James Fletcher (1852-1908)
James Fletcher, a self-trained naturalist of great calibre, pioneered both the study of insect depredation on crops and the study of plant diseases in Canada – topics that were of vital importance to viable agriculture in Canada. As the first Dominion entomologist and botanist, Fletcher was instrumental in convincing the government that research into economic entomology and plant pathology was necessary. Through his voluminous correspondence, his wide-ranging publications, and continuous public speaking tours, Fletcher communicated his knowledge to farmers, fruit growers, and gardeners across the country. He further advanced the natural sciences by helping to establish professional and non-governmental organizations, scientific journals, the National Collection of Vascular Plants, and the Canadian National Collection of Insects.
Fletcher was born in England and came to Canada in 1874. While in Canada, he established a reputation as an authority on insects and botany. He joined the Entomological Society of Canada in 1877 and, in 1878, published his first paper on Canadian jewel beetles. He was the founder of the Ottawa Field-Naturalists’ Club and published a series on botany in the organization’s journal. In 1884, the Minister of Agriculture appointed Fletcher as honourary Dominion entomologist and botanist to provide scientific advice to Canada’s growing agricultural community, in particular with respect to insect control. In this role, he set out to precisely identify threats and then promoted some of the first experimental and chemical controls. This research led him to be recognized as Canada’s father of economic entomology, that is, the study of insects that benefit or harm crops, farm animals, or humans. He also pioneered the study of plant pathology in Canada, which is the study of organisms and environmental conditions that cause disease in plants.
In 1887, he became the first official Dominion entomologist and botanist with the founding of the Department of Agriculture’s Central Experimental Farm in Ottawa. He remained in this role until 1908. Initially working without staff, he identified pest insects and weeds and recommended controls. He drafted the first federal legislation pertaining to insects, the San Jose Scale Act of 1898, which restricted and controlled imports. Fletcher’s donated personal collection formed the foundation for the National Collection of Vascular Plants, the national herbarium. He also began the collection of insects that has become the Canadian National Collection of Insects. These two collections continue today as active centres of scientific research.
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