People passionate about nature

A History of Manitoba Nature Magazine

By: Robert E. Wrigley

Long-standing Nature Manitoba members will recall a receiving a magazine called Manitoba Nature as part of their annual membership dues. Each quarterly issue featured about a half-dozen articles on a wide variety of topics dealing with the natural world in our province, written mainly by NM members and staff of the Manitoba Museum, the three local universities, and Manitoba Conservation.

The magazine ran from 1972 to 1982, remarkably with an entirely volunteer board and editors. It would be hard to come up with a topic that was not covered over the years.

However, the history of Manitoba Nature Magazine actually goes back much earlier to a publication called Zoolog, which was originally a published by the Zoological Society of Manitoba.

Above: cover of a 1971 issue of Zoolog magazine

With the founding of the Zoological Society (in support of the Assiniboine Park Zoo) in 1957, the newsletter carried articles based on the Zoo’s collection. In 1966, the Zoological Society’s Board decided to change the format and to include all areas of the natural sciences in Manitoba.

At the time Zoo Society President, George Heffelfinger, stated, “To my way of thinking, there is no reason why Zoolog should not contain articles pertaining to animal and plant life as found in the wild state, our rocks and minerals, the skies which put on a display for us on a clear night, the human communities as existed in Manitoba many years ago, and even the more recent history of Manitoba. All these things are related and, I think, of very genuine interest to the people in this our province.”

Dieter H. Schwanke was the first editor of Zoolog, serving up to 1972, ably assisted by Peter M. Press.

Above: cover of a 1966 issue of Zoolog magazine

With the third issue of Volume 10 in 1969, Zoolog became a joint publication of the Zoological Society and Nature Manitoba (then called the Natural History Society of Manitoba). On April 19, 1972, representatives from the two organizations nominated officers for a new joint Board of Directors, and the publication was renamed Manitoba Nature, first appearing in Issue 2 of Volume 13 (1972).

Dr. George Lammers became the first Chair of the Board in 1973, and I was invited to participate as the Associate Editor in the same year. I then became Editor two years later. I prepared a list of articles and authors from 1966 to 1974 in a “History of Manitoba Nature” (Volume 15: 4), and Dr. Brian McKillop and I prepared a title/author index and subject index from 1975 to 1978 (Volume 19: 2).

Above: cover of a 1976 issue of Manitoba Nature magazine

A history of the Nature Manitoba was published in 1941 as a 21st Anniversary Bulletin, Volume 1: 1920-1941), which recorded detailed accounts of NM’s early structure and programs. In 1977, a Special Historical Edition (Volume 2: 1942-1975) on Nature Manitoba was published in Manitoba Nature (as Volume 18). This 83-page booklet was prepared by prominent members Ardythe McMaster (Chair), Alma Criddle and Carol Scott, with advisors Selina Lawrence and Rowena Cartwright. The document was dedicated to the memory of Alexander George Lawrence, a founding member of NM, and covered development, programs, activities, projects, awards, and publications of the organization.

Manitoba Nature Magazine was supported by grants from the Manitoba Department of Mines, Resources and Environmental Management, which was augmented by subscription sales and advertising.

Around 16,000 copies in four issues per year were printed. These offered articles ranging from the research of local scientists and conservation and environmental issues, to wilderness travel. The magazine was free to Nature Manitoba and Zoological Society members, and available to the public (mailed annual subscriptions $2.50), and all Manitoba high schools.

Literally hundreds of individuals contributed to the magazine’s success over the years -- serving on the Board of Directors and the Editorial Board, and preparing articles. It was such a pleasure to see the reaction of potential authors when we enquired if they would consider writing an article. It was obvious that everyone appreciated the opportunity to share their knowledge and excitement about their area of interest in the natural world.

With the Fall Issue of 1980, the magazine took a giant leap forward. The Manitoba Museum came on board as a supporter (due to the numerous contributions of curatorial and secretarial staff), and 20 individuals accepted volunteer positions including Executive Director (James R. Lewis), Managing Editor (Robert Wrigley), Design Director (Walter Kulyk), Photographic Director (Robert Taylor), Outdoor Editor (Harry Stimson), People Editor (Judy Lord), Science Editor (Robert Wrigley), and individuals managing art and production, business, circulation, advertising, office coordination, and correspondence. A Board of Directors with six members was chaired by James Lewis.

The format was upgraded into a full-colour, beautifully designed magazine which was awarded a Certificate of Merit from the Print Industries of America in its 1981 Graphic Arts Awards Competition, placing Manitoba Nature alongside magazines such as Life, Architectural Digest, and other prominent international publications.

Above: cover of the first Premier Issue of Manitoba Nature Magazine in 1980

The first Premier Issue (Volume 20: 1, 1980) stated that “sole purpose of the magazine is to advance popular awareness and understanding of Manitoba’s natural heritage and man’s relationship to it. The magazine is not produced for profit and appears as the result of the volunteer effort of many individuals. Financial support comes from individuals and  organizations. We gratefully acknowledge the financial assistance of the Manitoba Naturalists Society and members, The Winnipeg Foundation, and the Mrs. James A. Richardson Foundation.”

Each issue of the newly designed Manitoba Nature Magazine ran to 50 pages, with an attractive layout featuring stunning colour photography, and with contributions of articles from a veritable ‘who’s who’ in the fields of Manitoba’s natural history and wilderness lore.

In fact, the magazine became so popular with a broad subscription base that the annual budget surpassed $100,000.

The heavy workload and responsibilities of producing a glossy magazine became an excessive burden and financial liability on our committee members. So, it was with great regret that a decision was made to cease publication after the Spring 1992 Issue (Volume 23: 2) -- sadly, a victim of success.

The Board had hoped that some organization, such as the Manitoba Museum or Manitoba Conservation, would be willing to take on ownership of the magazine, however no organization came forth with the necessary resources.

Few of the 250 articles appearing in Zoolog and Manitoba Nature magazines have become obsolete with the passing decades, and they are every bit as entertaining and educational now as the day they were published. There are still copies of the magazine in libraries and members’ homes, and I will be donating a full set of bound copies of Zoolog/Manitoba Nature to the Nature Manitoba Office.

Perhaps someday, the full archives of the magazine will be entered on-line, and the lower cost of electronic production will attract some organization to continue with the magazine’s long and worthy tradition. I feel that interest in Manitoba’s landscapes, geological resources, biological riches, and early naturalists, remains at a high level within the general public and school audiences, and a revitalized Manitoba Nature Magazine would fill this current void admirably.