Guest Speaker Briony Penn is a naturalist, broadcaster, educator and writer with a publishing record of hundreds of articles in newspapers, magazines, books, government publications and peer-reviewed journals. She is also an artist who have exhibited and published widely on natural history forums. Briony is a pioneer of community mapping where she has created numerous artistic maps that have been replicated across North America and Europe. In the last 20 years, she has been an active researcher on biological cultural topics and a mentor for young activists as well as, raising two wonderful sons. Her talk today was on Ian McTaggart-Cowan of whom she wrote a biography titled, ‘The Real Thing: The Natural History of Ian McTaggart-Cowan’ which was released on October 15, 2015.
Ian McTaggart-Cowen won both the Order of Canada and Order of British Columbia for his contribution to zoology, wildlife management and conservation. He was also very important in ministration and education and contributed significantly to the museum sector particularly to the Royal BC Museum.  In 1935 when Francis Kermode was curator of the museum, Ian came to the museum and helped transition the museum from the 19th century to the 20th century with ideas he brought back from his tours of great museums in North America. Subsequent curators and directors of RBCM were all Ian’s students who helped keep his museum legacy alive.
Another great legacy was in television at a time when it was still a relatively new medium. Ian started the very first nature shows called,’ The Web of Life and the Living Sea’ and a children’s programme ‘Fur and Feathers in 1955 which eventually became ‘The Nature of Things’ hosted by David Suzuki who was hired by Ian. Ian pioneered television programming as early as 1951 understanding the medium’s effectiveness in educating people on how fascinating the natural world was and the importance of nature to our health, well being and mental health. He really tried to reinforce the situational relationship where people have to respect the natural world in which they exist and are sustained by.
Though Ian’s ideas were very forward thinking at this time, scientists across Canada supported him as they were similarly developing ideas of interconnectedness between mankind and nature. Victoria has much to be grateful for Ian’s legacy as it helped establish institutions that provide ongoing support to local tourism and the general vitality of British Columbians.  Ian’s contributions played a vital role in supporting the province’s moniker ‘Beautiful British Columbia’ which highlights the biological diversity in B.C.
Ian was always cognizant of the need to bring people together to understand both economic and ecological well-being in the province. To that end, he spent the latter part of his life as administrator, quiet supporter and mentor of this undertaking. For his last career, Ian was a chancellor at the University of Victoria while for the middle part of his career - following his departure from the museum - Ian was at the University of British Columbia (UBC). Here, he set up the first wildlife department where he mentored thousands of students. Ian had over a hundred of graduate students who went on to positions in wildlife departments across both in Canada and across the globe.
This illustrious individual died two months shy of reaching his 100th birthday. His long life could be a contributing factor to the general public not knowing of his existence and contributions better. At the height of Ian’s career in the 1970s he was dean at UBC with a television career and was a household name back in the 1950s.  Ian had a lovely manner on television and his audience remembered his great warmth for children, the natural world and people’s enjoyment in it. Ian’s life continued to be productive right to the end where his last work was an impressive 4 -volume on ‘The Birds of British Columbia’, which he co-authored. He was also operating software systems to look at the analysis of birds right into his 90s.
An incredibly productive man, Ian had published over 300 articles but he felt that his greatest contribution was towards the public engagement. During his time in the museum, Ian started the popular field guides specific to British Columbia for people to use in the province. Ian felt strongly that knowledge in the hands of everyday folks would enrich their lives and enable them to create large and far-reaching communities to engage on eco-systems that everyone lives in.
The biography on Ian McTaggart-Cowan evolved around 1999 when Briony was employed at CHUM TV and was working on a series of interviews for ‘The Beautiful British Columbians’, which focused on great educators who advocate for and aptly describe the beauty of the province. The many mentors in Briony’s life inspired this particular course of work. As she was documenting these prolific mentors, they kept telling her to talk to Ian who was deemed as the ‘alpha male’ in the natural world circle. Briony admitted to being daunted as she had previously read up on his numerous achievements. In his email response to Briony’s request to interview him, Ian made it very clear that any information gathered had to be shared with the public. It was an important principal for Ian that knowledge should always be shared.
Briony recounted wandering down a stunningly beautiful wood haven terrace and coming into a beautiful garden – Ian was an alpine specialist – and bungalow. As Ian greeted Briony at the door of his bungalow, his eyes caught sight of a stag walking across the garden and Ian said to her, “Dinner”. Briony shared that Ian was a hunter who was born in Scotland but came to live in North Vancouver Island at the age of 3 with his Scottish parents. This was around 1913 when times were hard so growing up, Ian hunted as a means to supplement the family’s income and as a source of food. Subsequently, he developed an attraction towards people who are subsistence hunters and he became a lifetime advocate for subsistence hunting, which in turn protects wildlife.
