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Manitoba History: Reginald Buller: The Poet-Scientist of Mushroom City

by Gordon Goldsborough
Winnipeg, Manitoba

Manitoba History, Number 47, Spring/Summer 2004

This article was published originally in Manitoba History by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make it available here as a free, public service.

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Many stories are told about A. H. Reginald Buller, one of the University of Manitoba’s first science professors. Some are even true. [1] In the 1970s, as an undergraduate student in the department that Buller founded in 1904, I knew exactly three things about him: he was a mycologist (a specialist on fungus), he had lived in a cheap hotel for his entire career, and he had written a famous limerick. Twenty-five years later, now as a faculty member, I dug through Buller’s voluminous papers [2] for the centennial of the University’s Faculty of Science, in 2004. This caused me to improve dramatically my own understanding of Buller, and to winnow truth from fiction. My objective is, therefore, to provide a portrait of Professor Buller which is, perhaps, truer to the person than the many fawning biographies written after his death in 1944, and the subsequent hazy anecdotes repeated by those who never met the man. I will deal only in passing with his research accomplishments, as his large collection of books and articles speaks for itself. I will focus instead on aspects of his life and times that have eluded the story-tellers, collectively revealing a person who is more complex and human than our stereotype allows. In the process, we gain insight into the origins of the modern University of Manitoba and one of its earliest, and certainly most colorful, builders.

A mustachioed young Buller as he appeared around the time of his arrival in Winnipeg, Fall 1904.
Source: Buller Memorial Library of the Cereals Research Centre, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Winnipeg.


Like most Winnipeggers in the early 20th century, Buller had humble roots. The Bullers were tenant farmers, having resided in Oxfordshire, England since at least the 1600s. Alban Gardner Buller was the first member of the family to have an advanced education, in the legal profession, and he ultimately settled down in Moseley, a prosperous suburb of Birmingham, to a comfortable life as barrister, magistrate, and county councillor. He married Mary Jane Huggins in the late 1860s and had a family of seven children. His blue-eyed, brown-haired fifth child, Reginald, was born in August 1874 and seems to have enjoyed a childhood darkened only by occasional dizzy spells – treated by his mother with liberal doses of brandy [3] – and asthma exacerbated by pollen and spores during frequent outdoor forays. A career studying those very spores could have hardly seemed less likely.

Buller began his education at a boarding school near his home. Later, his interest in natural science was piqued by studies at Queen’s College, Taunton, from which he moved (at age 18) to Mason College at Birmingham for further studies in Botany. Being an affiliate of the confederation of colleges known collectively as the University of London, he ultimately received his Bachelor of Science degree from there, in November 1896. His promise as a scholar was evident even at this early stage, as he won the Heslop Gold Medal and the “1851 Exhibition Scholarship,” the latter of which enabled him to pursue postgraduate studies in Germany. At Leipzig, where he arrived to study in October 1897, he received the PhD degree in 1899 under the supervision of noted plant physiologist Wilhelm Pfeffer, working on fern reproduction among other projects, and producing a short dissertation entitled “Die Wirkung von Bakterien auf tote Zellen.” In 1900, he moved to Munich to study for a year at the Forstbotanisches Institute under Professor Robert Hartig. The young scholar began to focus increasingly on the study of plants, and particularly the diseases that affect forest trees. Buller would later acknowledge the profound effect that his time in Germany had on his future career interests, and especially the influence of Hartig, who always insisted plants were best studied in their natural setting, as opposed to dried or preserved specimens as was the norm for the time. [4] Leaving Germany, Buller spent March and April of 1900 and 1901 at the International Marine Biological Station at Naples, studying the fertilization of sea urchin eggs.

Returning from the continent in 1901, Buller accepted an assistant lecturership in Botany from his alma mater Mason College, now renamed the University of Birmingham, where he settled in to what might have otherwise become a comfortable academic life. Although he was designated officially as a Botany lecturer, Buller’s catholic interests resulted in, among other work, a published article on frog anatomy. In 1903, he offered a remarkable series of lectures on plant diseases at Birmingham, “illustrated by specimens, microscope, and lantern, and … accompanied by laboratory work.” [5] The course was apparently well received because he was later offered a special lecturership in plant pathology, which he refused in order to take up a professorship in Manitoba.

Why would Buller leave a stable job at a respected University in his home town to take a position at an unknown institution on the frontier of the Empire? Beside any sense of adventure the opportunity might have elicited, Buller’s reasons for leaving Birmingham very likely included dissatisfaction with his salary and opportunities for advancement. For at least a year prior to Buller’s departure, trouble had been brewing among the lowly “lecturers” and “demonstrators” of the Birmingham teaching staff. Many were paid from £150 to £175 per year, below what they considered to be a living wage (a range from £200 to £350 was thought more appropriate), and disparity existed between the salaries of those with similar duties. Buller’s salary is unknown but it must not have been at the high end of the range; when he eventually left Birmingham, his replacement was offered an annual salary of £150. [6] As a lecturer, Buller would have had limited opportunity for promotion. Under the system used in British universities, management decisions for a “department” (or specific discipline) were made by its Professor, the senior faculty member; lecturers were not much more than servants whose opinions were rarely solicited or, if offered, heeded. In January 1904, Buller was among 12 signatories to a petition seeking redress of these grievances by the University Council and Senate. [7] It is likely, therefore, that he was actively seeking employment elsewhere. But why did Buller select the University of Manitoba from among the many possible universities where his talents might be more appreciated? One reason was undoubtedly the tempting annual salary of $2,500: several times more than what he likely received at Birmingham, and high even by the standard of other professions in Winnipeg. And he leaped immediately into the rank of Professor, with the attendant prestige and responsibility. Beyond these benefits, he would later offer two explanations for his choice of Winnipeg. He noted, at public receptions held in his honor years later, that upon reading an advertisement for the Winnipeg job, he recalled the city having been described as “Mushroom City” in recognition of its explosive transformation from a sleepy fur trade post to a bustling metropolis to rival Chicago. Such a city was, he said, a logical destination for someone wishing to pursue studies on fungi. Buller gave a more probable explanation when, in a letter to fellow mycologist Elsie Wakefield in England, he claimed to have taken the job because it offered the longest period of summer holiday: essentially five months, from May through September annually, when classes were adjourned. [8] This permitted him to spend a considerable portion of each year at home in England, [9] pursuing his research interests using equipment and space made available to him by the Kew Herbarium and the University of Birmingham, living with his parents, and enjoying his beloved English countryside. [10] An additional benefit of life in Winnipeg was that the asthma that had plagued him since childhood subsided, perhaps because of the clean winter air of the prairies.

The process used to select university professors at that time was very different from today’s practices. Open canvassing for candidates was considered distasteful. [11] The selection committee often based its decision on informal communication with mutual acquaintances of committee members and applicants and, more formally, on a submitted portfolio of “testimonials” – printed letters of reference by peers who would comment on the skills and assets of the applicant, usually accompanied by copies of the applicant’s publications which demonstrated their ability to write and carry out independent research. An applicant would often be selected without an interview and without visiting the hiring institution. Under the circumstances, a stipulation that appointments were made ad vitam aut culpam (“to life or misdeed”) was not surprising. Years later, Buller would recruit a new geologist for the University (and, in the process, off-load one of his two teaching chairs) in the person of Robert C. Wallace, when he was asked by the University Council to recruit a lecturer during his vacation in England. He would claim that hiring Wallace was one of the best things he had done for the University. [12]

Along with the seven copies of testimonials from scientific peers that were requested by the selection committee at the University of Manitoba, it is likely that Buller also included a poem or two. He was typical of urbane, middle class men of the late 19th century who considered a basic grounding in the arts, regardless of their career pursuits, an essential part of a well-rounded personality. He sketched, played the piano, sang, committed Shakespeare to memory, and wrote poetry and plays. [13] Buller clearly felt that he had a particular aptitude for poetry; late in his life, he considered publishing a collection of his poems; [14] it is probably just as well that he did not. Some are mildly amusing and clever; many are wincingly awful. As a whole, they reflect the attitudes about strictly defined gender roles, noble valor, and sugary sentiment of a former time. Buller was a life-long advocate of that much maligned literary form, the limerick. The rare occasions when he abandoned it were usually in favor of simple rhyming couplets. Also not surprisingly, many reflect a biological theme. Excerpts from his “Pond Life”, composed in December 1903 at the University of Birmingham, [15] are typical:

Upon the slide, with best of light
And lenses “5” or “7”,
I see a sight as wondrous as
The Milky Way in heaven.

A diatom in armour clad,
Now glides into the scene;
It seems to be in miniature
A perfect submarine.

A Paramecium hastens by
With countless cilia beating.
Its body is transparent; I
Can see what it’s been eating!

To Spirogyra’s restful threads
My vision now is guided;
Each segment is with spiral bands
Of chlorophyll provided.

How wondrous is a mighty sun,
That lights a boundless chasm!
More wondrous still I deem a speck
Of living protoplasm.


The Winnipeg that Buller saw when he stepped off the train in 1904 must have been a rude shock compared to what he had experienced in earlier travels through England and continental Europe. Although the city fathers took great pains to portray Winnipeg as a model of civilization, [16] it nevertheless retained the crude vestiges of its recent founding and remote location. The streets around the train stations were crammed with cheap hotels and bars, and houses of “ill fame” in nearby Point Douglas catered to prurient interests. Police arrests for public drunkenness, petty theft, random acts of violence, and lewd behavior were numerous [17] – Winnipeg deserved its reputation as a center of vice and debauchery. [18] The more respectable hotels were hardly better; proprietors were as likely to advertise the quality of their liquors and cigars as the benefits of their accommodation and meals. Therefore, finding a place for the young, impressionable professors to live amidst the many temptations must have weighed heavily on the minds of the clergymen on the selection committee who would have greeted their arriving train in September 1904. It was not a surprise that Buller and Swale Vincent were conducted to the Metropolitan Hotel, [19] a quiet hotel that had, until the year before, housed the St. Mary’s Academy for girls [20] then the Winnipeg College of Music. [21] Purchased by entrepreneurs Pratt and Dixon in 1904, and converted to a 65-room hotel, the Metropolitan operated on the American Plan, providing accommodation and meals for $2 to $3 per day. [22] This amount, compared to $1.00 or $1.50 per day offered by other nearby hotels, probably helped to keep out the riff-raff. Buller would remain at the Metropolitan for his first year in Winnipeg before moving on to the Vendome Hotel a few blocks away on Fort Street for the next seven years. The Vendome claimed in its advertisements to be the most “homelike” of the Winnipeg hotels, [23] which might have drawn Buller’s interest. In 1910, the McLaren brothers completed a grand new, 165-room hotel at the corner of Main Street and Rupert Avenue. It featured “a ceramic mosaic tile floor in the rotunda with Spanish mottled leather accenting. A writing room, bar, dining room and kitchen were also located on the ground floor. The bar included a mahogany and marble counter, high ceilings with blue paneling and burlap-covered walls.” [24] Buller moved there in 1913, perhaps attracted by suites featuring the rare luxury of a private bathroom. Aside from a year spent at the Empire, another grand Main Street hotel, in 1915, Buller would remain loyal to the McLaren Hotel for the remainder of his life, staying there 28 years, long after the neighborhood had decayed and the McLaren lost its luster.

Much has been read into Buller’s insistence on living in a hotel for the entire duration of his life in Winnipeg. From a practical perspective, especially one of an unmarried workaholic like Buller, it made sense. [25] He typically spent only seven months per year in Winnipeg so the cost of maintaining a home year-round, with the associated risks during his long absences, was a disincentive. Having no family obligations in Winnipeg, Buller could be content in the knowledge that someone would keep his hotel room clean and cook his meals. He could devote all his attention to his university responsibilities and social interests. He could come and go when he wanted, waking early in the morning so he could spend several uninterrupted hours in his office, or staying up late to watch the gradual development of a fungal spore under his microscope. [26] Why Buller remained at the McLaren Hotel long after it became unfashionable, however, is harder to explain. One story maintains that he was attracted by the quality of its billiards tables; another that the proprietors provided him a double suite to accommodate his own table. Yet there are several indications, most notably his insistence on wearing clothes long after they had become unfashionable and threadbare, [27] that Buller had lapsed into a state of comfortable stasis in his latter years in Winnipeg, and may have stayed at the McLaren merely because it was familiar.

Buller saw himself as a member of the province’s intellectual elite, responsible for raising the level of public knowledge generally. He would use this explanation repeatedly over his career to rationalize his remaining in Winnipeg, despite tempting offers to move to better endowed universities in more culturally sophisticated cities. Prior to 1904, postsecondary science education in Manitoba had been almost entirely in the hands of clergymen, most notably George Bryce of Manitoba College. [28] In the absence of specifically trained scientists, this was a reasonable solution but it meant that subjects that were perceived to challenge theological doctrine were marginalized or not covered at all. Almost immediately upon arrival, Buller signaled a new state of affairs when he challenged Lewis Drummond – an Irish-French Jesuit priest from Quebec, a philosophy professor at St. Boniface College, member of the University Council, and member of the committee that hired Buller – via the pages of the Manitoba Free Press. The professors of St. Boniface College had been ambivalent in permitting the University to undertake its own teaching, [29] partly because they feared exposing impressionable, young minds to the views of non-Catholic, or worse, agnostic professors. Buller must have confirmed their worst fears by showing he was fully prepared to challenge the views of Catholic professors when warranted. Drummond had ventured remarks during a sermon that Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, which implied that humans are subject to the same gradual changes over time as other animals and plants, were “at variance with Christianity.” Drummond would claim that:

“… it still remained absolutely impossible to prove that man had arisen from an animal. There were no scientific proofs against it and besides it was not consistent with the Christian faith. Whatever may be the limits of evolution established by science in the future there will always be overwhelming evidence against the theory of the progress of man.” [30]

Buller might have tolerated the remarks if not for the characterization of his hero Darwin as a man who “pretended to great learning.” Buller responded that he had been “a student of biology during the last ten years in various parts of Europe and having a considerable interest in the subject of evolution I venture to affirm that the position taken by Father Drummond is not one that can be maintained by any sound arguments.” [31] Buller was careful to note that he bore Drummond in particular, and Catholics in general, no personal malice. But his words were sufficiently inflammatory that Edgar Kenrick, one of the former university science professors, felt compelled to send Buller a letter of warning:

“A friend once persuaded me to hear him [Drummond] preach when I was startled to hear the following pronouncement: “An Italian bandit who has spent his life cursing God has a better chance of Heaven than a clergyman of the Church of England. And in all seriousness he announced to the University Council: “Chemistry is purely a matter of memory”. But don’t quarrel with your bread-and-butter. It was through your anti-evolutionist more than anyone else that I lost my position in the University – though as far as I know I never did anything to offend him. Possibly some day he may turn and rend you!” [32]

Buller responded that: “The object of my letter was not to help the enlightenment but to demonstrate to the half-educated younger people, who only hear of evolution of its negative from the pulpit, that evolution is considered to be a fact of responsible scientific men. I meant the letter to have an educative value, if possible, setting people to thinking about one of the most important conclusions of modern science. I also intended the letter to warn ministers of religion that they are not at liberty to talk at random on scientific subjects. I also wanted to make the University more interesting to outside folks…” [33]

Combined with the public lectures that were initiated by the “Original Six” in 1907, which presented current scientific topics to a wide general audience, 1904 can be viewed as a turning point in the secularization of Manitoba science. Science professors, and especially Buller whose advanced biological training gave him the credentials to counter religious interpretations of such weighty questions as the nature of human consciousness, personality and evolution, were increasingly viewed as authoritative sources of scientific knowledge while the clergy were confined to the arts and humanities – an emphasis that persists today in the curricula of the religious colleges at the University of Manitoba.

