A Society Emerges — The Vancouver Natural History Society

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 British Columbia Mountaineering Club (BCMC)

While searching for maps of the surrounding mountains to guide his 1911 work collecting specimens, John Davidson entered the store Bishop and Christie on Vancouver’s Granville Street. There he met J.C. Bishop, president of the BC Mountaineering Club (formerly known as the Vancouver Mountaineering Club), a group that dated back to October 1907.

Bishop promised BCMC members’ “hearty cooperation” in supporting Davidson’s collection activities. Davidson responded that members could assist him during their 1912 summer field camp at Garibaldi. They could collect geological, entomological and botanical specimens, as well as perform topographical work mapping specimen locations.

The idea of doing “more than merely climbing a mountain” and the ability to contribute facts to scientific knowledge so excited the membership that Davidson’s botanical office became a meeting place for club members. On November 20, 1911, a general meeting of the club formalized the botanical section previously headed by W. Taylor. Fred Perry, who was also a member of the Vancouver Art, Historical and Scientific Association, led this new section (in 1905, Perry had immigrated from Europe, where he had worked as apprentice tailor).

Davidson felt very much at home in the BCMC. Its egalitarian nature made it open to a variety of members, unlike the more formal Alpine Club of Canada. As Davidson wrote back to the Aberdeen Workingmen’s Natural History and Scientific Society:

I must admit that they form a tough looking party, but as a rule the members use up all their old clothes during this two weeks. The party is a heterogeneous one composed of trades-men, as well as professional men. Carpenters, tailors, real-estate men, gardeners, stenographers, solicitors, Post Office and Court House officials are represented.

The club valued its working-class membership, holding some meetings in the Labor Temple and scheduling outings to avoid conflicting with Saturday morning factory work.

Between January and May of 1912, Davidson held botany classes for club members at the home of Ernest Burns, a prominent Vancouver union activist and co-founder of the Social Democratic Party of Canada. Davidson then organized a series of excursions so that members could “study the relation of plants to their environment”.

Davidson learned a great deal from the club members, for he himself was very new to living and traveling in the backcountry. Even later in life, he depended on the mountaineers for their skills. The group’s most ambitious outing was an exploration of the Garibaldi area, a hard-to-access region that had held their interest since 1910.