Fonds MSG BW001 - Natural History Society of Montreal fonds

Montreal Natural History Society: Annual Reports 1854-1881

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Natural History Society of Montreal fonds

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  • Source of title proper: Title derived from the content of the fonds.

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  • 1827-1925, with gaps (Creation)
    Natural History Society of Montreal

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Physical description

82.3 cm of textual records

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Administrative history

The Natural History Society of Montreal was founded on May 16, 1827 on Saint Paul Street near the Port of Montreal by a group of twenty-six doctors, professors and educators including John Bethune, Alexander Skakel, William Robertson and Andrew Fernando Holmes. A primarily Anglophone institution, closely tied to McGill University, the society’s mandate was to foster a general spirit of scientific and literary research through sponsoring lectures on scientific topics, establishing a museum and library dedicated to the study of natural history, and publishing journals including the Canadian naturalist and quarterly journal of science, the Canadian naturalist and geologist, the Canadian record of natural history and geology and the Canadian Record of Science on and off through to 1916.

The society was comprised of a board of directors, headed by a president, with several committees led by committee chairs. Notable presidents included the first one, Stephen Sewell, Alexander Skakel, and John William Dawson, McGill Principal, 1855-1893 and professor of chemistry, agriculture, and natural history that included geology, zoology and botany. Dawson was first served as President in 1857 and went on to another 19 terms in this position. Dawson also made significant contributions to the publication Canadian naturalist and geologist and along with members of the Geological Survey such as William Edmond Logan, Thomas Sterry Hunt help to establish Montreal as an international Centre for the study of geology. The Natural History Society provided venues for talks, publications and scientific networking in support of these efforts.

In the 1830s, the Natural History Society moved to a larger space on St. James Street and in 1860 to the corners of Cathcart and University Streets, and finally in 1906 to Drummond and Mountain Streets. In the 1850s and 1860s, the Natural History Society of Montreal collaboration with the Geological Survey of Canada brought many years of prosperity to the institution, with membership as high as 400. The departure of the Survey to Ottawa by 1881 ended this relationship and the Society membership was greatly reduced. In 1902, the Microscopical Society of Montreal was absorbed by the Natural History Society of Montreal, which saw the transfer of their records to the Society. By 1925, however, the Society had accumulated insurmountable debt and was forced to dissolve.

Custodial history

The records in the Natural History Society of Montreal fonds were acquired by Casey Wood for the Blacker-Wood Library of Zoology and Ornithology which was founded in 1920 at McGill. Also included in these records were the Montreal Microscopical Society holdings absorbed by the Natural History Society in 1902. The original Blacker-Wood library merged with the Botany-Genetics library in 1988 to form the Blacker-Wood Library of Biology. In 2005, the main collection of this library was merged with the life sciences collection and the rare material, of which the Natural History Society of Montreal fonds formed a part, was acquired by McGill’s Rare Books and Special Collections Department.

Scope and content

The fonds reflects the scientific and literary outreach activities of the Montreal Natural History Society over the course of its existence and contains correspondence, minutes, financial records, council and committee reports, membership lists, donation lists, catalogues of holdings, newspaper clippings, lecture advertisements and weather maps. In addition, the fonds includes reference material to other societies and information regarding the publication and creation of the Canadian Naturalist and Quarterly Journal of Science, Canadian Naturalist and Geologist and the Canadian Record of Science.

The fonds is composed of the following series: 1) Accounting Records (1860-1917); 2) Administrative Records (1833-1887); 3) Catalogues (ca.1829-ca.1925); 4) Correspondence (1871-1896 with gaps); 5) Essays and Lectures (1829-1852); 6) Minutes (1827-1832,1844-1923); 7) Montreal Microscopical Society (1884-1906); 8) Reports (1828-1881 with gaps); 9) Weather Maps (1895-1897).

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  • English

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Primarily English, with a few Latin, Gaelic, French and German materials.

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Associated materials

Both the McGill University Archives and the McCord Museum archives have Natural History Society of Montréal fonds. The McCord Museum (P237) has 50 cm of textual records detailing society activities from 1867-1923 including accounting records, administrative records such as annual reports from 1905-1919 and programs from 1889-1923, as well as correspondence, 1910-1923. The McGill University Archives (M.G. 2048) has 1 cm of textual records including a bank book, 1913-1925 and a receipt book, 1924-1925.


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Finding aid prepared by Rachel Black, Anna Haywood, Alina Ruiz and Kat Barrette as part of McGill’s School of Information Studies course GLIS 641; edited by Gordon Burr, June 17, 2018.

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