Buller took to communicating farther afield about his experiences on the Canadian prairies, writing for example to the prestigious British journal Nature on the dryness of the local air and the resulting effects on static electricity. [34] Buller was also amazed by the cleanness of the local air, which might have been a factor in alleviating his asthma. He wrote a paper, with his assistant Charles Lowe, on the number of microorganisms in Winnipeg air, noting that “the climate of Central Canada during the winter must be one of the best in any civilized country in the world.” [35] Following the 1909 British Association meeting in Winnipeg, Buller accompanied a group of conference attendees in a railway excursion through Western Canada, after which he remarked:

“We were all much impressed with the extent of the territory and by the vastness of the resources of the country. No wonder that folks here are so optimistic and live so largely in the future. One of the deepest impressions left on my mind was given by the great treeless, perfectly flat, bright yellow prairie in Alberta…” [36]

Buller’s religious views have been the subject of speculation, with the consensus being that he retained fondness for the general religious principle as it benefited social and moral development. But he contended that “…the truest religion is not bound up with any definite historical records like those of the Bible, and my best friends have given up the belief in the supernatural parts of Christianity. In my own struggle for freedom several well-meaning but misguided persons did their best to cloud my judgement and caused me a good deal of suffering – but that is past. I simply changed my wings: the first pair were too small and imperfect for my growing mind…” [37] Buller attended church periodically, [38] usually to hear the choir rather than the sermon, and his library contained no fewer than seven bibles. [39] His brother-in-law was a clergyman, and Buller’s personal scrapbooks contain drawings of churches and prominent men of the cloth. But his public debate with Father Drummond was only the first of several tussles with members of the Manitoba clergy over matters of perceived conflict between science and religion. In 1916, a professor at Wesley College with the unfortunate name of Eber Crummy claimed, during a fundraising drive on behalf of the college that, “Education was fundamentally defective unless intimately associated with religion. Education aimed at the formation of the highest type of personality and character through the development of the highest spirit. But this was impossible except where the religious atmosphere and purpose pervaded the whole process.” He asserted that “a Christian professor would be installed to teach any subject and to conduct any course if it was found that such subjects or courses were conducted in other colleges by professors who flaunted their infidelity or skepticism.” [40] Buller responded that “How fortunate it is for the University of Manitoba that Rev. Dr. Crummy is not in charge, for if he were, the system of electing professors and instructors, which has how been in vogue for many years, would be at once changed. There would be a reversion to the methods of the Inquisition.” [41] Clearly, Buller felt that the independence of the University from religious influences was paramount, and this autonomy required it to assume more teaching responsibilities from the participating colleges. This was not his first run-in with Crummy on the subject. Five years earlier, Buller had challenged Crummy’s proposal to grant university status to the denominational colleges on the grounds that it was better, given the associated costs, to have one well-supported university rather than “a series of half-starved ones.” As someone keenly interested in fostering academic excellence at the new university, Buller must have been especially perturbed by Crummy’s unsubstantiated allegation that “It is an open secret that students who have proven themselves capable of very indifferent work in the colleges have been accorded a very high standing by a professor in our own university.” [42]

University enrollment exploded with returning First World War soldiers, necessitating the construction of annex buildings at the Broadway site in late 1920. Students in this botany laboratory, probably from the large first-year or second-year courses, examined a specimen on their microscope by adjusting a mirror to reflect light from the room windows through the lenses. Buller is standing at the back of the class, far right, with two unidentified laboratory attendants at left.
Source: Buller Memorial Library of the Cereals Research Centre, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Winnipeg.

Buller came to an institution that was essentially leaderless, analogous to a “ship sailing through a strange and perilous sea without a captain and without a chief engineer.” [43] Prior to his arrival, the staff had consisted of only three part-time professors, each of them seconded from one of the affiliated religious colleges. Because the university was merely an examining and degree-granting abstraction, with its teaching done by the participating colleges, its administration was correspondingly diverse. The 58 members of the University Council were, in the words of Buller, “controlled by a small number whose chief interest does not lie in its true progress, but to that of the affiliated denominational colleges.” [44] Chancellor Archbishop Robert Machray, the nominal head of the University, had died in 1904 and was not replaced until 1908. [45] The Vice-Chancellor was elected annually from the ranks of the Council. There was no University President until 1913. So it is understandable that Buller and the other professors would see themselves as the only real spokesmen on behalf of the university’s interests and growth.

Buller believed firmly that a true university – as opposed to a loose affiliation of colleges – had three obligations: examining (Manitoba’s sole original mandate), teaching, and research, and he felt especially strongly about the last of the three. [46] Within a month of his arrival in Winnipeg, Buller got underway: “There was a woodpile on a vacant lot north of us here on Portage avenue … so I went right over and gathered some fungi and started my investigations.” [47] Presumably, he intended to carry on with his earlier study of fungi that rotted the pine blocks with which Birmingham roadways were paved, causing bumpiness for “cyclists and others.” [48] Although Buller had had a broad education in all facets of biology, including Zoology, he began to specialize in the little-known world of fungi. His earliest investigation concerned fungi that had the habit of forcibly discharging their spores great distances using what he described as “fungus guns.”

The first matter at hand for the new professors was the fitting out of their respective spaces. In Buller’s case, the Botany Department was to consist of a lecture theatre, professor’s office, laboratory space (one room dedicated to plant physiology, one to morphology, and one for “museum purposes”), a small greenhouse and a photographic dark room. A grant from the University Council enabled Buller to purchase “botanical models, diagrams, physiological apparatus, glassware, and general laboratory supplies” although, like his colleagues, he decried the absence of a library because “without works of reference and access to current scientific literature it is impossible for either teacher or student to keep in touch with scientific progress.” Another challenge was the large amount of teaching that Buller was expected to do. The professors arrived in Winnipeg mere weeks before students began filling their lecture theatres. Buller had the additional challenge of holding two chairs, which obligated him to prepare lectures in two dramatically different subject areas: a Geology “general course” as well as introductory and senior Botany courses. [49] This made for a busy schedule; in a typical week, he gave five one-hour lectures, and three laboratories, each two to three hours long, as well as preparation work. [50] Buller had no staff to assist him so, on top of academic duties, there were also mundane chores to be done; he noted in 1905 that “much valuable time has again been spent in washing glassware, cleaning the laboratory, watering plants, looking after ventilation, unpacking goods, placing fossils and plant specimens on the lecture table and putting them back in their cases, making diagrams, setting them on the screen and placing them in their drawers again, going small errands and so forth.” [51]

Buller probably shared colleague Swale Vincent’s exasperation at the inadequacy of teaching facilities in the first few years. In remarks to the inaugural meeting of the University Club, Vincent noted that: “no higher education … was offered in the university; its most senior students were doing strictly elementary work. The building was quite unfit for the work they were attempting, unsuitable for laboratory purposes and much too small. Referring to his own department, he declared that the teaching of zoology was practically a farce. There was no space, there was no teaching assistance, and there was practically no material or appropriation to purchase it. The teaching staff of the university was inadequate and it should be increased. The curriculum was defective, and they could not get these things altered, for the professors had no representation on the board of studies.” [52]

Despite the obstacles to effective teaching, Buller excelled. His lectures were spellbinding, so much so that attendance grew to exceed the room capacity and the number of students formally enrolled. Whereas Swale Vincent was viewed as a petulant prima donna who used sarcasm as a teaching tool, [53] and cancelled classes when students were unresponsive, [54] Buller was widely admired, being described by one of his first students as “a bland, simple-appearing man … sometimes effervescent.” [55] He was said to believe that a good lecturer could make his material so straightforward that it could be translated easily into other languages. [56] Every lecture was prepared meticulously so as to be a polished, finished performance when delivered. When, later in his career, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of London in 1929, his senior students held him in such esteem that they presented him with a signed letter of congratulations. [57] He was not, however, universally admired. A telling, if minor, incident arose when a poster that Buller had placed in a University corridor was defaced with graffiti. A second poster warned, to no avail, that “students are requested to refrain from defacing notices.” Buller spluttered indignantly in yet another poster: “The gentleman who so far forgot himself as to deface a notice written by myself yesterday is requested to report himself immediately to me in my private room” on which someone scrawled “BS” and “Good old Regi.” [58]

The room to which the culprit would have reported himself (there is no evidence that he did) was sumptuous. Not having a home to call his “castle,” Buller’s office on the first floor of the Broadway building became a visual expression of his personality and taste. He had designed its interior and contents personally, filling it over time with an enormous collection of books, “magic lantern” slides, models and other teaching aids, research notebooks, and plant specimens. A 140 square feet outer office, probably lined with shelves and storage cabinets, [59] led into a 200 square foot inner office around whose walls were the books of his prized “Mycological Library,” framed parchments, paintings – including a near life-size portrait of Charles Darwin – and sculptures. [60] There was Buller’s desk, some chairs for visitors and, on another table, his prized possession: a typewriter. [61] Its significance to the modern historian cannot be understated. He kept carbon copies of his entire outgoing correspondence. Because he lacked any storage capability at his hotel “home,” his office files contain insightful personal correspondence with family and friends. The result is a remarkably complete collection of materials documenting his day-to-day affairs from 1909 onwards.

Achieving a balance between the pursuit of research interests and teaching responsibilities is a challenge that continues to face academics today, although it was perhaps a more acute concern in Buller’s day because the University of Manitoba had no history of research activity on which to build. Buller’s predecessor Bryce was primarily a clergyman; he published descriptive articles about plants that appealed to a wide general audience but carried on no botanical research. There was no formal expectation by the University Council that the new professors would carry on research – indeed, Buller would later claim that the word “research” was unspoken for at least two years following his arrival. [62] If the 1909 meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science was a highlight for science in Manitoba, [63] it was compromised in Buller’s mind; during the closing remarks after a presentation by Sir Joseph Thompson in which he encouraged the university to foster research involvement by its professors, “one of the members of the council … practically told Sir Joseph that his thirty years of experience of university life could teach us nothing, and that our university professors ought to be quite well satisfied if they devoted all their time to teaching.” [64] A benefit of the meeting, though, was that donations to the University fledgling library began to pour in: 500 books from one benefactor, 169 from another, with a secretary for the British Association offering to circulate Buller’s list of desired books to members for further donations. [65]

The “Original Six” felt isolated from the scientific community at large, [66] which may have contributed to their founding of the Scientific Club of Winnipeg in 1905 to “discuss new and current scientific questions, and it is hoped that such discussion would act as a stimulus to original research on the part of members.” [67] The Club was perceived to be a venue for scientific discourse on topics of the day. Presentations were given on an enormous range of topics. Some were related closely to the presenter’s area of scientific specialty. Buller gave several talks on fungi. But he did not confine himself to discussing topical scientific issues with his colleagues; he helped to initiate a series of public lectures in 1907. Buller also lectured to large audiences at Winnipeg’s People’s Forum, the Grand Theatre, and other venues, illustrating his remarks with magic lantern slides hand-colored in his laboratory. [68] Taking to the railway, he gave presentations in small towns in Manitoba and Saskatchewan along the route. [69] Most concerned botanical topics relevant to agriculture, having such titles as “Rust” and “Flowers in their relations to insects”. For some, however, he ventured into more controversial areas, such as the theory that humans descended from an ape-like creature [70] and that the variation in animals and plants on different continents implied the land masses had once been joined. [71] Whether the controversy of his subject matter had anything to do with it, Buller would later relate an anecdote about his experience in some small prairie town following his lecture:

“…he expected the chairman to put him up for the night. The chairman, however, departed alone and Buller was stranded on a snowy night in a hotel-less town. He went to the post office where he was offered a bed with two other men and advice to get in the middle if he could. Lots were drawn and Buller was the lucky one, but he complained next morning that he had not been sufficiently warm.” [72]

Buller was unafraid of taking public stances that were unpopular or bound to draw controversy. In October 1912, Buller concluded his address to the University with the view that:
“In my opinion, telepathy by means of overwhelming evidence has been established as a fact … I regard the establishment of the fact of telepathy as enormously important, for here we have a phenomenon in connection with human beings which, it seems to me, cannot be explained by either the chemist or the physicist. Telepathy teaches us how little we yet know of our own minds and how much there is yet to be discovered of human personality …” [73]

He ventured more or the less the same view when, at a meeting of the Hekaton Club in January 1914, he proposed the resolution that “the evidence already obtained warrants us in accepting telepathy as a natural phenomenon.” [74] As a long-time member of England’s Society for Psychical Research, Buller had a life-long interest in the paranormal, as did many other scientists of his day. He did not claim to have psychic abilities himself or, if he did, they were latent but he was keenly interested in those of others. He did not attend séances but he was, in fact, very well acquainted with a person whom he believed to possess exceptional telepathic talents. In 1908, he met Ruth Cohen, a local writer and poet, while he was living at the Vendome Hotel. She must have made an immediate impression, for she began visiting Buller at his office, doing typing and other clerical work, and critiquing his writing and research. They shared social engagements, such as when, in February 1912, Buller escorted her to a formal dinner commemorating Charles Dickens [75] and she began referring to him by the pet name “PD” (“PhD” with “haitches dropped”). Buller claimed on several occasions that Cohen could hear his thoughts and sense his illnesses. In November 1912, they carried out an experiment in which Buller arranged with a friend in Birmingham to wear, on a mutually agreed date, a certain color dress that Cohen would attempt to identify telepathically; the results were equivocal. [76] Buller’s interest in Cohen was not merely scientific, though; their relationship gradually became personal because, as Buller agreed with a mutual acquaintance, “her power of inspiring liking with strangers, and affection with those who see much of her, is quite extraordinary.” [77] There was only one problem: she was married, and to a lawyer. Consequently, although he believed her heart “wonderfully spacious,” he was careful to avoid impropriety: “Just as you did, I am careful not to show my full affection to Mrs. Cohen in her husband’s presence. Many men would not be broad-minded enough to allow their wives to have such friendships as the one between Mrs. Cohen and myself … I understand the place that sexual love has in Mrs. Cohen’s scheme of things, and her need for affectionate friends in addition to her husband.” [78] Buller’s affections seem to have been reciprocated, as indicated by a poem entitled “The Secret”, written by Cohen under the pseudonym “Miss Sheila Rand” in early 1913:

There is something I wish to tell you Dear,
Something that no one else may hear,
Pale blue secret twixt you and me,
(Cherish it, Love, for Eternity!)

