John Davidson (August 6, 1878–February 10, 1970)

John Davidson was a botanist who popularized nature study through illustrated public lectures. He created the Vancouver Natural History Society and the University of British Columbia’s herbarium and botanical garden. Today, many consider Davidson an environmental folk hero for his conservation efforts.

The beginning of the conservation movement

Many recent studies link the work of North American natural historians with the conservation movement. John Davidson’s conservationist activities support this connection. As soon as he arrived in Vancouver in 1911, Davidson botanized around Vancouver and in Caulfields, Mission Junction and Savary Island. His priority was to record the names and locations of plants so that, in future years, researchers could tell which were native and which resulted from “man’s interference with nature’s order of things.” As Davidson later wrote:

During the year (1911) attention was devoted to the formation of a local collection, and specimens were brought in from all parts of the city and its suburbs. Since then, owing to the rapid development of the city, to the clearing and draining of outlying property, several of the plants collected during the first year have become almost, if not quite, extinct within the city boundary. Notes and observations made during that year will be of considerable interest later on, when compared with the future flora.

Davidson showed a perhaps uncommon empathy for the subjects of his study:

It is easy to imagine the feelings of members of the vegetable kingdom as they see railways ramifying north and south and east and west like the tentacles of a gigantic octopus seeking to seize and demolish them.