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Feather Fest Countdown: Feather Fact #9

Three days to go to Feather Fest! Looks like the weather will be in our favour so don’t miss what’s sure to be a fun day!  A variety of family friendly activities are planned: enjoy a bird walk, learn bird ID, check out the live raptor display, get some bird-friendly gardening tips and more. You can even   take a break at BPQ’s Boreal Café and enjoy a cup of shade-grown coffee or  glass of lemonade! See the flyer for details and find location info here.

It’s all part of our 100th anniversary celebration, which is why today’s Feather Fact is drawn from bird conservation history.

Feather Fact #9 – Feathers worth more than their weight in gold.


The 19th and early 20th century plume trade resulted in the massacre of millions of birds for the sake of women’s hat fashion. For example, adult egrets were slaughtered while on the nest for their much admired “aigrette” feathers which only emerge in the breeding season. Whole rookeries of adults were killed en masse, the carcasses stripped for the feathers then discarded, and the nestlings left to starve. An account from 1900 notes plume hunters were paid  32$/ounce for feathers, which was almost double the price of gold at the time! Apparently it required the killing of 4 herons just to get an ounce of heron feathers. You can find more conservation history in this post.

Happy 100th Birthday Bird Protection Quebec: A Tribute to the Founders

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.

Bird Conservation History: Five Fast Facts about Île aux Perroquets

Post #66

While you might know that Île aux Perroquets is Bird Protection Quebec’s first sanctuary, and that it is Quebec’s largest Puffin nesting site, do you know some of the following bits of its history?

Bird Conservation History: Five Fast Facts about Île aux Perroquets

#1. Another Milestone
This year marks the 80th anniversary of the purchase of the 17 hectare island, which was acquired by Bird Protection Quebec on May 20th, 1937 for $185.

#2. Seabird Persecution of the 19th and Early 20th Century
The remote island once served as a fishing outpost in the 16th century; for centuries thereafter its bird populations, like most Atlantic seabird colonies, were persecuted for their eggs, meat and feathers. The effect on the Puffins, Auk and Murre populations was devastating, and can only have been made worse by the fact that theses birds lay only one single egg per year.

#3. Behind the Scenes Influence
One of the key players behind BPQ’s acquisition of Île aux Perroquets was Harrison Lewis, who in 1920 was made Canada’s Chief Migratory Bird’s officer for Quebec and Ontario. He was primarily responsible for the enforcement of the Migratory Birds Convention Act, and spent lots of time patrolling for offenders as well as banding birds in the Saint-Lawrence. Although the Canadian Government made Île aux Perroquets, together with Île Greenly and the waters within 500 metres surrounding each island, part of the Brador Bay Bird Sanctuary in 1925, the island was still in private hands at the time. Lewis was concerned that it might land in the clutches of an owner who would exploit the bird population that nested there. This led him to urge the Society to consider purchasing the island.

#4. Historical Numbers
A bird census in 1935 estimated that there were 29,000 nesting pairs of Atlantic Puffins on the remote island. Together with a smaller population of Razor-billed Auks and Common Murres, Lewis estimated the total bird population at 60,000 individuals at the time. He wrote that for someone visiting the island for the first time, it was exciting to “see the huge clouds of birds which sweep about the island like swarms of giant gnats.”

#5. Current Trends
Today, according to Environment and Climate Change Canada, Puffin numbers are much lower but the Razorbill population has increased. Yet despite the declines, this still accounts for 2/3 of Quebec’s Atlantic Puffin population, which in 2010 was estimated at 16,000. The Razorbill population, although it experienced significant declines in the 1970’s and 80’s, has increased; in 2010 it was estimated to be at 6,300 individuals.

There’s more interesting history in A Bird in the Bush, available for purchase at BPQ monthly meetings.

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