A very shy song, so hard to write,
As pen touches paper the words take flight.
Just four words in the whole refrain:
“I love you dear”, and then again
“I love you so”, and ever and aye,
My heart repeats this tremulous lay. [79]

It was followed by the postscript that if Buller approved, she would try to “write more verses worthy of the deep, pale blue, sherry feelings I have for you.” [80]

Ruth Jacobs Cohen Collie (1888-1936) wrote for the Winnipeg Tribune, Winnipeg Telegram and other local publications under the pen names Sheila Rand and Wilhelmina Stitch, gaining fame as a speaker, poet, and book author to become “one of the most widelysyndicated writers in the British Empire” (Tribune, 6 March 1936). According to Buller and other friends, telepathy was among her less well-publicized talents. She enjoyed highly affectionate relationships with male friends, including Buller, despite being married to Winnipeg lawyer E. Arakie Cohen at the time.
Source: Western Home Monthly, March 1926, page 26.

Perhaps the most controversial of Buller’s views were those on eugenics, the practice of intentionally directed breeding among humans for “race betterment.” Although the practice would fall into disrepute as a result of its application in Nazi Germany, it was a widely held belief in the early 20th century, especially among biologists who saw it as the logical extension of evolutionary principles already at work in the natural world to the improvement of society. As early as 1913, Buller claimed that eugenics provided the means by which mankind could “direct his destiny upon this earth.” [81] Although he encouraged friends to “remember your eugenic principles” by having more children, [82] his primary targets were the “feebleminded” members of society who, Buller grew to believe, would ultimately dominate the human population if permitted to reproduce and pass on their “mental defect.” [83] In January 1935, in a presentation to the University Women’s Club of Winnipeg, he remarked on the burden imposed on society of large medical institutions and asylums, which provided a financial as well as biological rationale for sterilization. This idea predictably drew the wrath of the local clergy, who recognized its ethical implications. Father Antoine d’Eschambault observed that “it is impossible to reduce a question affecting human life, to purely economical or zoological proportions ….” [84] Buller shot back that d’Eschambault was fighting a losing battle because, by Buller’s reckoning, 150 million people already lived under sterilization laws, including those in Alberta (1928), British Columbia (1933), and 26 states of the USA. Buller added that “no animal or plant breeder would breed from his worst stock. Why should humanity be so foolish as to allow feebleminded and other congenitally defective people to be set free from an institution unsterilized and free to burden the next generation with defectives like themselves?” [85]

Buller was arguably the most active researcher of the “Original Six” professors perhaps because, unlike most of the others, he had no family obligations. He repeatedly told relatives and friends how he would be awakened early at his hotel, take a quick breakfast so he could arrive at his office by 7:00 AM, leaving several uninterrupted hours. His friends would sometimes be surprised to have Buller drop by unexpectedly for breakfast, after he had spent the entire night working. [86] Once, while studying the emission of minute amounts of light by fungi growing in his laboratory, he wore horse blinders while walking to work in the wee hours of the night so his vision would be sufficiently sensitized. He would hunch over his microscope for hours to capture the exact moment when a spore was released by a fungus, turning away only long enough to take a quick bite of his lunch. [87] Three years after arriving in Winnipeg, with an abundance of accumulated research work, Buller wrote a long article entitled “The Production, Liberation and Dispersion of the Spores of Hymenomycetes,” which he intended to publish. In September 1907, he gave the manuscript to Sir John Bretland Farmer, who agreed to sponsor it on his behalf to the prestigious Royal Society of London. After several months of waiting, Farmer dutifully reported that, in keeping with the peer review process by which scientific research is vetted, Buller’s paper had been recommended as unsuitable for publication. Two more referees – one botanical, one physical – were more favorably disposed but nevertheless recommended a general shortening of the text and the elimination of numerous illustrations, many of which were deemed to be “elementary or redundant”. [88] The criticism was probably not without justification; though he was a stickler for proper English grammar, [89] even Buller’s friends and colleagues described his writing as wordy and rambling with superfluous illustrations. [90] Nevertheless, insulted that his magnum opus was so summarily dismissed, Buller withdrew it, apologized to Farmer for “not having placed in your hands a more acceptable paper,” [91] and immediately began to look into other venues for publication. While in England on summer holiday, he submitted the manuscript to the publishing house of Longmans, Green & Co. who replied that, although the book (by this time, Buller had expanded it almost two-fold) would interest “advanced botanists and physicists,” [92] they saw limited market appeal (and opportunity to recoup their costs) so refused it unless Buller wished to pay for the publications costs. In the end, Buller decided the only way he could write just exactly what he wanted, without the interference of petty referees, was to publish it himself. He got a loan of £850 from his father, [93] and had 1000 copies of the first volume of Researches on Fungi published by Longmans in 1909. The reviews of his book from the scientific community substantiated the mixed reactions from the original referees. An anonymous review in the British journal Nature admitted that the book would be a useful basis for future research but took issue with much of its contents and noted that some illustrations were “mere parodies of the object they are intended to represent.” Science, its American counterpart, was more charitable, concluding that “the illustrations … are good, and besides the very interesting and important discoveries, it is full of stimulating suggestions ….” [94] In the end, the book was not a best-seller that repaid its author’s investment. Undeterred, Buller bucked the trend of nearly all other scientists by self-publishing, over the rest of his career, the vast majority of his research. He would go on to publish five more volumes [95] of Researches on Fungi, believing that “my mycological writings are far better known & appreciated than they would have been, had I published them in the Trans[actions] R[oyal] S[ociety] …” [96]

Some of the fungi that Buller encountered in forays through the woods of Manitoba and northwestern Ontario contained chemicals that made them highly poisonous. Besides a small note in his Fungi of Manitoba book on a farm family near Stuartburn who perished in 1921 after eating poisonous mushrooms, [97] and his reference to Manitoba naturalist Norman Criddle’s observations of cattle poisoning by mushrooms, [98] Buller never published any research of his own on the subject. However, he admitted privately to having carried out experiments on the sub-lethal effects of poisonous mushrooms on humans. Although they killed when consumed in large amounts, smaller dosages had various temporary effects. In 1919, Buller wrote that, during the previous summer, he had fed a small piece of Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria) to a volunteer, noting that “within three minutes he exhibited marked signs of poisoning. One of his hands trembled violently and then followed more rapid action of the heart for a time, then coldness of the extremities, confusion of vision, etc. These symptoms went off after about a half an hour, leaving only a headache behind.” [99] Whether the subject experienced hallucinations is not recorded, though this is another of its symptoms. The volunteer was Buller’s laboratory attendant, Rudolph Hiebert, whose brother Paul Hiebert would later become a chemistry professor at the University but would achieve distinction as an author of books on humour (most famously, Sarah Binks), spirituality, and religion. [100] Were Hiebert’s philosophical musings induced, in some small way, by Fly Agaric “pills” provided by Buller? He seems to have been in the habit of dispensing stimulants to friends; many years later, in a letter to a “Miss Williams” who lived with his sister Ethel Workman, Buller advised cryptically that “I am sending you three pills from my celebrated pill-box and trust that they will do you good. They are pleasant to take and are warranted to leave no ill effects behind. I quite enjoy the business of dispensing them and am only disturbed when, as occasionally happens, the stock gets low…”. [101]

Buller was a strong advocate for his adopted home which, as “Mushroom City” at the turn of the 20th century, was booming. A well-paid professor like Buller had the financial means to indulge in the investment opportunities available to the willing speculator. He purchased residential properties in the new subdivisions of Crescentwood and Tuxedo Park, as well as fruit orchards near Fernie, British Columbia. In letters to his father, to whom he confided his business affairs, he glowed about his growing real estate portfolio, and offered to cut his father in on the action if he had money to invest. Real estate agency was a prosperous occupation, and many of its ablest participants flaunted their success by purchasing a luxury that was becoming increasingly common on Winnipeg streets: an automobile. [102] There is no evidence that Buller ever drove an automobile, much less owned one. [103] He preferred streetcars for short jaunts, and trains for longer ones. He did, however, appreciate the convenience of an automobile. As automobiles became more common, some enterprising drivers, believing they could provide better service than the city-run streetcars, began picking up and delivering passengers on prescribed routes for five cents (slang for the coin being a “Jitney”) a ride. A Jitney car, Buller noted in a letter to his mother, “only holds from 5 to about 8 people, there are very few stops and the going is very fast. Already there are some 300 cars in the business, and the street-car system is feeling the competition. The trams charge about 2 pence per ride so that the extra expense is not large. The Jitneys are of course a novelty, but at present they are extremely popular. I save a lot of time by using them…”. [104] He expressed his enthusiasm in “To A Jitney”: [105]

Hail to thee, Jitney!
Of thy cheapness and speed
The good folks of Winnipeg
Long have had need.

Hail to thee, Jitney!
For thou addst to my life,
I’ve more time for my business and
More for my wife.

Hail to thee, Jitney!
For each evening I see
Straphangers in street-cars bound
Home for their tea;

Flies by them my Jitney.
As I pay out my fare,
I thank God in Heaven for a
Seat in fresh air.

Main Street to Subway,
From the Subway to Main,
The Jitney shall take me
Again and again.

Hail to thee, Jitney!
May thy tyres ne’er wear through,
May thy spark-plug keep sparking and
Ever spark true.

Hail to thee, Jitney!
May thy patrons increase,
Thy drivers gain wealth, and thy
Hum never cease.

The Jitneys so cut into the use of city streetcars that the Winnipeg council felt obliged to ban them in 1918, [106] which prompted Buller to write a sentimental poem of farewell. Later, while taking a leave-of-absence from the university to complete several volumes of his Researches on Fungi in England, Buller was amazed when a friend drove him to London to deliver the manuscripts:

“…we accomplished the journey [of 111 miles] in three hours and ten minutes. Some half a dozen times were reached a speed of 52 miles an hour upon short stretches of straight road when nobody was about … I suppose our descendants on similar occasions will fly to London in less than an hour…” [107]

Among the automobile-wielding realtors, Frederick W. Heubach was undoubtedly one of those with whom Buller had dealings. [108] Heubach was a strong advocate for city growth in the southwestern direction, in his new subdivision of Tuxedo Park. Realizing that the value of his residential properties would increase dramatically if bordered by important neighbors, he lobbied the University to occupy a large parcel of land opposite the present site of Assiniboine Park. Buller became involved in the “site question” when, in 1906, as part of a series of articles in the Manitoba Free Press, he endorsed the Tuxedo site as the best one for future growth, citing twelve advantages of the site. [109] He discounted a criticism that the site was too far from the Broadway site, though this would arise later among his objections to the university’s move to its present Fort Garry site, in the early 1930s. Whether Buller was an unwitting shill for Heubach’s Tuxedo plans is unknown, but he bragged in 1910 that “I chose the site on a map of Winnipeg, went down to see the land in a sleigh, found out who owned the land, barganed [sic] with him that he should sell it to the University for a certain sum, and then by writing articles and the enclosed pamphlet as well as by interviewing a number of people of influence from the premier downwards pushed the scheme to the utmost of my ability.” [110]

Despite his successes in the classroom and laboratory, Buller must have grown increasingly frustrated at the amount of work the job entailed because, when he learned that the position of Professor of Botany at Birmingham became available in 1909, he applied. Thinking, perhaps, that as a former lecturer he would be a strong candidate, he was crushed to learn that he had lost the job, by a single vote, to George S. West, a specialist on algae. [111]

By 1909, Buller was heavily involved in administrative duties, besides those of his Department, as a member of both the University Council and the Board of Studies. But the nature of University governance was evolving to alleviate the need for professors to involve themselves in day-to-day advocacy on behalf of the institution. In 1913, James A. MacLean was hired as the first President, and Buller got his friendship with his new boss off to a good start by organizing a grand reception, to which he hand-addressed 1,600 invitations. This cozy relationship with the President would benefit him over the years – for example, when he was awarded a leave-of-absence in 1922 to complete work on two volumes of his Researches on Fungi. MacLean often sought Buller’s advice, as when a new zoologist was being recruited following Charles O’Donoghue’s departure, and they fretted whether the prime candidate, Robert A. Wardle, “can work in sufficient harmony with other people ….” [112]

Buller had decidedly mixed feelings when the First World War broke out in 1914. Unlike the majority of the anglo population of Winnipeg, Buller had an intimate knowledge of the German people; he had spent three years living in Germany and, as a result, knew many Germans personally. He spoke and wrote German [113] and appreciated German culture to the extent that he was the first President of the University’s German Society, formed in October 1910 to “preserve the language and teaching of the Fatherland.” Members of the club were, in fact, fined if they spoke English during meetings and Buller claimed at its inaugural meeting that “he personally considered the founding of … a chair [in German] of the greatest importance, and hoped this would be the next chair founded.” [114] Yet, Buller deplored the actions of the German military and commented, following the sinking of the Lusitania in May 1915 (a ship in which he had previously crossed the Atlantic and had arranged just weeks before to do again), that “our civilization is largely made of veneer, and if you scratch a German apparently beneath his skin you will find an ancient barbarian.” [115] Buller read widely during the war on matters of military and political theory; his papers include pamphlets with such weighty titles as “How Britain Strove For Peace: A Record of Anglo-German Negotiations 1898-1914 Told From Authoritative Sources”, and “The Germans: What They Covet”. He tended to ascribe blame to German politicians rather than the people themselves so he probably agreed with a pamphlet from McGill University which stated “We have, and can have, no quarrel with the frugal, industrious, German people. Our quarrel is with the German rulers and the German form of government which allows a mere handful of arrogant Prussians to bend the German people to co-operations with them in their schemes of violence and aggression.” [116] Nevertheless, Buller supported the war effort to the degree possible. He joined an officer’s training program with the rank of Lieutenant, attended training sessions whenever his busy university schedule allowed, was a member of the local Citizens Recruiting League, and actively supported conscription. It is less clear, however, that he was prepared to enlist himself. While he said that he would go if called, he did not join his faculty colleagues who had enlisted voluntarily, including Henry P. Armes of Chemistry and Robert C. Wallace of Geology and, indeed, his laboratory attendant Stanley G. Churchward, preferring instead to see them off at the departing troop train. He appeared to endorse the view of the Canadian Honorary Advisory Council for Scientific and Industrial Research which, in 1917, argued that no professional person who performed a vital service to the country should be enlisted. A university mycologist’s necessity to the war effort could be debated, but Buller made a major contribution to the recognition, following the devastating loss of half the 1916 wheat crop, of the threat to the food supply posed by the fungus-induced rust disease. Regardless of his thoughts during the war, he harbored no ill will following it; Buller resumed correspondence with German colleagues soon after the Armistice was declared. But he was perhaps not the best judge of the mood among the German people when he predicted that: “they will take steps to prevent their leaders from ever having it in their power to cause a repetition of the great catastrophe.” [117]

Buller supported the war effort by attending daily drills and lectures as a Lieutenant in the Officers Training Corps, 1917. He was a strong supporter of conscription. Several of his university colleagues joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force voluntarily but Buller did not, maintaining that he could do more good at home.
Source: Buller Memorial Library of the Cereals Research Centre, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Winnipeg.

