People passionate about nature

Nature Manitoba's Early Years

A brief history of NM's beginnings

Nature Manitoba was founded on May 1st, 1920, and was first established as the Natural History Society of Manitoba. It was formed to encourage popular interest in natural history, and to foster scientific study of the province’s geology, flora and fauna. The aim was also to create a connection between amateur nature enthusiasts and local scientists.

The objects of the Natural History Society were:
- To foster an acquaintance with and love for nature
- To study especially the natural history of the Province of Manitoba
- To encourage investigation and to publish the results of original research on all departments of natural history
- To arrange for out-of-door excursions during the summer months
- To provide free lecture courses during the winter months
- In a general way to render assistance to students or others interested in nature study

It’s mandate eventually grew to include other areas of natural history, self- propelled forms of outdoor recreation and an active role in environmental concerns.

The Natural History Society (Nature Manitoba) was formed mostly by members of the Manitoba Historical Society (MHS) when that organization began to lose momentum in 1910. Those who were interested in natural history separated from the MHS and formed an Audubon Society in 1915. In 1920, the Audubon group amalgamated with the Natural History Society, which is one of the reasons Nature Manitoba has had a very strong birding community right since its inception.

The Natural History Society of Manitoba, as we were called, had been born in 1920 – a turbulent time, just after the end of World War 1 and the Spanish flu pandemic.  The 1919 Winnipeg general Strike had revealed Winnipeg as sharply divided between the more affluent classes based mostly in the southern parts of the city, and the mass of poorer newcomers centred in the North End.  My impression is that in the early years our Society members were drawn mostly from the more affluent group – a mix of academics from the University and colleges and of amateur and professional naturalists.
They were a talented group, who through winter lectures and summer excursions, through art and photography, through the newspapers and radio, were responsible for developing the Manitoba public’s interest in natural history subjects.  A direct outcome of the founding of the Natural History Society had been the start in 1921, of a weekly bird column Chickadee Notes in the Free Press, written by A.G. Lawrence, which under successive authors continued for many decades.  It was emulated in the Winnipeg Tribune column Wild Wings written by B. W. Cartwright and Angus Shortt, who illustrated many of these columns, all served at various times as Society presidents.  The Society’s second president, Prof. Vincent W. Jackson, gave weekly nature radio broadcasts from 1923 to 1942.

– From Lorne Wallace’s remarks to our 85th anniversary meeting.  October 17, 2005, on behalf of the Society’s past presidents.

Originally Nature Manitoba was divided into different “sections” so members could focus on specific areas of natural history study – ornithology, botany, entomology, geology, mammology, archeology, ichthyology, herpetology, and microscopy. None were as popular as the ornithological section.

One of the first activities of the ornithological section of NM was the compilation of migration data, which included the banding of thousands of birds in the 1920s. Several of NM’s early members also became bird photographers, sketchers and painters.

In 1920, the Natural History Society (Nature Manitoba) also began holding outdoor excursions and educational lectures, which are both still a large part of what we do today. The first hike Nature Manitoba led was promoted in the Winnipeg Free Press.

“Nature lovers will hike across prairie: Natural History Society will hold first tramp Saturday along Assiniboine,” the article said. The first Nature Manitoba field trip began at “2:30 Saturday afternoon, May 29, 1920 from the public park in front of Kelvin Technical School, Fort Rouge. The route will be along Harrow Street to the woods on the south bank of the Assiniboine River, along the river bank westwards, across the Midland Railway bridge to the subway. The party will take the car to Deer Lodge and proceed west along the river bank. Trampers are asked to bring their own food but hot tea will be provided near the Military Hospital at 6pm…The object is to show that on the city boundaries much nature study is possible.”  The following Monday the Free Press reported that 45 persons of many varied ages took part in the hike despite wet, windy weather and two heavy showers. However, 28 kinds of birds and 40 wildflowers were recorded.

Nature Manitoba has always been a member-based organization. In the 1920s, a general membership cost just $1, while a junior membership (for members under 16 years old) was only twenty-five cents. The Natural History Society began with only 26 members and by 1940 the average had gone up to 154 members per year.


Nature Manitoba’s changing name:

Nature Manitoba was originally called the Natural History Society of Manitoba. This name was often confused with the Manitoba Historical Society, so in October of 1971 the name was changed to the Manitoba Naturalists Society, Incorporated (MNS).

Above: Nature Manitoba’s original logo was designed in September, 1921 by prominent naturalist, Norman Criddle. It featured three aspects of natural history: the Black-capped Chickadee, the White Admiral Butterfly, and the Prairie Anemone.

As things change, language also changes, and by the early 2000s the name sounded dated. It was decided MNS needed a re-brand for the online age. In May 2008, the Manitoba Naturalist Society officially became Nature Manitoba.


Nature Manitoba publications:

Providing credible scientific information has always been a large component of Nature Manitoba activities. Their first publication was “A Colour Key to the Manitoba Butterflies” in 1921, which was followed by “A Check-list of the Flora of Manitoba” the following year and many others have followed since. In 1962 Nature Manitoba (Harold V. Hosford) began putting out a newsletter, which focused solely on ornithological news and observations in Manitoba. These publications offer some historical data about migration dates, rare birds, Manitoba bird populations, and research incentives.