Ian had worked with Justine Berger on the first MacKenzie Pipeline where he encouraged the latter to understand the importance of caribou in people’s lives in the MacKenzie Delta. In 1946 when the Inuit people were starving because of the reorganization of trapping licenses, Ian went there to educate the government on the needs of the Inuit people. The knowledge gleaned from this experience was later shared with Mr. Berger. Without Ian’s careful and thoughtful analysis and explanations of the caribou’s behaviour, life cycle and habitat requirements, the outcome of the MacKenzie Pipeline would have been very different.
Briony related that the three hours of interview she had with Ian on the first visit only took them to about the year of 1914 in his recollections. According to Briony, Ian had an incredible memory where he could recall every moment in the field. For example, Ian was hired by the federal government in the 1940s to do an inventory of the ecology in the Rocky Mountains National Park. Decades later, Ian still remembered sitting on mountains counting caribou, bighorn sheep and white-collared wolf packs. His ability to sense every living animal in the park led him to provide a scientific overview of how national parks function in the big prey/predator systems.
Over the next number of years, Briony kept going back to do interviews with Ian where they subsequently developed a relationship in which she learnt the magnitude of his contributions. Up until about 1995 when Ian suffered a stroke, Briony collected a whole series of interviews. Initially, she had no intention to write Ian’s biography and figured that her recordings of his recollections would assist Ian when he wrote his own biography. Unfortunately, Ian had a stroke after completing ‘Birds of British Columbia’. As a result, Briony tasked herself with cataloging Ian’s journals (which he kept for over 70 to 80 years), correspondence, and publications – both published and unpublished – as well as, his hundreds of hours on the television programme ‘The Web of Life’ which was the biggest selling CBC show in its time. It sold all over the world reaching as far as Saudi Arabia.
Briony noted that the documents she cataloged revealed the life of a very careful scientist who was given a legacy by his supervisor, Joseph Grinnell from Berkeley, California. Grinnell left a statement for his student that said, ‘Record what you see as you go through and pass through these landscapes that you are working in. Its important to document what was there, as we don’t know what’s going to happen in the future. And it is important for people to understand what was here”. Grinnell had personally witnessed the extraordinary changes in California where species went extinct in the face of urbanization and over hunting pressures. Ian took to heart Grinnell’s words as evident in the detailed journals he kept during his life.
In 1951, Ian explored the the impact of climate change he was witnessing by discussing it in his journals. Similarly in the 50s, Ian discussed the impact of DDT and pesticides and hydroelectric dams on valley bottom lands – lands that are essential for wildlife and indigenous lifestyle. Briony reminded us that in the 1949 Industry Development Act, Ian testified in front of legislature advising that science was needed in the area or else, the government would risk foregoing other opportunities that would bring economic viability and livelihoods such as substance lifestyles and even tourism.
Briony shared a further recollection from Ian’s meticulous journal writing which took place in 1939 when Ian was up in the central coast where he observed hat a large number of bird populations were no longer in sight due to over-hunting. The whale population was similarly affected. But Ian’s outreach work has helped towards bringing these endangered species back into the ecosystem.
Briony closed her talk by emphasizing how we should be proud of Ian and see him as one of the heroes of Canada.  He won the International Conservationist of the World and was the Canadian representative for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. He helped start the World Wildlife Fund and created the consciousness that is serving us well in the 21st century. Ian cared about the health of children and talked about getting them back into nature 60 years ago yet it is only now that we understand the implications of his knowledge. Briony’ biography on Ian was sponsored by a large number of agencies which include the RBCM, the Beaty Biodiversity Museum and the Nature Trust of BC.  The magnitude of Ian’s influence is plainly reflected in the extensive sponsorship of his biography. Ian understood what it was to be poor and was empathetic towards people who had to make a livelihood that was at odds with wildlife management.  He always sought to find a resolution so that the economy would not be in conflict with wildlife and for that, he should be remembered for the most among Canadians.
In response to a question on how Pam McTaggart-Cowan and Jim McTaggart-Cowan (environmental professor at Royal Roads University) are related to Ian McTaggart-Cowan, Briony confirmed that Ian’s siblings were similarly illustrious in their chosen fields. Ian’s brother, Patrick, was a national meteorologist who convened the first conference on climatic change in 1975 and was also president at Simon Fraser University. Pam was a landscape architect who was ahead of her time in good planning of architecture and won numerous awards for her work while Joan was one of the first women to graduate in agriculture. The McTaggart-Cowans come from a long line of Scottish academics that believed in service, mentoring and supporting youth before self – values that reflect the principles of the Scottish Enlightenment which have reverberated in this family line.