The opportunity to leave the University of Manitoba came to Buller again when, in August 1919, George West (to whom he had lost the Professorship of Botany at Birmingham) died suddenly. Buller was invited by the Chairman of the Science Faculty to apply, intimating that he would be a shoe-in for the job. [118] After weighing the benefits of the job, and the challenges still facing him in Manitoba, Buller turned the offer down with some regret, realizing that he would probably not get so good an offer again. He reasoned that “by remaining at Winnipeg, where scientific men are much needed, I might be of more value than at Birmingham; and I did not want to make any change which would delay the completion and publication of … my Researches on Fungi. Moreover, I had grown to like Miss Canada and be interested in her prosperity ….” [119] This was one of several invitations that Buller would receive during his career at Manitoba, from Montreal’s McGill University in 1910, the University of Minnesota in 1919, and others; he turned them all down.


Although, in his earlier career, Buller had dabbled in research on a wide range of organisms, by the 1920s he had become focused almost solely on fungi. He recognized that he might have chosen otherwise, given his surroundings: “I sometimes half wish that I had made a special study of Algae instead of Fungi, as the opportunities afforded by our innumerable fresh-water lakes for studying fresh-water Algae is very great…” [120] He continued to hold an interest in a wide range of topics and, in fact, described himself as “first of all a scientific man, then a biologist, then a botanist, then a mycologist and then a phytopathologist. My interests, therefore, are not solely mycological…” [121] He had been trained generally as a biologist, and often surprised his Botany classes with a lucid explanation of some zoological principle. Prior to the hiring of Robert C. Wallace in 1910, Buller had lectured in Geology and, for a time, also lectured and supervised practical work in Zoology before Charles O’Donoghue was hired in late 1918. [122] As a member of the Scientific Club of Winnipeg, Buller would have been exposed to current ideas in a wide range of sciences, and his work on fungal spore discharge entailed considerable knowledge of Physics. Following his retirement, he undertook to acquaint himself with the latest ideas in Chemistry and Physics. [123] Yet it is in Botany and more specifically mycology that Buller made his most significant scientific contributions. So it is ironic that, despite his long and distinguished career marked by accolades from organizations around the world, he is remembered in the 21st century mostly for a limerick that he wrote on a whim, on a subject having nothing at all to do with biology.

While on summer vacation, around 1921, he discussed Einstein’s theory of relativity with a friend from the Physics Department at the University of Birmingham. He challenged his friend to create a limerick about it. After trying for five minutes, his friend (whose name, interestingly, was Shakespeare) admitted failure, at which point Buller offered his own attempt. He thought no more about it until the Fall of 1923 when, during a meeting of the Scientific Club of Winnipeg, a heated discussion arose because someone questioned the theory of relativity and its assumption that nothing could exceed the speed of light. To smooth things over, Buller repeated his limerick, which met with great laughter and applause. Word of the amusing limerick spread quickly; two days later, Buller was approached on the street by a reporter he knew, who asked if Buller would allow him to submit the limerick to Punch, the British humor magazine. Instead, Buller rushed to the University, where he dashed off a copy and mailed it to Punch which duly published it and sent him five shillings as payment. Buller would later claim it as his best-paid work, earning a shilling per minute:

There was a young lady named Bright,
Whose speed was far faster than light.
She set out one day,
In a relative way,
And returned home the previous night. [124]

Unfortunately for Buller, his identity was not mentioned in Punch. The limerick was much repeated in public, including by “three bishops and a well-known American authoress,” [125] with the result that several others claimed its authorship, forcing Buller and friends to defend his claim. [126] Years later (1943), after the furor had died down, and the theory of relativity was expanded to describe the relationship between energy, mass, and velocity, Buller would add a second stanza:

To her friends said the Bright one in chatter,
“I have learned something new about matter:
As my speed was so great,
Much increased was my weight,
Yet I failed to become any fatter.” [127]

Soldiers returning from the First World War swelled the student ranks of the university, so much so that the University building on Broadway became seriously overcrowded. A complex of low buildings was erected on an emergency basis adjoining the southwest corner of the original building, and Buller’s department moved into this space. Junior-year classes were often well over 100 students and the logistical difficulties this posed, especially for “practical work” (what is now referred to as “laboratory work”) where students were expected to undertake meaningful exercises using live plants, must have been onerous. Luckily for Buller, by the early 1920s, his appeals over more than a decade for staff to alleviate his workload had been heeded. Charles W. Lowe was hired in 1907, first as a part-time laboratory attendant and later hired permanently as a Lecturer, and in 1919, Herbert F. Roberts as a Lecturer. Both men came to the University with excellent credentials. After spending time as a student at the University of Manitoba, Lowe had obtained a BSc with honours in Botany and Zoology from Buller’s alma mater, the University of Birmingham, [128] in 1911, then spent a year under the tutelage of George West to become proficient in the identification of freshwater algae. Lowe returned to Canada in 1914 to make collections from Lake Winnipeg and Lake of the Woods, which subsequently formed the basis of his MSc thesis at Birmingham. [129] Buller described him as one of the few specialists in Canadian freshwater algae, making Winnipeg a center of expertise in this area. [130] Lowe finally returned to Winnipeg in 1916 where he remained in the Department of Botany for the rest of his career, becoming Buller’s eyes and ears during his annual absence in England, and his right-hand man. Herbert Roberts was already the Head of the Botany Department at the Kansas State Agricultural College when he was hired, leaving the job due to painful memories of his wife’s recent death [131] and his wish to pursue more research. A talented amateur linguist who specialized in plant breeding, Roberts had been, according to Buller, “originator of the famous “Kanred” wheat, which has now for several years outyielded all the wheats of the hard winter wheat district, is practically rust-proof, extraordinary in winter hardiness and in its milling and baking qualities.” [132] Together, offering skills quite different from Buller’s, Lowe and Roberts assumed much of the teaching load in the Botany Department, especially when Buller received a leave-of-absence in 1922 to work on his Researches on Fungi.

A plate designed by Buller in 1927 for books in his mycological library featured the motto Carpe Fungum (“Collect the Fungi”) and the tools of his research investigations.
Source: Library and Archives Canada, Winnipeg.

The University of Manitoba gained the distinction of being the first such institution to have a biological research station when, in 1919, an aqueduct was constructed from Winnipeg to “Indian Bay” on Shoal Lake, and the Greater Winnipeg Water District provided the use of two buildings at the terminus of its railway. The facility came under the supervision of Buller’s friend, Charles O’Donoghue of the Zoology Department; botanists Lowe and Roberts collected plants there, and Buller’s graduate student Irene Mounce assisted in general upkeep. As most of its use took place during the summer, when Buller was off in England, it is not clear whether he ever visited the site personally (he did, however, report fungal occurrences in the vicinity of Indian Bay) and, in any case, he would have had a short opportunity to do so before the Water District took back the site in 1922.

Beside his interest in the arcane world of fungal biology, Buller was firmly interested in the implications of his research for prairie agriculture. His interest in the fungi causing a plant infection resembling metal rust preceded his arrival in Canada, when he included a lecture on “rust diseases” among his 1903 pathology course at Birmingham. Buller first observed rust fungi on plants in a Winnipeg park in 1904 [133] and he carried out some of his initial research on rust diseases as well as another major group of plant diseases, smuts. [134] His growing realization of their role in reducing the quality and quantity of the critical prairie wheat crop, especially in the aftermath of the catastrophic destruction of nearly the entire harvest of 1916, led to his successful public advocacy for the extermination of barberry bushes (which fostered the spread of rust in wheat) throughout the prairies. Buller’s instigation led to the founding, in 1925, of the Dominion Rust Research Laboratory in Winnipeg. A case had been made to establish the laboratory at one of the existing federal research stations such as those at Brandon or Indian Head, Saskatchewan, but Buller argued that Winnipeg’s University and Agricultural College would provide the scientists with needed library services and colleagues for consultation. As home to the Grain Exchange and numerous farmer conventions, it was a logical place for grain research. And Buller doubted that outstanding researchers would be attracted to the facilities at Brandon or Indian Head, which he had toured in the Fall of 1918 while preparing to write his book, Essays on Wheat.

Buller’s prodigious research output, in his Researches on Fungi and miscellaneous other papers, began to gain him an international reputation, which the University acknowledged in April 1924 by presenting him with an honorary degree. [135] He was increasingly called upon to administer scientific organizations, including the presidency of the British Mycological Society (1913), the Canadian Phytopathological Society (1920), and the Botanical Society of America (1928), all of which, he complained, made it difficult to carry on his research. He used his influence as President of the Royal Society of Canada to bring its annual meeting to Winnipeg in May 1928, the first time in its 46-year history that it had met west of Ontario. Like the 1909 meeting of the British Association in Winnipeg, Buller viewed this as an opportunity to highlight the accomplishments of his growing, young institution, and to acquaint western and eastern researchers. He raised $1,500 for the meeting personally from donations by his wealthy Winnipeg friends.

Buller had few formal recreational pursuits outside of his work. His entry in “Who’s Who” listed billiards and “crossing the Atlantic” as his favorite pastimes. He played golf once while visiting Saskatoon in May 1928 to receive an honorary degree from the University of Saskatchewan but there is no evidence that he enjoyed it enough to play again. He did enjoy reading on a wide range of subjects, including art history, poetry, history, biography, architecture, political science, drama, English and German grammar, religion, and literature. [136] As a well-educated, well-spoken university professor, Buller had immediate links to the rarified circles of the Winnipeg social elite. University tuition was sufficiently high that the student body was hardly a representative sample of the province’s population, and it is probable that the sons and daughters of wealthy Winnipeg businessmen preferentially populated Buller’s classes. Buller was closely acquainted with long-time editor of the Free Press, John W. Dafoe, with whom he shared membership in the Royal Society of Canada, which is probably what allowed him such ready access to the newspaper’s pages for essays on the development of the university, as well as his dubious poetry. [137] In 1924, Buller decided to undertake the translation of an obscure book on fungi published originally in Latin in the mid-19th century by a pair of French brothers, Louis and Charles Tulasne. He enlisted his friend, William B. Grove, a mycologist and Latin scholar, to do the actual translation work and, realizing that the public appeal of such a book was limited, solicited donations from wealthy benefactors for its publication. Among those he managed to convince were Winnipeg businessmen James Richardson and Max Steinkopf. It is certainly possible that Buller was enormously persuasive, and businessmen of that time were more inclined to philanthropy (it is hard to imagine today’s hard-nosed businessmen helping to pay for a book about fungus), but it seems more likely that Buller used his social connections to good advantage to find support where it would not otherwise exist. [138] Richardson, at least, did not seem especially interested in the project; when Buller offered a copy of the final work, he turned it down with thanks. Buller enjoyed frequent dinner invitations from the city’s most influential citizens and, it is said, he reciprocated the invitations with an exclusive reception at the Fort Garry Hotel for his hosts of the previous year. It is noteworthy that, despite living in Manitoba for 40 years during which he could have visited most of the province, his book on the Fungi of Manitoba listed the places where he had made most of his observations, corresponding to the places where he spent his vacations as a guest in the Anglophone enclaves of wealth and privilege at Victoria Beach and Minaki.

Despite his advocacy of public lectures for general education, which he continued through the 1920s, his views on the popularization of science appeared to harden in later years. When, in 1928, he was asked by the President of the Canadian National Research Council to write a short article on fungi for the Grolier Society, he refused, citing his desire to reserve his energies for “larger aims.” Although he claimed in 1909 that one of his motives for publishing Researches on Fungi was to acquaint amateur naturalists with the higher fungi, and he intended to publish – but never did – a more popular book on the subject, [139] by the late 1920s, his entire research output was directed at his professional colleagues. He said: “…I may tell you that I have never written a popular magazine article on wheat, fungi, or anything else, although several requests to do so have come to me. So far as wheat is concerned, I tell people that all I desire to say on the subject is embodied in my Essays on Wheat. In helping to popularize science I feel that I can do best by means of popular lectures and address of which I have now given a good many…”. [140] In addition, he led public fungal forays to Victoria Beach, Minaki and elsewhere on behalf of the Manitoba Natural History Society (later renamed the Manitoba Naturalists Society).

As an unmarried university professor and public figure, Buller would have been considered a prime catch by the society debutantes of Winnipeg. So his life-long bachelorhood has led to speculation about the basis for his apparent lack of interest in the opposite sex. His views on the subject are impossible to ascertain from his correspondence; even with family members, discussion of his personal life was confined to financial matters (with his father), his day-to-day doings (with his mother), or gossip about relatives and friends. Yet, modern speculations of his misogyny and homosexuality persist. [141]

In fact, Buller did have relationships with women, although usually on his own aloof terms. Prior to his departure for Canada in 1904, he was engaged to be married to a young lady named Katie Matthison, a relationship that seems to have been ended unilaterally by Buller. [142] He carried on an affectionate, if not sexual, relationship with Sheila Cohen during her residence in Winnipeg. He frequently received, following his trans-Atlantic voyages between England and North America, letters from single women or mothers traveling with children that he had met onboard. These frequently offered best wishes and the hope they might meet the eminently marriageable professor again. [143] Buller seems to have been oblivious to these subtle signs of interest or, if he took notice, he ignored them. He indulged in good-natured, but strictly platonic, kidding with the waitresses in the restaurant of his hotel, for whom he wrote poems. [144] And he led at least two of his female colleagues to believe that he harbored romantic intentions towards them.

