Memorable Manitobans: Jennifer Mary Walker Shay (1930-2018)
Born at Hull, England on 27 March 1930, daughter of Frank and Kathleen Walker, her early outdoor experiences as a student, and later as an amateur naturalist, cemented a life-long interest in nature. After completing an undergraduate biology degree at the University of London in 1952, she spent six years working at a field station in Suffolk.
She emigrated to Canada in 1957 to work as a research assistant at the University of Manitoba, where she observed that none of the courses there involved outdoor work, something she saw as a serious flaw in the education of Canadian students. While bird watching at the Delta Waterfowl Research Station, she decided to study the recovery of plants following the catastrophic flooding of the mid-1950s, eventually receiving Masters and PhD degrees in botany. When the former estate of Donald Bain was offered to the university for use as a field station, she supported the plan.
In 1966, she became the founding director of the University Field Station (later renamed Delta Marsh Field Station) and was instrumental in equipping the facility. She served as President of the Manitoba Naturalists Society (1963-1965) and was a founding member of the Manitoba Museum. She was active in numerous environmental issues, including opposition to the flooding of Southern Indian Lake in northern Manitoba by Manitoba Hydro, preservation of a remnant of tallgrass prairie in St. James, and opposition to the building of corporate headquarters for Ducks Unlimited Canada at Oak Hammock Marsh.
In recognition of her community service, she was named Manitoba Conservationist of the Year by the Shikar-Safari Club International (1970), received the Ernest Thompson Seton Medal from the Manitoba Naturalists Society (1982), was inducted into the Order of Canada (1991), and she received the Centennial Medal (1970), Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal (2002), and Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal (2012). She retired to Yorkshire, England where she lived with her husband Tom Shay.
She died at Yorkshire on 7 May 2018. A collection of her papers is held at the University of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections. She was selected posthumously as a Manitoba Woman Trailblazer.
“U of M prof honoured,” Winnipeg Free Press, 8 May 1970.
Jennifer Shay Fonds, University of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections.
This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.
Page revised: 30 March 2022