student, Andrew Hutchison gave the introductory course in botany. Biology was a first year course, botany and zoology required biology as a prerequisite—[they] were second year courses. And because I had come from Ontario with a grade 13 education, I went directly into second-year university. So my first introduction to the department of botany was in a course in introductory botany, and Andrew Hutchison was in charge of that course. But he involved, I think, most of the members of faculty at one point or another in the course.
He covered all of the traditional aspects of morphology and genetics and ecology and such as it was at that time. And then there was a section on mycology for example, and he brought in for a period of weeks Frank Dixon, who was the mycologist at the time and had been one of the earliest appointees in the department, when the department was on the Vancouver Hospital site. And John Davidson was, gave part of that course on plant taxonomy. So that was my first contact with John Davidson, was in that course work. I can’t recall how long it was, but for a period of several weeks, he lectured to the class on plant taxonomy.