|BOTANICAL ELECTRONIC NEWS|
|No. 486 January 28, firstname.lastname@example.org||Victoria, B.C.|
Accompanying plates: http://bomi.ou.edu/ben/486/ben486_brayshaw.pdf
Prominent Canadian botanist Chris Brayshaw died on December 22, 2014, age 95, in his sleep. Chris was born on July 2, 1919 in Yorkshire, England, and came to Canada with his parents at the age of one. They homesteaded on a farm in Vernon British Columbia, where he grew up in a unique house that still stands today. His father taught at the local school and sold farm vegetables and fruit. He was a renowned fly fisherman and fish artist and his love of nature rubbed off on young Chris. His mother had studied botany at the Max Planck Institute in Germany, and she was a respected botanical artist. Chris was their only child and, as he often mentioned, the last of a long North-Yorkshire lineage. Much to his displeasure, Chris was sent to boarding school in England for his high school years. He returned home and enrolled at the University of British Columbia to train as a geologist just before the war, a field of knowledge that fascinated him. To his disappointment, he was instead put into biology.
At the outbreak of WWII in 1939, Chris enlisted in the Canadian Air Force in Toronto, was sent to Quebec and then to High River AB, at the (just opened) Empire Flying Training School for Navigator and Bombardier training. Seconded to the RAF in England, he served as navigator for coastal defence and U-boat hunting along the Irish coast, where he had many close calls. For his service he received the Distinguished Flying Cross. Chris completed his BA in biology after the war at UBC, and then went to the University of Saskatchewan, where he earned an MA on 'Prairie Grassland Research' in 1950.
From there he returned to UBC, where, in 1954, Chris earned his doctorate, defending his dissertation on 'Ponderosa Pine Ecology'. He was one of a several distinguished botanists who were learning together at UBC at the time, and with his colleagues he began a transformation of our understanding of British Columbia's plants and ecosystems. Joining the Federal Government in 1954, Chris ended up working in Ottawa and nearby Chalk River. His health deteriorated for a while so he adopted the credo that nature is humankind's best medicine. Chalk River is set near extensive forests, hills, and numerous lakes, rich in native wildlife typical of the south edge of the Canadian Shield. Always returning to nature, Chris made numerous field trips, taking extensive notes, and making many excursions into the wilderness of Algonquin Park and his health rapidly improved. Mindful of his love for the outdoors and his health, Chris declined a promotion in Ottawa.
In his own words, Chris "had a canoe, a VW beetle, and some money", and decided to return to British Columbia. He joined the BC Provincial Museum at the Legislative Buildings as a botanist in 1963, his "perfect job". For the next forty years he served our province advancing and promoting knowledge of plants. He prepared for the move of the collections and facilities from the Legislature to the current site. He wrote several seminal books that he exquisitely illustrated as a true nature artist and son of his mother. He helped plan and develop the new facilities and exhibits, now so famous around the world. His VW Beetle, with canoe on top, traveled our province adding thousands of specimens to the botanical collections.
One of his major achievements was the planning and establishment of the first major Native Plant Garden in western Canada on the grounds surrounding the museum buildings. For the garden, he collected hundreds of living plant specimens around BC, some of which live in the garden today. He loved doing research on native species and tackled botanically challenging plant groups including willows and aquatic plants. At the same time he promoted the field of botany, leading public tours and writing a widely used booklet on plant collecting for the amateur. He broadened his knowledge of plants through trips to exotic lands.
As Curator Emeritus, his botanical contributions continued for 18 years beyond his retirement with the publication of even more books, including the comprehensive and richly self-illustrated Trees and Shrubs of British Columbia. He was a passionate supporter and botanical advisor of Beacon Hill Park and the Friends of Beacon Hill Park Society. He was a prime contributor to the living and natural values of the Beacon Hill Park Official Management Plan. The Park's nationally important flora survives in great part due to his persistent efforts.
Chris never married, but was proud of his family tree and heritage rooted in the landscapes of Giggleswick, in the Craven District of North Yorkshire. His true love was taking his canoe on top of his VW beetle to some lake and spending time collecting plants, fly fishing, and cooking his fresh-caught fish over an open fire. In August 2011, Chris moved into Douglas Care Community on Niagara Street in Victoria, in the block next to his beloved Beacon Hill Park. We would like to thank the staff for their considerate care of, and friendship toward, Chris during his stay at Douglas Care.
Chris had the unique gift of being scientifically aware of the intricacies of nature, yet able to engage ordinary folks with the wonders and surprises of our natural world. He inspired and educated generations of botanists and naturalists. Yet, this gifted man remained humble and unassuming. His legacy will endure long into the future. The people who met and knew Chris will miss him.
Mary Lou Florian, Helen Oldershaw, & Richard Hebda - Times-Colonist Obituaries, January 17, 2015
When I first arrived at the British Columbia Provincial Museum in 1973 after finishing my PhD at UBC, to deliver a letter of introduction to Dr. Adam Szczawinski from my doctoral supervisor Dr. Roy Taylor, I immediately encountered a quiet tall, slender man in the herbarium, sitting at a desk and working with a microscope, identifying some rather obscure sedge or grass. He was quiet but very kind and welcoming. He asked me about my doctoral work in ethnobotany and, right off, I recognized that his knowledge of and affection for the British Columbia flora was nothing short of remarkable. That was Dr. Chris Brayshaw. I soon got to know him better as I started on my project of writing the Food Plants handbooks under Dr. Szczawinski's encouragement and guidance. Chris and Adam were such good friends; you could see how much they enjoyed each other's company, and later Adam told me that they had been graduate students together in the Botany Department at UBC. Adam completed his PhD there in 1953 and Chris in 1954. After he graduated, Chris went off to work at Ottawa and Chalk River, Ontario, as a botanist for the federal government. In 1963, though, he was back in British Columbia, to take up his job at the (then) provincial museum in Victoria, where he remained as a valued and dedicated employee until his retirement and then, for years afterwards, as a volunteer, working in the Botany Division.
He had a deep love of the outdoors, especially hiking and canoeing. One of my other friends once joked that you could be miles away from anywhere, on a mountaintop somewhere, and who should come breezing up the trail but Chris. Or, you might run into him portaging his canoe between a couple of wilderness lakes, out in the middle of nowhere, with not another human around within miles. A modest and unpretentious man, he drove a Volkswagon beetle, usually with his canoe perched on top. I don't believe there was anyone else like him. He was so dedicated to plants and the flora of BC and Canada, but really I think he was just completely fascinated with the immense diversity of life and with all that nature had to offer to the mind and the spirit. I and so many others relied on him for his careful plant identifications, and for the floras he wrote, embellished with his own careful line portraits of the plants he was describing, whether aquatic plants or catkin bearing plants or some species of Ranunculus. He undertook numerous botanical surveys of places around Victoria, like Uplands Park, and was a self proclaimed guardian and monitor of the beautiful camas meadows at Beacon Hill Park, near where he lived for many years. I believe that is where I last saw him. He came to share his knowledge, wisdom and experiences of the plant communities of Beacon Hill with my UVic students on a field outing. His observations and collections demonstrated how the flora there had deteriorated over the decades, with the camas populations thinning out to about half of their numbers between the 1960s and 1990s. What a monument to Chris if we could restore these meadows to their former floral abundance and bring back some of the species like cow clover that used to grow along the shore there. I will never forget Chris Brayshaw, as a botanist, as a kind and generous citizen of Victoria and as a friend. He will go down in the botanical history of the province as one of the best.
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