My Father's Home

1950s

My Father's Home

Era: 

  • 1933 - 1968
  • two men in storage area with bird skins

    This is how the storage areas looked in 1962.

My father, C. H. Douglas Clarke, was a naturalist who studied forestry and wildlife biology at U of T in the 30s and went on to a distinguished career as a researcher, administrator and writer in the field of wildlife management. He always told me that when he first came to U of T as an undergraduate, he found the transition difficult, being from small town southwestern Ontario, until he found his "home" at the ROM. Here was community of like-minded scholars, field biologists and keen observers of the natural world who became his mentors, colleagues and life-long friends.

Like most Toronto school children I went on school visits to the ROM, where the folding wood chairs and the visits to the mummies and dinosaurs were exotic and memorable, but the most exciting trip was with my father to visit the bird collection behind the scenes. I don't recall the specific reason for his visit - he did a wide variety of activities such as collecting and banding that might have prompted a visit - but I do recall the vast array of drawer upon drawer of preserved bird specimens of every colour, shape and size. It was my first glimpse of the wealth of curatorial material not on display to the public and its importance as a resource for scientists and researchers.

When I took my own children to see the newly renovated natural history displays in the 1990's it was the Bat Cave that was getting all the attention, but it was the drawers of bird specimens that enchanted me. In a small way, the general public was sharing the magical experience I had so many years before: opening each drawer and seeing a small sample of the beauty and diversity of the class Aves, organized and carefully documented for scientists, but now also shared with the public. I hope it inspired a few new ornithologists to make birds their study and passion.

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