Buller listed his recreations in “Who’s Who” as billiards and crossing the Atlantic. By one account, he crossed 65 times, usually enjoying a cabin by himself in First Class. In many cases, he would befriend women traveling alone or with children, who would later write him flowery letters of thanks, hoping to meet again.
Source: Buller Memorial Library of the Cereals Research Centre, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Winnipeg.

In many ways, Elsie M. Wakefield was the female counterpart to Buller. The bright, talented daughter of a British science lecturer, naturalist, and schoolmaster, Wakefield was born in 1886 at Birmingham and received an excellent scientific education, especially by the standard of the time for women, including stints at Oxford and in Germany. Returning to England in 1909, she got a job in the Herbarium of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew where, in a range of capacities, she spent the rest of her career. It was probably here that she first met the professor from Canada who spent long portions of his summer vacations puttering around the facilities at Kew. Sharing common interests, they became friends and apparently Buller invited her on social outings, which left Wakefield with the mistaken impression that Buller was interested in more than casual friendship. In late 1912, as Wakefield began to suspect that Buller was only interested in “a little amusement,” she sent him an emotional letter, seeking clarification. Realizing, perhaps, that he had made a mess of things, Buller tried to clarify his views:

“…I am afraid that you hold the conventional view that a friendship between a girl and an unmarried man is compromising and undesirable unless it leads to an engagement. You are mistaken in supposing that a man like myself has only two alternatives in respect to a girl of your attainments and feelings – marriage or nothing “except a little amusement”. From the bottom of my heart I wish you well. I do not wish to compromise you. I desire your happiness…” [145]

To avoid further “compromise or awkwardness”, he offered to stay away from Kew or to steer clear of Wakefield as much as possible. She responded that he was being silly, and that she saw no reason that their professional relationship could not continue. In fact, once they had reached a mutual understanding of each other’s true intentions, they settled into a long-term friendly, but professional, relationship. They wrote periodically to each other, always addressed formally to “Miss Wakefield” or “Professor Buller,” to chat or render scientific assistance. In 1920, she spent six months studying tropical fungi in the Caribbean, after which she visited Buller as well as other North American acquaintances. Wakefield went on to become a prominent figure in the British mycological community who died, unmarried, in 1972, described to the last as a “gentle, gracious, learned lady.” [146]

Buller’s relationship with Dr. Nellie Carter was likewise impersonal. They met around 1921, probably while both attended a botanical meeting. A specialist on algae who had studied at Birmingham under the late George West, Carter held various positions in England and North America, including a stint in 1922 at the Missouri Botanic Gardens in St. Louis. Buller thought enough of her abilities that he tried to find a job for her in Canada, going so far as to write unsolicited letters to officials in the Canadian Geological Survey on her behalf. [147] He went on field trips with her. She frequently wrote to Buller, addressing letters to “My dear Rex” or “My dear friend”, always saying how much she treasured his friendship and intimating through comments of her willingness to “do anything to show my gratitude and how much I treasure your friendship…” that she was open to a deeper friendship. [148] As was typical for Buller, such overtures fell on deaf ears, although they exchanged regular correspondence throughout the 1920s. In March 1928, matters came to a head when Carter apparently expressed, in overt terms, her affections. Probably as he did for Elsie Wakefield, Buller made it clear that he harbored no romantic inclination then he stopped writing to her, which only made her more unhappy. Finally, in 1929, he agreed to her request for “another chance of seeing whether our friendship can now bring me anything but pain.” [149]

Buller had a large number of female laboratory attendants, [150] disproportionate to their scant numbers in the undergraduate ranks. There is every indication that he avoided signs of undue familiarity with his female students (as well as his male ones), preferring always to refer to them in polite, Victorian terms with the salutation “Miss X” or “Mister Y” rather than their given names. A woman who had worked as Buller’s assistant for eight years recalled an incident in which, while working with Buller in the photographic darkroom, he was embarrassed and apologetic after inadvertently touching her bare arm in the darkness. [151]

Buller clearly believed that women were equally capable scholars to men, as a surprisingly large proportion of his graduate students were female, at a time when few women were pursuing advanced studies in science. [152] In April 1920, members of the Scientific Club of Winnipeg wrote to the Hudson’s Bay Company, suggesting that, in commemoration of its 250th anniversary, they donate a sum of money to be used to sponsor fellowships. The company agreed to donate $15,000, sufficient for ten fellowships of $1,500 each, to be awarded over a period of ten years. Three of the first eight fellowship holders were women, two of whom worked with Buller. [153] Its first recipient was Irene Mounce, who arrived in Winnipeg from British Columbia in 1921 to work with Buller on the destruction of timber by wood-destroying fungi, receiving in the process one of the university’s first MSc degrees. [154] In 1923, Dorothy Newton Swales from Montreal held an HBC Fellowship under Buller to work on fungal sexuality, and would go on to receive the fourth PhD degree awarded by the University of Manitoba – and the first to a woman. (Two of the preceding three were also Buller students: William F. “Bill” Hanna and John H. Craigie, the former of whom received the first PhD in Western Canada, in May 1928. Both were employed at the Dominion Rust Research Laboratory.) [155]

Perhaps the most telling indication of Buller’s views on women was his reaction to being told, in January 1933, that Dr. Margaret Newton, a plant pathologist at the Dominion Rust Research Laboratory, was prohibited from attending his presentation to the Scientific Club of Winnipeg because club by-laws prohibited female guests. Deeply affronted that one of his colleagues was barred merely because of her gender, Buller promptly submitted his resignation, and remained indignant when called before the club executive committee several weeks later to discuss the matter. [156] Having Buller resign from the club, which he helped to found along with other members of the “Original Six” in 1905, would have been a public embarrassment so they took the only action possible. Chastened, they backed down, and allowed that an alternative reading of the by-laws permitted attendance by women scientists, not women generally, and only with prior committee approval. Buller seems to have accepted their concession and remained a member. But the slight was permanent; though Buller had given a presentation in almost every year of the club’s existence to that point, he never spoke before the group again, though he lived for another 11 years.

Despite some progressive tendencies toward women, Buller retained chauvinistic attitudes in other respects. While visiting Washington, DC, he marveled at seeing Dr. Mary E. Walker in the lobby of his hotel. Walker, a surgeon, had shocked polite society during and after the American Civil War by wearing men’s clothing in public. [157] Buller railed in the Winnipeg newspapers against what he considered the “criminal or anti-social acts” of “militant suffragettes” including “striking a clergyman with a heavy horse-whip upon the face,” [158] an accusation met by an immediate, ferocious rebuttal by a Miss Barbara Wylie, who claimed he was misinformed and that “if Mr. Buller is really a friend to woman suffrage … he must clear his mind of these old sex prejudices and the confusing of divine rights with human customs…” [159]

An elderly Buller contemplates a puffball mushroom, over 16 inches across, of the species Langermania gigantea. He estimated in his Researches on Fungi, Volume 1, that the puffball contained 7 trillion spores. He often lead forays of students and naturalists into the forests around Victoria Beach and Minaki to find interesting mushrooms, both edible and toxic. A popular pastime of his colleague Gordon Bell involved walks through the woods around the family cottage at Fox Lake, finding fungi for later use in a “Baffle Buller Contest”. On one occasion, Bell was horrified, after eating a breakfast omelet made by his cook, to discover a mushroom left overnight in the ice box missing. He rushed into Winnipeg to have his stomach pumped. (R. England, personal communication based on unpublished Bell memoirs, November 2003).
Source: Buller Memorial Library of the Cereals Research Centre, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Winnipeg.


C. G. Lloyd, himself an eccentric old bachelor, would observe about Buller that “while an old bachelor he is never as happy as rigged out in full dress and in the presence of the ladies. There is, therefore, still hope.” [160] Whether “full dress” would have impressed is unknown; Buller grew increasingly unconcerned by the stylishness of his dress as he grew older. Airdrie Cameron, the daughter of Buller’s long-time friend, Charles N. Bell, would recall in 1971 “his old coonskin coat “with about three hairs” and the black coat and striped trousers he always wore and replenished in London, but only when absolutely necessary…”. Much has been made of a photograph of participants to the first meeting of the Mycological Society of America, in December 1932, where Buller is seen wearing two differently colored socks. [161]

Like most publicly-funded institutions, the University’s financial status was impacted by the onset of the Great Depression. Its operating grant from the provincial government was reduced by $150,000. [162] Normally, this would not have been entirely catastrophic, as the University had received several donations over the years, starting with an initial endowment from native son Alexander K. Isbister. Faced with a severe budgetary shortfall, University administrators turned to these endowment funds as a means of cushioning the blow, only to find, in August 1932, that they were gone. The cause quickly became evident, although the full magnitude of the loss would require years of investigation. John A. Machray, a respected nephew of the former Chancellor and a prominent Winnipeg lawyer, had been managing the University’s money for 25 years. Through a combination of bad investments and embezzlement, Machray had lost a total of over $1.8 million, a staggering sum even by the standards of today. [163] In the end, Machray would lose everything and die soon after being incarcerated in Stony Mountain Penitentiary, but this was cold comfort to the worried academics at the University. Lingering effects of the Machray scandal on the University would continue to the present, and they played a large role in Buller’s eventual retirement and estrangement from the University. President James A. MacLean had few options. The largest single portion of the University budget was allocated to salaries of the faculty and staff. Initially, they all took a series of pay cuts, and no department received money to purchase supplies. The University downsized by merging the academic staff from the Manitoba Agricultural College, with the consequence that mycologist and plant pathologist Guy R. Bisby, who had become a close friend of Buller’s, joined the Botany department. [164] Faced with the prospect of wholesale layoffs, MacLean approached the senior professors, who were at the top end of the salary scale, in the spring of 1933 and asked them to accept voluntarily a one-year leave-of-absence under which they would receive a payment of $1,000 and their pension payments would be maintained by the University. Buller grudgingly accepted the offer, aware that it would otherwise mean the loss of many more junior academics, [165] and he departed for England (stopping along the way to accept an honorary degree from the University of Pennsylvania). There, he prepared volumes 5 and 6 of his Researches on Fungi; [166] published an update of his earlier book on the fungi of Manitoba, including new observations, and expanded its coverage to include Saskatchewan; hoed thistles and caught moles on his cousin’s farm; and bought himself “a fine boar which is now the father of several families of piglets.” [167] He returned to Winnipeg in late September 1934, expecting his routine to return to normal. However, it was not to be. The University site question that had seemed to drag on endlessly, had finally been resolved with the rejection of Buller’s preferred site in Tuxedo, and with plans for all future University expansion to occur on the Fort Garry site of the Manitoba Agricultural College. A new science building had been constructed at the Fort Garry campus in 1932, joining an existing Arts building. Botany, along with four other Science departments, would use the new building for instruction of senior students, while retaining the original Broadway facilities for junior students. Buller’s participation in the teaching of both junior and senior courses required him to travel frequently between sites on the streetcar, though he retained his office and research facilities on Broadway. [168] His growing frustration and fatigue [169] factored into his decision to retire before the start of a new academic year, in September 1936. Four months later, Guy Bisby departed to take a position at England’s Imperial Mycological Institute. Then, in January 1937, Herbert Roberts died suddenly, [170] leaving the department in disarray and Charles Lowe temporarily in charge. Margaret G. Dudley, who had been a Botany student and laboratory demonstrator for several years and maintained the department’s herbarium, pitched in as a temporary lecturer. The collective teaching duties of Bisby and Buller were assumed by Harold J. Brodie, who arrived from McGill University later that year. Meanwhile, Buller had accepted an invitation to join the British Association’s delegation to the Indian Science Congress Association’s Silver Jubilee meeting in Calcutta, where he received an honorary doctorate from the University of Calcutta. Following his return to Winnipeg in 1938, William Leach, who had replaced him as Professor of Botany in September 1937, graciously allowed Buller the use of his former office, which had sat unoccupied during his absence. He continued his fungal research, not at the University’s Broadway building, but at the Dominion Rust Research Laboratory among his former students. Returning to England in mid 1939, he resumed his attack on the thistles at his cousin’s Banbury farm, corresponded with friends and colleagues, and worked to complete various research projects. Later that year, while he was attending a scientific conference in the United States, the Second World War broke out. Fearing for his safety in crossing the Atlantic to England one more time, Buller turned to the only other home he had known. Settling back in at the McLaren Hotel, he corresponded with former students on active service, travelled around Western Canada and the United States visiting scientific institutes and giving lectures, worked at the Dominion Rust Research Laboratory, wrote, played billiards, bathed in the Red River during a summer heat wave, and generally enjoyed life.

Buller had had numerous run-ins with other members of the University staff during his career, ranging from a recalcitrant clerk who was slow to place Buller’s orders for supplies and did not show him the proper respect; [171] to the University registrar over his refusal to provide information on a particular student; [172] to a member of the administrative staff with whom Buller disagreed, arguing to the President later that “My one regret is that I was just getting over the flu and was not feeling very strong, otherwise I should have thrown him twice as fast and twice as far.” [173] Whether these were manifestations of his feisty temperament, or his bruised ego as his power in the direction of University affairs diminished with the growth of a formal administration, remains unclear. In any case, the beginning of the end for Buller began as early as 1934 when President MacLean, with whom Buller had long had a friendly “open-door” relationship, succumbed to the residual effects of the Machray theft and resigned to be replaced by Dalhousie law dean Sidney E. Smith. [174] The position of honorary bursar was replaced, first by a full-time paid bursar, then by a comptroller, F. Walter Crawford. Neither of these men knew Buller well and, unlike their predecessors, neither was inclined to do the testy, retired professor any favors, such as continued use of the office he had occupied since 1904. In late November 1942, as Buller was preparing to leave for lectures at Cornell University, he received a terse, one-page memo from Crawford, asking him to vacate it “in the very near future” so the space could be used for other purposes. Buller was devastated at being ejected from his “home” of nearly 40 years. But he received no sympathy from the Arts and Science Dean, Henry P. Armes so, profoundly depressed and angry, he accepted the inevitability of the situation and started packing up. In a final act of rebellion, he refused their offer of alternate space elsewhere – in the former provincial jail next door – and declared petulantly that:

“I have now decided to leave the University of Manitoba – the University that I have served as a teacher and research worker for so many years – and seek accommodation in some other institution in which productive scholarship is more sympathetically regarded than it is here … The room which I am to vacate … has been, among other things: the birth of the idea of establishing the Dominion Rust Research Laboratory; the writing of the six volumes of my Researches on Fungi that are known to botanists all over the world … the writing of my Essays on Wheat … the visits of a number of Presidents of Universities, including Sir Oliver Lodge [of the University of Birmingham]; and consultations with many distinguished scientists … long before President Sidney Smith or Dr. Armes or you yourself had any interest in the University whatsoever.” [175]

He concluded that:

“I shall leave my room with much regret, but with the hope that it will not be occupied by a non-entity, but by someone who will spread the fame of the University around the world to a degree at least equal to that accomplished by myself…”

As Buller pondered his predicament, he sat down and composed a poem that left no doubt as to where he laid blame for his figurative death at the University.

