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Memorable Manitobans: John Macoun (1831-1920)

Educator, botanist, publicist.

Born in County Down, Ireland, he came to Upper Canada in 1850. After farming he turned to the study of botany, and was appointed professor of natural history at Albert College in Belleville, Ontario, in 1868. In 1872 he accompanied the Sir Sandford Fleming party west, and later joined several other expeditions. He joined the Geological Survey of Canada in 1879 and was appointed its botanist in 1881, and its assistant director and naturalist in 1887.

A charter member of the Royal Society of Canada, he travelled and collected throughout his life. He moved to British Columbia in 1912. Macoun’s work in the 1870s led him to believe that all the land of the southern prairies was cultivable, and he regarded it as his duty to publicize the potential of the Canadian West. His influential book Manitoba and the Great North-West (1882), popularized his theories but also helped to create an unrealistic public image of the West. He published other important books, such as The Forests of Canada and their Distribution (1895), but none were as significant as his Manitoba volume. His Autobiography (1922) was completed by his son.

More information:

The Promise of Eden: The Canadian Expansionist Movement and the Idea of the West 1856-1900 by Doug Owram (1980).

Sources:

Dictionary of Manitoba Biography by J. M. Bumsted, Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1999.

Page revised: 9 April 2008

Memorable Manitobans

Memorable Manitobans

A collection of noteworthy Manitobans from the past, compiled by the Manitoba Historical Society.

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