Day 100 of 100 Days of Blogging Countdown

Today, January 4th 2017, marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Province of Quebec Society for the Protection of Birds. In September 2016 this blog began as a 100-day countdown to this remarkable milestone. It seems the time flew by rather quickly, but then, for a bird related blog, perhaps to be expected! Yet what subject to choose to mark today? It seems the only logical choice is to try and answer the following question. Who were the 12 individuals that met in the dead of winter in Montreal, only days after ringing in the New Year and with the country still in the throes of WWI, to lay the foundations of a fledgling organization focused on protecting birds?

Barely 6 months after the signing of the Migratory Birds Treaty with the United States, clearly they felt it was important to band together for the sake of birds to address the conservation issues of the day. The inaugural meeting was held on a Thursday at the YMCA Hall on Drummond street in Montreal. Following is a brief account of the founding members, a glimpse into the lives of the individuals credited with founding an organization still devoted to the principles of conservation, education and observation a century later. The society is the oldest charitable bird conservation society in Canada, and among the oldest such organizations in the world.


A Short Historical Background of the Founders of PQSPB

Lewis Terrill

Terrill had been invited to attend the first meeting but, for reasons lost to history, was not actually there. While this makes it rather odd to list him first among the founders, it’s hard not to! He was elected President in absentia, the reason for the choice clear when we consider his reputation. Louis Terrill had no formal training in ornithology but began to keep detailed records of his bird sightings in the 1890s. He attended the High School of Montreal but did not continue his formal education due to family circumstances upon his father’s death. He was, however, fortunate to have garnered the attention of and to be mentored by Sir John William Dawson, in the field of Natural History. This in the setting of the Redpath museum! ( Dawson of course  was a renown scientist in the field of paleontology, but also knowledgeable about birds and former principal of McGill University). Terrill began contributing  his migration records to the US biological survey around 1910, the year he became a member of the AOU. By the time of the PQSPB’s founding, the 39 year old Terrill was widely published and considered one of the foremost authorities on birds in the city of Montreal. Like many ornithologists of his day, he was an avid bird skin and egg collector; at his death the collection of bird and egg specimens numbered in the thousands. He was an important member of the society for 45 years.

Edith Morrow

At the time of the founding of the PQSPB she was 54 years old; a native of Halifax, Morrow came to Montreal with her family in the 1890s. She worked as a Kindergarten teacher at the High school of Montreal and was a member of the Montreal Natural History Society. A newspaper article described her as ”one of the foremost bird amateurs” in Montreal. According to PQSPB records, Morrow’s interest in bird protection had been piqued the previous fall, which of course leads one to conclude that it may have been stimulated by the passing of the Treaty. She was also elected Treasurer at the first meeting. Morrow is considered one of persons most instrumental to the society’s founding. Her subsequent contribution to the organization was largely related to education outreach activities for schoolchildren.

Isaac Gammell

Gammell is categorized as a teacher, scholar, athlete and naturalist in the heading of the section dedicated to him in A Bird in the Bush. A native of Nova Scotia, it is believed he gained his knowledge of birds early on at Pictou Academy, founded by a renown bird authority. (Incidentally, Terril’s mentor Dawson also attended Pictou Academy). Gammell became a teacher and was described as gifted in his vocation. He taught English and History and in the early 1920’s became  principal of the High School of Montreal. He was an expert outdoorsman with a broad knowledge of natural history subjects, and was also an oologist. He gave many lectures to the PQSPB and this is considered one of his major contributions.

Frederick Abraham

Abraham was the co-founder, and later the publisher, of the Montreal Herald Newspaper. He was described as a man of “public spirit.” Among other undertakings, he originated the Canadian War Garden effort. Perhaps in this same spirit of public service, Abraham chaired the first meeting and together with Gammell and Edith Morrow is considered to be one of the key founders of the society.

Grace McFarlane Dyer

Mrs. Dyer previously served on the Conservation Committee of the Montreal Women’s Club and was evidently very knowledgeable about conservation issues of the day. She was also an incredibly good “networker” by all accounts. She served as the correspondence secretary from 1917-1923  and was a prolific writer, corresponding with many of important names in Canadian conservation circles on behalf of the Society. Mrs. Dyer also had a passion for the Snow Bunting and worked hard to have it included for protection under the Migratory Bird Convention Act, but unfortunately without success.

Louise Murphy

Louise Murphy, like Terrill, was a former member of the Montreal Natural History Society. She began recording her bird sightings in 1900. Murphy was also an accomplished musician with an interest in birdsong, two interests she combined by transcribing birdsong into music. In 1927 she published a book called Sweet Canada (a reference to the song of the White-throated Sparrow); the publication featured 12 pieces for voice and piano. She was also one of the societies earliest lecturers.

Emily Luke

Emily Luke was the most active field worker among the early women members. She participated in bird banding and bird watching trips and was the only woman noted to lead field trips during the early years of this society. She also served on the education committee.

Mrs. C.F. Dale

Mrs. Dale was the Convener of the Education Committee for eight years, apparently a very successful effort. For instance,  a lecture organized in 1920 was attended by 3000 children at the Imperial Theater (yes, you read that right, it’s not a typo,3000 children!). She held a strong belief that teaching children to appreciate nature was the key to ensuring conservation efforts by future generations.

Mary Armitage

Originally from Hamilton, Ont., she was elected Vice-president and served on the executive committee until her death in 1926.

Lillian Hendrie, Dorothy Hatton and Mrs E.M. Renouf

Little is known about the three other women named as present at the inaugural meeting. Lillian Hendrie was the principal of the Montreal High School for girls from 1911 to 1945. Dorothy Hatton was a friend of Edith Morrow. Mrs E.M. Renouf was elected Honorary President although, according to A Bird in the Bush, like the previous two women, was not mentioned in subsequent activities of the PQSPB.

All of the above information was culled from A Bird in the Bush:The Story of of the Province of Quebec Society for the Protection of Birds 1917-2002 by Margaret Pye. Copies are available for purchase at BPQ monthly meetings. Interested in more history? Read the article by Wayne Grubert, Tradition and Change: The Province of Quebec Society for the Protection of Birds turns 100 on our website.