Who killed Cock Robin?
“I”, said the Comptroller,
“With my steam roller,
I killed Cock Robin!”

Who saw him die?
“I”, said the President,
“As a University resident,
I saw him die!”

Who dug his grave?
“I”, said Dean Armes,
“Under some palms,
I dug his grave!”

All the birds of the air
Went a-sighing and a-sobbing
When they heard the bell toll
For poor Cock Robin. [176]

The new science building at the Fort Garry campus of the University in 1937. After buildings dedicated to chemistry and physics were constructed nearby in the early 1960s and named for professors Mathew Parker and Frank Allen, respectively, this building (now home to the Botany and Microbiology Departments, in their entireties) was renamed the Buller Biological Laboratories.
Source: Western Canada Pictorial Index, A0509-16275.

Removing the collected detritus of a life’s work was not an easy matter, and Buller reluctantly hauled it across the hallway to a disused laboratory that had once housed an autoclave, then subsequently piled it into space offered by nearby geologists Justin DeLury and Edward Leith. [177] An appeal to the Scientific Club of Winnipeg for help went unheeded. Buller must have felt a final twist of the knife when his cherished office was indeed occupied by what he perceived as a “non-entity”: a division of the University’s Adult Education program that planned to “organize amateur dramatics in about 50 villages in Manitoba.” [178]

Despite his bold threat to the comptroller, Buller did not move to another institution. Perhaps his intellectual fame was not so great as he claimed, or the trouble of moving the accumulated goods from 40 years in Winnipeg was too great. He had suffered a heavy blow when, in late 1940, the unsold copies of his major research accomplishment, the six volumes of his Researches on Fungi, were destroyed in the London Blitz, symbolically wiping clean the record of his long career. [179] He busied himself commiserating with friends, corresponding with former students and colleagues, and doing what work he could, although he admitted that his heart was not in it. He began to suffer severe headaches periodically during 1943, which he ascribed to too much reading. His health, other than periodic asthma, a mysterious convulsive seizure in 1913, and mild attacks of rheumatoid arthritis, had been good throughout his life. [180] The headaches grew worse, culminating in a series of attacks in January 1944 that left him with a giddy feeling, dizziness, and a general weakness on the left side. He admitted himself to Winnipeg General Hospital, where a series of diagnostic tests and an emergency craniotomy confirmed the physician’s initial suspicion of a brain tumor. Nothing could be done except to make him comfortable. Realizing that his time was short, Buller agonized over the unfinished state of his various projects, including manuscripts for at least one more volume of his Researches on Fungi [181] and another on the history of mycology. [182] He consoled himself with readings from Milton. His health continued to deteriorate, as he progressively became blind, confused to a point where he no longer recognized visitors, and finally lapsed into a coma and died on 3 July 1944, at the age of 69.

Given the events that marred the final relationship between Buller and the University of Manitoba, a final bit of irony saw the University retain a slice of Buller’s brain, removed during autopsy, for future study in its pathology collection. [183] The job of distributing his other worldly assets fell to his executor, lawyer, and long-time friend, Roland F. McWilliams. He, in consultation with Guy Bisby in England, was to find a suitable home for Buller’s assorted papers and books. A long-standing myth holds that Buller stipulated explicitly that under no circumstances was the University to receive his personal belongings but this provision does not exist in the will deposited with the Manitoba probate court. [184] Whether Buller gave McWilliams verbal instructions during his final days is unknown but presumably McWilliams and Bisby knew of Buller’s animosity towards the University administration so may have felt justified in depositing them instead with the Dominion Rust Research Laboratory, on the edge of the campus. As this building lacked a fireproof facility for display, a condition which McWilliams apparently insisted upon due to the large number of valuable books in the collection, the materials sat in storage for 14 years until, in May 1958, the Buller Memorial Library was established. [185] Monetary bequests from Buller’s estate went to miscellaneous relatives, godchildren, friends, and colleagues (including his faithful assistant, Charles Lowe, and laboratory attendant, G. W. Brook [186]), and the Royal Society of Canada. In a final fond gesture to his adoptive home city, Buller made a sizeable donation to the Winnipeg Foundation.

Buller’s last request was to be cremated but Winnipeg had no crematorium at the time. Craigie and Bisby dutifully accompanied his body to the nearest one, in Minneapolis, returning with a small copper box of cremains. No specific instructions had been given for their disposal, so the box adorned a mantel in Bill Hanna’s office at the Rust Laboratory for several years. Newly arriving botanists at the University of Manitoba were invited to visit the Laboratory to “meet Professor Buller” [187] and unsubstantiated (and likely apocryphal) stories are told of former Buller adversaries taking the opportunity to flick their cigarette ashes into his urn. Finally, when the Buller Memorial Library was opened, he was interred in a cavity in one of its walls, concealed behind a brass commemorative plaque.

Buller left a legacy at the University of Manitoba that is, at once, tangible and abstract. Through the example he set in his own career, his active participation in bringing landmark scientific meetings to Winnipeg, and the establishment of the Scientific Club of Winnipeg, he promoted Manitoba as a place of research excellence. He played a crucial role in the establishment of the Dominion Rust Research Laboratory in Winnipeg, which helped to stem the growing tide of plant diseases in the prairie bread-basket and which evolved into a world-class agricultural research facility. He left an enduring contribution to Canada’s advanced research capability through his training of a small but outstanding group of students, including several women. Generations of undergraduate students cherished memories of a showman lecturer who was able to make learning fun and memorable. [188] Scores more across the prairies heard his lectures and read his books. And perhaps most significant was his role in changing fundamentally his University. The University of Manitoba traces its origins to 1877 but, in truth, the institution as it exists today was founded in 1904, when several independent-minded, research-oriented professors dragged it by sheer power of will and determination away from its roots as a loose confederation of religious colleges. Buller advocated vigorously for its expansion and growth, both in infrastructure and intellectual breadth [189] and he left it a globally respected institution, especially in his field of mycology. [190] No one could be expected to do more.


I assumed naïvely that the research for this paper could be done in a month or two, until I saw the mountain of material comprising the Buller papers. I can only hope that some future historian will have sufficient time to sift through them properly to produce a comprehensive Buller biography. In the meantime, I thank the people who helped me along the way, most especially David Horky at Library and Archives Canada (Winnipeg), Mike Malyk at the Buller Memorial Library, and Lewis St. George Stubbs at the University of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections; my colleagues Jim Blanchard, Tom Booth, Jack Bumsted, Jim Jamieson, Dave Punter, Gordon Robinson, and Lewis St. George Stubbs who commented on the draft manuscript; and my wife and family who put up with long absences while I obsessed over Buller.

1. One of the most recent, but by no means only, public perpetuations of Buller myths is N. P. Money’s 2002 book Mr. Bloomfield’s Orchard: The Mysterious World of Mushrooms, Molds, and Mycologists from Oxford University Press.

2. The Buller papers comprise, as of February 2004, two lots. His correspondence and personal files are contained mostly at the Winnipeg office of Library and Archives Canada (hereafter, LAC) while his books, research notebooks, scrapbooks, photographs, and miscellaneous documents are held in the Buller Memorial Library of the Cereals Research Centre, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Winnipeg (hereafter, BML). It was widely rumored that Buller decreed, late in his life, that his papers should not be given to the University of Manitoba but no corroborating evidence is contained in his probate Will at the Provincial Archives of Manitoba (hereafter, PAM). Negotiations are presently underway to repatriate the Buller papers to the University Archives and Special Collections (hereafter, UMA), for they contain a wealth of information on the development of the University’s Faculty of Science and Botany Department specifically, and the University more generally. [2009 Update: Transfer of all the Buller papers to the University Archives and Special Collections has been completed.]

3. BML, Buller autopsy report by Winnipeg General Hospital, 4 July 1944.

4. Years later, while overseeing practical exercises at the University of Manitoba, Buller was asked by one of his laboratory attendants for a vial of preserved algae. He responded huffily: “Miss _! … I never teach from dead plants. Go to the aquarium and see what algae you can find.” (T. Johnson, Foreword in Catalogue of the Buller Memorial Library, Research Branch, Canada Department of Agriculture, Publication 1226, 1965.)

5. BML, course handbill in cigar box.

6. Nature Supplement, 11 August 1904, p. cxxxi.

7. LAC, box 4, folder “Birmingham University Matters”.

8. LAC, box 1, folder “Miss Elsie Wakefield”, letter dated 6 March 1911 from Buller to Wakefield.

9. Frank Allen, another of the “Original Six”, would later recall that the new professors were asked how they wanted their eight months of salary to be paid: either as eight monthly payments or as the equivalent sum spread over twelve months. They debated the two options for some time and eventually decided that twelve monthly payments would be more convenient. But they made clear that they were only employed for eight months and having twelve payments was merely an administrative convenience. This allowed them the flexibility of accepting other remuneration during their summer holidays, if they so chose, and was thought to promote their greater independence. This system of compensation persisted at the University until at least the 1950s. (P. K. Isaac, personal communication, December 2003).

10. In all descriptions, Buller is portrayed as a proper English gentleman. Although he lived for 40 years in Canada, and described himself in the Preface to his book Essays on Wheat as a citizen of Canada, it does not appear that he ever took out Canadian citizenship and simply assumed, as did most Britons residing in Commonwealth countries, that he obtained it by default.

11. This is the sentiment expressed in a letter from W. Peterson, Principal of McGill University to Montreal architect Percy E. Nobbs, a friend of Buller’s, encouraging him to communicate the university’s interest in Buller for a professorship. (LAC, box 3, folder “Percy E. Nobbs”, letter dated 28 November 1910) Of course, Buller got his job at Manitoba through just such an open advertisement. Charles Lowe was subsequently hired as a lecturer in Buller’s department “without advertisement or any competition.” (LAC, box 4, folder “Correspondence 1930”, letter dated 15 October 1930 from Buller to Lowe)

12. “University Portrait Gallery: Sketch 1, Professor of Botany” Winnipeg Tribune (hereafter Trib), 25 March 1935, page 11.

13. “In the Land of the Piloboli: A Play in One Act” by Hans Ritter and A. H. R. Buller. The play had a mycological theme, as indicated by the fungal names of the cast: Kleinii, Longipes, Umbonatus, Anserina, and Species X. It was evidently performed circa Christmas 1932, with Buller in the role of Umbonatus. (LAC, box 2, folder “Ritter, Hans”)

14. Buller went so far as to compose an accompanying musical score for his poem, “The Sporobolomycetologist.”

15. The poem was self-published with the help of his brother Charles, a printer.

16. See Alan F. J. Artibise’s “Advertising Winnipeg: The Campaign For Immigrants and Industry, 1874-1914Transactions of the Manitoba Historical and Scientific Society, Series 3, Number 27, 1970-71.

17. A fascinating collection of arrest records and “mug shots” circa 1904 is held at the Winnipeg Police Museum.

18. See James H. Gray’s amusing accounts in Booze (1974) and Red Lights on the Prairie (1986), among others.

19. Henderson’s Winnipeg City Directory, 1905. A popular Buller myth, repeated by P. H. Gregory (“The fungal mycelium: An historical perspective. Transactions of the British Mycological Society, volume 82, pages 1-11, 1984) and Money’s Mr. Bloomfield’s Orchard has him walking a short distance from the train depot to the McLaren Hotel, and staying there for the next 40 years. This is impossible – Buller arrived in Winnipeg six years before the McLaren was built.

20. In August 1903, citing lack of space, the Academy had abandoned its building in the city core for the bald prairie of the newly created residential subdivision of Crescentwood, on the site it occupies today.

21. Frank H. Osborne, musical director and vocal instructor of the College, would later advocate the creation of a Department of Music at the University of Manitoba.

22. Manitoba Free Press (hereafter MFP), 2 May 1904, and classified advertisements in Trib, 15 September 1904.

23. Advertisement in MFP, 28 August 1918.

24. Murray Peterson, “The McLaren Hotel,” Winnipeg Heritage Branch, undated.

25. It was not uncommon for people to live in hotels during an era of relatively few apartment blocks; many Winnipeg businessmen did so up to the Second World War.

26. “Prof. A. H. R. Buller”, Mycological Notes, by C. G. Lloyd. No. 71 (Vol. 7, No. 6), January 1924, page 1; see also P. H. Gregory “The fungal mycelium: An historical perspective.” Transactions of the British Mycological Society, volume 82, pages 1-11, 1984.

27. Buller’s frugality started early when he assured his mother in 1918 that “I am making my clothes last twice as long as usual, so that my expenditure on this account is not greater than it used to be.” (LAC, box 3, folder “Mrs Buller”, letter dated 12 July 1918) For reasons known only to himself, he purchased his clothes in England during his annual summer vacation. Yet, despite his shabby wardrobe, Buller was fastidiously neat; he once wrote a poem anonymously to the manager of the Dominion Bank to chastise him, on the eve of a 1939 visit by the King and Queen, over the dirty clock in front of his building on Main Street. Buller later noted with satisfaction that the clock was duly washed and painted. (BML, A. H. R. Buller, A Book of Verse, circa 1943)

28. H. W. Duckworth and L. G. Goldsborough, “Science Comes to Manitoba” Manitoba History, number 47, Spring/Summer 2004.

29. Ibid.

30. “At Variance with Christianity: Rev. Father Drummond Attacks Evolution and Socialism” Free Press News Bulletin, Tuesday, 6 December 1904.

31. “Evolution and Christianity” MFP, 10 December 1904, page 7.

32. BML, Buller scrapbook, letter from E. B. Kenrick to Buller dated 10 December 1904 (six weeks before Kenrick would succumb to typhoid pneumonia).

