Alliance of Natural History Museums of Canada

Alliance of Natural History Museums of Canada

September 25, 2007 08:00 ET

ANHMC: A Golden Honour

Distinguished Reptile and Amphibian Expert Receives National Award

OTTAWA, ONTARIO--(Marketwire - Sept. 25, 2007) - Dr. Francis Cook, Researcher Emeritus at the Canadian Museum of Nature, is being honoured today with the inaugural Gold Leaf Award by the Alliance of Natural History Museums of Canada (ANHMC). This new award recognizes exceptional contributions to the study of museum-based natural history in Canada.

Dr. Cook, aged 72, has enjoyed a long-standing career in herpetology (the study of reptiles and amphibians) in Canada. For more than three decades, he curated the Museum's national herpetology collections, overseeing a 10-fold increase in the number of specimens. And, for 31 years, he has been editor of the Canadian Field-Naturalist, published by the Ottawa Field-Naturalists' Club (OFNC), putting countless hours of work into this quarterly publication, which is Canada's premier natural history journal.

Members of the OFNC's executive say Dr. Cook is noted for the attention he gives to authors, particularly new ones. "He's a caring person", says Frank Pope, the OFNC's Business Manager. "He really tries to encourage the authors." Numerous researchers who have become well-known in Canadian natural history circles published their first paper in the Canadian Field-Naturalist...including Dr. Cook. "We are indebted to him for maintaining the high standard of this scientific journal which is recognized nationally and internationally for excellence in reporting research on field biology," says Mr. Pope. "He's put a lot of sweat into it."

The number of submissions for each issue fluctuates between 75 and 145, with 75 to 80 percent of manuscripts accepted. Its history dates back to 1880 when the journal began as the Transactions of the Ottawa Field-Naturalists' Club. In recognition of his contribution, the OFNC awarded Dr. Cook an honorary membership. In turn, their hard-working and humble editor says he's very pleased that the Gold Leaf Award acknowledges the role of the OFNC in publishing this journal.

Notes Dr. Don McAlpine, Research Curator of Zoology at the New Brunswick Museum, who has known Dr. Cook for more than 30 years: "For certain kinds of natural history research in Canada, there is really no other outlet than the Canadian Field-Naturalist. To have put up with the hassles of getting a scientific journal out four times yearly for over 30 years is quite remarkable. I think it's a real sign of Francis's commitment to the community of natural scientists in Canada."

Dr. Cook's participation in the OFNC goes back to 1951 when he joined its Macoun Field Club and attended monthly meetings at the National Museum of Canada, fuelling his interest in biology. For numerous summers in the 1950s, he worked at the Museum (the predecessor of the Canadian Museum of Nature). In 1960, he was hired at the Museum's Natural Sciences Branch as Curator of Reptiles and Amphibians. A year later he joined the OFNC's council and went on to become editor of the Canadian Field-Naturalist (from 1962-66 and from 1981 to present).

"He has done an admirable job at bridging the gap between the academic and popular spheres," says Dr. McAlpine. "He always encouraged those with an interest in amphibians and reptiles - some of these people are now our best known and most active Canadian herpetologists."

Dr. Cook's Introduction to Canadian Amphibians and Reptiles, published in 1984, was the first Canadian guide to amphibians and reptiles to cover all of the species in the country in one volume. He is presently working on an update of that book.

Officially retired since 1994, Dr. Cook still comes weekly to the Canadian Museum of Nature's facility in Gatineau, Quebec to work in the collections, respond to inquiries and help record information for the database. Asked why he continues to work in his retirement, he laughs: "I still have a lot of stuff I didn't finish; I'm just not done!"

He is proud of the legacy he has left. "I spent a lifetime building up the collections here," declares Dr. Cook. "There were 14,000 specimens of reptiles and amphibians when I started and 133,000 when I retired."

Notes Dr. McAlpine: "The collections Francis has built at the Canadian Museum of Nature are an irreplaceable resource and now provide the foundation for our study of the natural history and conservation of these animals in Canada." The Museum's amphibian and reptile collection is the best in Canada, and the best collection of Canadian amphibian and reptile specimens in the world. (Interesting fact: The oldest fluid-preserved specimen in the collections is a two-headed garter snake collected in 1866 near Madoc, Ontario).

When he's not working in the Museum collections, Dr. Cook enjoys relaxing and studying the wildlife on his 80-acre property near North Augusta, Ontario, about an hour's drive south of Ottawa. He and his wife have lived there since 1970 when they bought it upon returning from Manitoba where Dr. Cook was working on a two-year educational leave. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Manitoba in 1978.

Dr. Cook will receive his award at a special reception of the ANHMC on Tuesday, September 25, 2007 in The Speaker's Reception Room in the Centre Block of Parliament Hill, Ottawa.

Created in 2003, the ANHMC now has 13 members from coast to coast. Its goal is to increase visibility of Canada's natural history museums, which are responsible for preserving precious collections of millions of specimens that are the record of our natural heritage. The network strives to build capacity in the areas of scientific research, collections development and education about the natural environment, for the greater benefit of all Canadians.

Contact Information

  • Canadian Museum of Nature
    Laura Sutin
    Media Relations/Communications Officer
    613-566-4793
    lsutin@mus-nature.ca