William Swinton, Director, 1962 - 1965


William Swinton, Director, 1962 - 1965


  • 1933 - 1968
  • man standing in front of dinosaur bones

William Elgin Swinton is appointed Director.  Having retired from the British Museum of Natural History and come to Toronto to be head of the ROM ‘s Life Sciences Division, he is both a scholar and a populariser, especially of dinosaurs. He uses television broadcasts to call attention to the work of curators. One of the first exhibitions mounted in his time was the International Aerospace Exhibition, to which NASA loaned spacesuits.

Here is an except from Ian Montagnes' memoir about working with him:

Bill Swinton was an affable, rosy-cheeked, white-haired Scot who came from the same town as the father of economics, Adam Smith. He had trained as a doctor at the University of Edinburgh, but had never practised; instead, he turned his knowledge of pathology inwards in a mild and self-confessed hypochondria, and his knowledge of anatomy outward into palaeontology. He had come to Toronto ... to replace Fred Urquhart as head of life sciences. In England, he had enjoyed a public reputation from appearances on the BBC TV program, the Brain Trust, where he routinely identified animals modern or prehistoric, by species, age, and gender from a single bone. Before that, he had been chosen to introduce the young princesses, Elizabeth and Margaret Rose, to zoology.

Swinton had one of the most fecund minds I have ever encountered and his interests were never bounded by his own specialities. Once, for example, I found him in his office enjoying a new acquisition, a mechanical calculator (this was before the days of personal computers) of great power. "I have just been calculating the theoretical weight  of the heaviest bird that would be able to fly," he told me. He went on to explain the relationship between the wight of th muscle required to lift a bird, the weight of the bone structure needed to support the muscle, and the amount of energy that could be generated by a given mass of muscle for lifting. "My answer," he announced with delight, "is the weight of the giant condor, which actually is the heaviest bird that flies."

Copyright, Ian Montagnes 2013