33. Ibid. Letter from Buller to Kenrick, dated 11 December 1904. Buller would remain a staunch defender of evolutionary theory against attacks from the clergy. An undated newspaper clipping from MFP, circa 1932, has him responding on the subject to Rev. P. C. Morgan of Central United Church. (LAC, box 2, folder “Correspondence 1932-33 etc.”)

34. Nature, 9 March 1905: “Prof. A. H. R. Buller, writing from the University of Manitoba, describes some striking electrical effects due to the dryness of the atmosphere at Winnipeg … It is a favourite amusement of some children to take sparks from each other’s noses after running about a carpeted room. In the Manitoba Hotel, now burnt down, there was a ballroom with some iron pillars in it. Prof. Buller was told by a trustworthy eye-witness that after a dance dancers on several occasions have been “severely stung” by accidentally coming into contact with one of the pillars…”

35. A. H. R. Buller and C. W. Lowe, “Upon the number of micro-organisms in the air of Winnipeg” Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada, series 3, volume 4, pages 41-58, 1910.

36. LAC, box 2, folder “Earliest letters from a case in private room 1909 etc.”, letter dated 2 January 1910 from Buller to “Miss Grafton”.

37. LAC, box 2, folder “Earliest letters from a case in private room 1909 etc.”, letter dated 10 January 1910 from Buller to Miss Katherine M. Wright of Birmingham.

38. R. H. Estey, “A. H. R. Buller: Pioneer leader in plant pathology” Annual Review of Phytopathology, volume 24, pages 17-25, 1986.

39. K. D. Oliver, Catalogue of the Buller Memorial Library, Canada Department of Agriculture, Research Branch, Publication 1226, 1965.

40. “Campaign in Aid of Wesley College” MFP, 24 Jan 1916, page 4.

41. “Freedom of Thought” MFP, 26 January 1916, page 9.

42. “Letters to the Editor : University Question” MFP, 17 February 1911, page 5.

43. “University of Manitoba” Trib, 15 December 1906.

44. “Urgent Need of the University” MFP, 6 January 1908, page 9.

45. By Samuel P. Matheson, successor to Machray as Archbishop of Rupert’s Land.

46. Buller availed himself of any opportunity, no matter how obscure, to talk up the growth of the University in all three areas. In January 1908, for instance, he spoke before a meeting of the Clef Club, following which “a interesting musical programme by club members comprised the latter half of the evening’s programme.” Buller rationalized the visit by his hope that, one day, music would be instructed at the University. MFP, 6 January 1908, page 9.

47. “Buller of Manitoba” MFP, 16 March 1929.

48. A. H. R. Buller “The destruction of wooden paving blocks by the fungus Lentinus lepideusJournal of Economic Biology, volume 1, pages 1-10, 1905.

49. The combination of the Chairs in Botany and Geology must have occurred on the advice of George Bryce, who lectured in both subjects prior to Buller’s arrival.

50. Buller’s work week was reconstructed from the 1909-10 University Calendar, contained in UMA.

51. UMA, Annual Report, 1905-06, page 8 to 9.

52. MFP, 7 December 1906, page 7.

53. G. S. Fahrni, Prairie Surgeon, Queenston House Publishing, Winnipeg, 1976, page 38.

54. BML, “140 Students Are Given a Rebuff, Class in Zoology Closed by Professor Vincent Yesterday” unidentified newspaper clipping dated 8 February 1907.

55. G. S. Fahrni, Prairie Surgeon.

56. R. H. Estey, 1986.

57. BML. The Winnipeg City Council also passed a congratulatory resolution in honor of Buller’s election.

58. The defaced posters from 1919 are preserved in Buller papers at the LAC, box 5, folder “Faculty Matters”. Buller probably hated being called Regi, especially by a student. Though family members wrote letter address to “Dear Reg”, few others were allowed this familiarity. A family friend, who wrote from a teaching job at Dawson, Yukon, was chastised in a reply that “If you want to call me by my Christian name I think it should be Reginald, as there is no such name as Redge and Reg is too much of a snippet…” (LAC, box 1, folder “Correspondence 1932-33, letter dated 18 April 1932 from Buller to Miss Winifred Mouton)

59. Two of Buller’s oak chart cabinets remain at the University, one at the University Archives and Special Collections and the other at the Delta Marsh Field Station. They once housed his enormous collection of large, hand-colored botanical illustrations used in lectures. Now held at UMA, one of these illustrations is featured on the cover of this issue.

60. Details of Buller’s office are deduced from his letter of resignation, and in an interview in Trib, 25 March 1935, page 11.

61. Buller acquired the typewriter with the assistance of federal government scientist J. B. Tyrrell. He took to the keyboard quickly, and was delighted at the speed with which the typewriter enabled him to write correspondence and his scientific manuscripts in a much more legible way than his handwriting. He did concede, however, the cold impersonality of typescript, noting that he could not envision writing a love letter on a typewriter (LAC, box 2, letter dated 1 November 1909 from Buller to niece Gladys Workman).

62. Buller’s Opening Address to the University, October 1912, published 1913.

63. Buller was one of the organizers for the meeting, and he intended to give papers in sessions on Botany and Physics. He missed the latter when he went back to his office and, intending to take a refreshing catnap, slept through his time allotment. LAC, box 2, folder “Earliest letters from a case in private room 109 etc.”, letter dated 18 December 1909 from Buller to “My dear Barlow”.

64. “A Reader’s Notes” MFP, 26 March 1913.

65. A 1906 local fund drive in support of the University library received $25 donations from every member of the “Original Six” and the librarian Mrs. W. H. Thompson, and various amounts from local physicians, clergymen, and businessmen, including $18 from “Printers on strike.” (Trib 15 December 1906)

66. Gregory (1984) claims that the importance of Buller’s research was less widely endorsed than was warranted, in part because Buller was working in the “Wild West” as opposed to the civilized domains of Europe.

67. UMA, Mss 44, box 1, folder 1, “History of the Scientific Club of Winnipeg, 1905-1945”

68. LAC, box 1, folder “Mrs. Hawkes”, letter dated 23 March 1915 from Buller to Hawkes.

69. Contrary to Money’s assertion that Buller lectured in public markets while standing on a soap box, there is no supporting evidence in his files, and it seems improbable that a cultured English gentleman such as Buller would have considered it appropriate to do so.

70. “Did Man Come from Monkey?” Moose Jaw Times, 10 January 1913. “Evolution of Man” Grand Theatre, Winnipeg. 11 February 1912.

71. “Prof. Buller Affirms That Continents Now Separated by Water Were Formerly Joined, as Evidenced by Biological and Other Discoveries” Trib, 16 November 1912.

72. F. T. Brooks, “Arthur Henry Reginald Buller 1874-1944” Obituary Notices of Fellows of the Royal Society of London, volume 5, number 14, pages 51-59, 1945.

73. A. H. R. Buller, “Progress of Science”, 17 October 1912, published 1913. Dafoe Library microfilm FC16 C105 No. 84231. It is doubtful that Buller’s physicist colleagues shared his views on paranormal phenomena. In 1920, Frank Allen dismissed spiritualism advocated by prominent figures like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as “humbug.” (“Allen Says Lodge is Apostle of Humbug : Manitoba University Scientist Ridicules Scientist’s Views on Spiritualism” MFP, 10 May 1920)

74. UMA, Mss 48, Pitblado Papers, box 4, file 2, booklet entitled “Hekaton Club 1913-14”. The Hekaton Club (formerly the Round Table Club) was founded in September 1911 with the objective of “the mutual improvement of the members.” They met at Winnipeg hotels to discuss such weighty resolutions as “the confederation of the component parts of the British Empire is both desirable and practicable” (17 February 1914) and “a change of Government in Manitoba would be in the best interests of the Province” (7 April 1914). History does not record how they came down on the resolution proposed by Buller (who attended the meeting of 20 January 1914 as a guest) on telepathy.

75. LAC, box 2, folder “Gordon, Don”, letter dated 3 February 1912 from Buller to Gordon.

76. Cohen saw a brown, striped dress which turned out to be right for stripes but wrong for color.

77. LAC, box 2, folder “Gordon, Don”, letter dated 21 January 1912 from Buller to Gordon.

78. Ibid.

79. Ibid., one-page poem dated “early in 1913” by Miss Sheila Rand.

80. Ibid.

81. Sheila Rand (aka Ruth Cohen), “Eugenics” MFP, 11 January 1913.

82. LAC, box 1, folder “Mrs Hawkes”, letter dated 14 January 1912 from Buller to Hawkes.

83. “Mental Defectives are Public Menace” MFP, 17 April 1913.

84. “The Case Against Sterilization” Winnipeg Free Press (hereafter WFP), 31 January 1935.

85. “The Case For Sterilization” WFP, 6 February 1935.

86. P. H. Gregory, 1984.

87. Buller’s physics colleague, Frank Allen, would later reminisce: “My last striking recollection of him was the scene in his laboratory with white paper spread over the floor and a specimen of Birds-Nest fungus in the middle, into one cup of which water was dropping from the ceiling and a splashing with occasional spore masses over the paper. He had a hasty lunch spread on a table to which he would rush for a few mouthfuls and then rush back to measure the distance the splashed spore masses had reached. When one of these distances proved to be a record, his whole face glowed with triumph.” F. T. Brooks, 1945.

88. LAC, box 6, folder “Letters re Researches on Fungi. Roy. Soc. Paper correspondence from case in private room”.

89. Estey (1986) notes that Buller was highly critical of American English, with its “incorrect or imprecise use of the English language.” His files at LAC contain correspondence with American colleagues in which he offers numerous grammatical comments on the manuscripts they have sent to him for feedback for their scientific contents, probably not what they had intended.

90. Gregory (1984), for instance, relates how Buller once illustrated a point about fungi growing on cow dung by including a photograph of livestock grazing in Kildonan Park. C. G. Lloyd, whose self-published magazine Mycological Notes often went to great lengths to deflate the puffed-up egos of some prominent mycologists, observed matter-of-factly that Buller was “a most entertaining talker and lecturer” but his papers were sleep-inducing. (Mycological Notes, volume 7, number 6, January 1924)

91. LAC, box 6, folder “Letters re Researches on Fungi. Roy. Soc. Paper correspondence from case in private room”, letter to Farmer dated 30 June 1908.

92. The basis for the interest from physicists was that Buller had examined in detail the trajectory followed by spores when they were released from a mushroom, noting that it deviated significantly from the parabola predicted by conventional physical laws. Consequently, Buller named his result a “sporabola.” It is probable that he incorporated ideas from his physicist colleague Frank Allen in this work but does not acknowledge this, so it has been suggested that Allen harbored a lifelong resentment over the omission. If he did, it did not prevent him from offering to help Buller when, in the closing days of his career at the University of Manitoba, Buller lost his office space and needed somewhere to store his belongings.

93. Buller subsequently repaid the loan to his father, plus 6% interest. He probably never recovered the cost of publication, later saying that he wrote off the investment as a “total loss” so that, when he would sell a copy, it would seem like a little windfall. (LAC, box 2, folder “Earliest letters from a case in private room 1909 etc.”, letter dated 10 November 1909 from Buller to his father A. G. Buller.)

94. Nature, 24 March 1910, page 92. Science, 18 March 1910, page 420.

95. A seventh volume of Researches on Fungi was published posthumously. Buller paid most of the publication costs, although he received a £25 grant from the Birmingham Natural History and Philosophical Society for volume 2. The Canada Research Council gave him $1,000 for volumes 2 to 4, as well as grants to cover his research costs. Government support dried up during the Great Depression, forcing Buller to make appeals to the Carnegie Foundation and other potential donors. (LAC, box 6, folder “Carnegie Corporation”, letter dated 22 May 1933 from Buller to Dr. F. D. Keppel, of Carnegie Corporation, New York.)

96. LAC, box 6, “folder “Letters re Researches on Fungi. Roy. Soc. Paper correspondence from case in private room”.

97. MFP, 6 August 1921, page 6.

98. N. Criddle. “The fly agaric and how it affects cattle” Ottawa Naturalist Vol. 29, No. 11, pages 203-204, February 1906.

99. LAC, box 3, folder “Kelly, Howard A.”, letter dated 19 December 1919 from Buller to Kelly.

100. Poisonous mushrooms were not the only substance whose effects Buller tested on Rudolph Hiebert. In 1916, while a member of the Biological Board of Canada, Buller enlisted the Hiebert family in a taste test of locally prepared Scottish “Finnan Haddie” (smoked haddock).

101. LAC, box 3, folder “Mrs Workman & children”, letter dated 18 January 1918 from Buller to Miss Williams.

102. Unpublished database of Manitoba automobile owners in 1912, compiled by the author based on information at PAM, the Manitoba Legislative Library, and other sources.

103. Estey (1986) notes that he did not own an automobile but a persistent myth holds that he did, and that he had Engineering professor John W. Dorsey retrofit a newly developed “cold start” mechanism. According to the story, Buller was horrified when he found an enormous bi-pole switch for the device had been installed conspicuously on the rich wooden dashboard of his car.

104. LAC, box 3, folder “Mrs Buller”, letter dated 22 March 1915 from Buller to his mother Mary. Donald F. Davis (“Competition’s moment: The Jitney bus and corporate capitalism in the Canadian city, 1914-1929.” Urban History Review, October 1989, volume 18, pages 102-122.) notes that Winnipeg embraced Jitneys more than any other Canadian city; at their height, Winnipeg boasted over 700 Jitney cars, as many as the much larger city of Toronto.

105. BML, A. H. R. Buller, A Book of Verse, circa 1943.

106. See Davis (1989). Besides matters of comfort and speed, a major advantage of Jitneys was that they could go places where there were no streetcar rails. The Winnipeg city council, in outlawing Jitneys, conceded as much when they permitted the establishment of a municipal bus system. It could be argued that Jitneys, and later public transit buses, contributed to the urban sprawl that characterized Winnipeg’s growth during the middle 20th century because it became easy, fast, and inexpensive to extend public transportation to far-flung suburban areas.

107. BML, Letter from Buller at Birmingham to J. M. MacLean, dated 8 September 1922, file “Correspondence 1922 – 1922-23”.

108. It is possible Heubach was one of Buller’s unidentified partners in his BC fruit land transactions.

109. A. H. R. Buller, “The University Site” MFP, 30 Jan 1906, page 5.

110. LAC, box 3, folder “Percy E. Nobbs”, letter dated 29 October 1910 from Buller to architect Nobbs of Montreal.

111. LAC, box 3, folder “Earliest letters from a case in private room 1909 etc.”, undated (late 1909) incomplete letter from Buller to unidentified correspondent.

