Preservation: Curatorship Years

"At its best [an herbarium] can be a lively useful centre reflecting the outdoors of your own locality, of far parts of Canada, and even of the mysteries of Lappland and Siberia." - Dorothy Swales' description of herbaria for the Plant Pathology Faculty.

Dorothy Swales curated the Macdonald College (later McGill University) Herbarium from 1964 to 1971. Swales’ life was shaped by both a sense of enchantment with the natural world and the desire to share that wonderment with others through her role as curator and educator. As she writes in her unprocessed notes on herbaria curatorship, “In an active herbarium the sheets will not be left to gather dust, but will be taken out to aid in the identification of plants brought in by students or staff, or any person with a curiosity about what he sees around him.

Even after Swales retired in 1972, she continued to assist students and staff at the herbarium with plant identification, and was awarded the title Emeritus Curator of the McGill University Herbarium in 1978. Her dedication to the students and staff at Macdonald campus can be felt even today when navigating the herbarium's collections. Her name can be found across vouchers as collector or identifier from the 1930s to the 1970s. 

This exhibit features a selection of plants from Novaya Zemlya. In 1965 and 1966, Sweden's Naturhistoriska Riksmuseet (Museum of Natural History) gifted Dr. Swales with a rare collection of botanical sheets from Novaya Zemlya as a thank-you for sending lichens from Iqaluit that Swales collected herself in 1964. The Novaya Zemlya plants were collected by two Swedish botanists, Otto Josef Agaton Ekstam and Torsten Alm in the late 1890s and early 1900s. Novaya Zemlya would become closed off and used as a nuclear testing site for the former Soviety Union during the 20th century. 

While Swales focused on arctic and subarctic regions, she also collected across Canada in more temperate zones such as New Brunswick and Newfoundland. This exhibit includes a small selection of plants from these regions.