Formative Moments

1950s

Formative Moments

Era: 

  • 1933 - 1968

It was on a solo visit to the Royal Ontario Museum as a high school student. I had been there on a class visit in public school, but by now I had become fascinated by the world of insects, their diversity, their evolution. So I had a specific interest. I was standing in the vast old, Victorian-style life sciences gallery on the third floor, studying table-top cases of pinned insect specimens. Except for a gigantic moose and a bevy of African antelopes staring at me with glassy eyes, I was the only one there.

I heard a door open and close, looked up, and saw a man with a glowing white vandyke beard and a fringe of white hair, dressed in a white lab coat walking down the gallery toward me. He wasn’t looking at me. He walked past and entered another shiny oak door with a brass knob just to the left of the case I was looking at.

I was convinced I had seen a real entomologist, heretofore something I had only imagined from reading books. I knew then that I wanted to work in a museum to study insects. I had no confidence that it was possible, but I knew what I wanted.

Some seven years later I was, through a route too complicated to trace here, actually working part time in the Entomology Department at the Royal Ontario Museum. Then I found out my hunch had been right. The man I had seen was retired, pioneer entomologist. Edmund M. Walker. I finally met him and learned that he was about 85 by then, still working hard on his three-volume treatise on the dragonflies of Canada. E.M. didn’t always remember my name, but apologized with a smile that, at his age, every time he remembered the name of a new person he would forget the name of a dragonfly. I agreed with him that dragonfly names were more important.

I’ve done a lot of different kinds of work in museums since then, but I guess everything has to start somewhere.

Much more about E. M. Walker here: http://archive.org/details/centennialofento00wigg

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