112. LAC, box 3, folder “O’Donoghue C. H.”, letter dated 18 February 1928 from Buller to former Manitoba zoologist Charles H. O’Donoghue in Scotland. An illustration of this concern comes from Buller’s remarks when, in 1933, Vincent W. Jackson was transferred from the Agricultural College to the Zoology Department under Robert A. Wardle. Buller was amused at knowing Wardle’s reaction to having foisted on him a person he had previously described as “a perfect mine of misinformation.” (Buller letter to O’Donoghue, dated 9 October 1934, box 4).

113. Buller’s degree of German fluency is uncertain. The BML contains numerous books on basic German grammar and, in 1920, Buller paid someone to translate his written paper into German for a special volume honoring his former professor Pfeffer. (LAC, box 3, folder “Klebs Prof Dr”, letter dated 15 March 1920 from Buller to Frau Klebs)

114. BML, undated newspaper clipping, “German Society Holds Meeting”.

115. LAC, box 1, folder “Miss Elsie Wakefield”, letter dated 11 May 1915 from Buller to Wakefield at Kew Herbarium.

116. BML, undated pamphlet, “The War: Its Cause and Problems”, McGill University.

117. LAC, box 3, folder “Clements, Prof F. E.”, letter dated 5 December 1916 from Buller to Clements. Another example of Buller’s misjudgment of Germans occurred when, in arguing with Reverend Crummy over the appointment of University professors, Buller noted his studies under Wilhelm Pfeffer, a Jew, saying: “It was fortunate for me that Dr. Crummy’s method for selecting professors was not in vogue at Leipzig or I should never have come under Pfeffer’s inspiring influence.” (“Freedom of Thought : Prof. Buller Comments Upon Statement by Dr. Crummy, Principal of Wesley College” MFP, 26 January 1916, page 9)

118. LAC, box 3, folder “Kelly, Howard A.”, letter dated 12 March 1921 from Buller to Kelly.

119. Ibid.

120. BML, file “Correspondence 1922 – 1922-23”, letter dated 25 September 1922 from Buller at Birmingham to B. M. Armstrong at Armstrong College, Newcastle-on-Tyne.

121. LAC, box 3, folder “Butler, E. J. Dr”, letter dated 3 December 1920 from Buller to Butler at Imperial Bureau of Mycology at Kew Gardens, Surrey, England.

122. LAC, box 6, folder “Biological Board of Canada”, letter dated 15 November 1917 from Buller to A. B. Macallum, Secretary-Treasurer of the Biological Board. Buller served as the University’s representative on the federal Biological Board (which dealt extensively with matters relating to fisheries, and operated research facilities at Nanaimo, BC and St. Andrews, New Brunswick) until 1923, when he relinquished the position to Zoology professor Charles O’Donoghue, who Buller deemed better qualified for it.

123. H. J. Brodie and C. W. Lowe, “Reginald Buller”, Science, volume 100, number 2597, pages 305-307, 6 October 1944. Buller seems to have had an abiding interest in Physics; as early as 1919, he proposed a study of heat losses from Winnipeg homes to the Canadian Council for Scientific and Industrial Research: “In a city like Winnipeg there are many so-called cold houses where a large amount of coal is burned up but no satisfactory heating secured. There seems to be but little doubt that such cold houses are due to faulty construction, and the faulty construction may simply be due to ignorance.” (LAC, box 3, folder “Macallum, Prof. A. B.”, letter dated 23 October 1919)

124. Punch, 19 December 1923. Several variants appeared later. For example, the London Sunday Observer of 7 October 1937 offered: “There was a young lady named Bright; Who thought Mr. Einstein was right. She went out one day, In a relative way; And came back the previous night.”

125. LAC, letter dated 11 November 1937 from Buller to Editor of the London Sunday Observer.

126. For example, R. A. Gortner of the Department of Agriculture at the University of Minnesota wrote on 17 May 1927 to the Editor of the Chemical Bulletin in Chicago, to refute the attribution in its May 1927 issue to “Oh, Minn”.

127. LAC, box 3, folder “Keeping Mrs (E. Silver Dowding)”, letter dated 7 March 1943 from Buller to Mrs. Keeping at Edmonton, Alberta.

128. Over the years, the “Birmingham connection” provided several professors to the University of Manitoba including Buller, Swale Vincent, Charles Lowe, and William Leach, as well as laboratory attendants who Buller recruited during summer vacations at home.

129. LAC, box 6, folder “Biological Board of Canada”, letter dated 15 October 1915 from AHRB to A. B. Macallum, Secretary-Treasurer.

130. Lowe would publish comprehensive lists of algae in Manitoba, Quebec, and the Arctic over the course of his career, the first such lists for these parts of the country.

131. Roberts knew German well enough to compose poetry in it (LAC, box 5). The early death of Anna A. M. Roberts left him with three young sons. “Prof H. F. Robert[s] Dies; Originated Noted U.S. Wheat” WFP, 15 January 1937, page 5.

132. LAC, box 2, folder “Rowan W”, letter dated 15 March 1920 from Buller to Dr. Tolmie, Minister of Agriculture, Ottawa.

133. “History of Observations on the Fungi of Manitoba.” Fungi of Manitoba, Chapter 12.

134. BML, newspaper clipping dated 15 January 1906, source unknown, “The Investigation of Rust and Smut (By Prof. Buller)”.

135. He was not, however, the first of the “Original Six” to receive an LL.D. His colleague Swale Vincent got one in May 1920, before returning to England, and Buller presented him for the award.

136. K. D. Oliver (1965) provides a thorough inventory of Buller’s library, which included numerous works of literature by such authors as Austen, Carroll, Chaucer, Defoe, Dickens, Emerson, Goethe, Hardy, Milton, Shakespeare, Shaw, Stevenson, Swift, and Twain.

137. On 30 April 1936, the Free Press published a poem of Buller’s entitled “The Black Widow”, about the mating habits of a spider, that he had written only the day before. He had the ear of prominent Free Press journalists such as Cora Hind so was able to steer them toward stories he thought worthy. He lectured a newspaper reporter that “If I had been a newspaperman I would have done very well” (Trib, 25 March 1935, page 11)

138. An indication of Buller’s social standing comes from his application for a “Permit to Leave Canada” in 1917, during the Great War, to attend a scientific conference in Pittsburgh. It listed four guarantors, all of them prominent Winnipeg citizens with connections to the University: Isaac Pitblado, Sir James Aikins, Archbishop Samuel Matheson, and Doctor Henry Chown. (LAC, box 3, folder “Ocean passages”)

139. LAC, box 6, folder “Letters re Researches on Fungi. Roy. Soc. Paper correspondence from case in private room”, letter dated 28 November 1909 from Buller to Richard Hancock at Birmingham.

140. LAC, box 5, folder “Correspondence 1928 & 1929”, letter dated 4 December 1928 from Buller to President H. M. Tory of the National Research Council at Ottawa.

141. For example, N. P. Money, 2002.

142. Buller would subsequently complain, in a letter to his aunt, that she had shown a personal letter to his ex-fiancé’s parents which, Buller feared, would lead them to believe that he was interested in resuming the relationship. (LAC, box 3, folder “Mr & Mrs Fessey”, letter dated 6 February 1910 from Buller to “My dear Auntie Katie”).

143. Typical is a letter from “Mrs. Mary Sullivan of Cheshire” who Buller befriended, along with her daughter Kathleen on board the S. S. Cymric bound for Liverpool: “I suppose by this time you have forgotten all about us. Well, I hope not, perhaps some time in the future we will meet again…” (LAC, box 3, folder “Ocean passages”, letter dated 16 July 1914 from Sullivan to Buller.)

144. His poem “For Agnes Wicklund” was written to a woman pining for the return of her fiancé from the Great War: “…She brings each plate and all I want; Without delay or question; And is so quick. Her smile’s a sauce; That stimulates digestion…” (BML, Buller poem collection).

145. LAC, box 1, folder “Miss Elsie Wakefield” letter dated 17 December 1912 from Buller to Wakefield, in response to hers of 25 October 1912.

146. “Obituary, Elsie M. Wakefield, O.B.E., M.A., 1886-1972” Transactions of the British Mycological Society, volume 60, pages 167-174, 1973.

147. BML, folder “Correspondence 1922 – 1922-23, letter dated 15 July 1922 from Buller to Dr. Malte, Geological Survey at Ottawa.

148. LAC, box 4, folder “1924”, letter dated 18 August 1924 from Nellie Carter to Buller. She went so far as to gush in a follow-up letter a week later that “I have enjoyed being on the same continent with you” during Buller’s English vacation that year.

149. LAC, box 4, folder “Correspondence 1930-31”, letter dated 7 May 1929 from Carter to Buller. The friendship did bring Carter something more; years later, Buller bequeathed her £50 in his Will. To Elsie Wakefield, he left nothing.

150. In December 1928, for example, Buller reported to President MacLean that four of his six laboratory attendants were women. (LAC, box 5, folder “Correspondence 1928 & 1929”)

151. R. H. Estey, (1986) relating a story told by Kirk Scott Wright.

152. There were no female students in Buller’s “Natural Science” senior courses during his first five years in Winnipeg. In the five years prior to his retirement in 1936, 76% of BSc degrees, 75% of MA degrees, and 82% of MSc degrees conferred by the University went to men. (UMA, University Annual Reports)

153. LAC, box 4, “folder “Letters to be answered 1928”, undated copy report by Mathew Parker on behalf of the Scientific Club of Winnipeg to the Hudson’s Bay Company.

154. R. H. Estey, Essays on the Early History of Plant Pathology and Mycology in Canada, McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1994.

155. Candidates for the PhD degree in Science were required to possess an MSc degree from the University of Manitoba, or equivalent qualifications from another institution. Three years of post-graduate work were required beyond the BSc degree; one year had to be done at another institution because “obtaining a doctor’s degree should involve the breadth of experience and outlook that such work would give.” (LAC, Box 3, folder “Craigie, J. H.”, “Report of the University Committee on Post-Graduate Studies, 1927”) As a member of the post-graduate committee, Buller met opponents to the PhD proposal who claimed he was acting merely for the benefit of his Botany Department.

156. Buller tendered his resignation in a letter dated 27 February 1933 to Dr. Alexander Gibson, Secretary of the Club; Buller papers at LAC, box 1, folder “Correspondence 1932-33”. Buller subsequently appeared before the Executive at a meeting held on 14 March 1933, in the “Botany Museum” at the University building on Broadway. (UMA, Mss 44, box 4, Minutes of the Scientific Club)

157. LAC, box 3, folder “Mrs Workman & children”, letter dated 7 February 1912 from Buller to his niece, Gladys Workman. Walker was arrested repeatedly but was subsequently given the right to dress as she pleased by a special act of the US Congress.

158. MFP, 5 December 1912.

159. MFP News Bulletin, 6 December 1912.

160. “Prof. A. H. R. Buller”, Mycological Notes, by C. G. Lloyd. No. 71 (Vol. 7, No. 6), January 1924, page 1.

161. A careful viewing of the photograph, in the BML, appears to show one light and one darker sock, but it is possible one is simply in shadow.

162. LAC, box 1, folder “Correspondence 1932-33, letter dated 24 April 1933 from Buller to his sister, Ethel Workman.

163. For a more complete discussion of the Machray affair, see Jim Blanchard’s “The Machray Scandal”, Manitoba History, Number 33, Spring 1997.

164. Bisby, a native of South Dakota, had joined the Manitoba Agricultural College in 1920.

165. LAC, box 1, folder “Correspondence 1932-33”, letter dated 24 April 1933 from Buller to his sister, Ethel Workman. Some junior staff were told their services were no longer required, including C. Curtis Riley of Zoology, who died of heart failure in July 1933 (box 3, folder “To be filed Letters 1933-34 in England”, letter dated 15 August 1933 from C. W. Lower to Buller in England.) Biological departments at the Manitoba Agricultural College were closed and their staff were merged; G. R. Bisby moved into Buller’s outer office and, to make room, transferred some of his precious mycological books out to Fort Garry.

166. These appeared in November 1933 and September 1934, respectively, after which Buller compared himself to a hen who had “laid an excessively large, double-yolked egg.” (LAC, box 4, folder “Correspondence 1934-35”, letter dated 9 October 1934 from Buller to Charles H. O’Donoghue at Edinburgh.)

167. LAC, box 3, folder “Whetzel”, letter dated 27 May 1934 from Buller at Kew Herbarium to H. H. Whetzel at Cornell University.

168. Interestingly, Buller had advised the architect of the new Science building, when it was anticipated all of Botany would move, that “I particularly wish my private room to be free from overhearing.” (LAC, box 4, folder “Correspondence 1930”, letter dated 27 June 1930 from Buller to Arthur Stoughton) Bisby took half of Buller’s mycological books to the new campus so Buller was also obliged to travel to consult them.

169. Buller is said to have resented climbing flights of stairs to reach his classes because no provision was made by the building’s architect for an elevator to upper floors. The building did contain an elevator to the top floor although it was added late in construction, when the oversight was discovered. Regardless, Buller was issued an elevator key in October 1934, when he returned from leave-of-absence in England. (LAC, box 4, folder “Correspondence 1934-35”)

170. “Prof. H. F. Robert[s] Dies; Originated Noted U.S. Wheat” WFP 15 January 1937, page 5.

171. LAC, box 2, folder “Earliest letters from a case in private room 1909 etc.”, letter with handwritten inscription “not sent” dated 11 January 1910 from Buller to Dr. Sparling, Chairman of the University Finance Committee.

172. LAC, box 4, folder “Wager, Harold”, letter dated 14 November 1919 from Buller to University of Manitoba Registrar, on a case relating to “Mr. William Baker”.

173. R. H. Estey, (1986).

174. Buller thought his relationship with the new President got off to a good start: “On Friday last he [Smith] spent three and a half hours in my office looking through my books and discussing University affairs.” (LAC, box 4, folder “Correspondence 1934-35” letter dated 10 December 1934 from Buller to Professor A. B. Clark in Scotland)

175. LAC, box 3, folder “Crawford F. W. Comptroller”, letter dated 1 December 1942 from Buller to Crawford.

176. BML, Buller poem collection.

177. One well-circulated Buller story maintains that he found his office furniture piled on the lawn of the University’s Broadway building as he walked to work one morning. If that was not enough, a variation adds the indignity that his furniture was subsequently soaked in a rainstorm (N. P. Money 2002). It seems highly unlikely that university administrators, regardless of their malevolent feelings towards Buller, would have stooped so low as to disgrace a long-serving and honored Professor Emeritus so publicly and, anyways, it seems logistically doubtful they could empty the voluminous contents of his office in one evening. It was -40°F in winter at the time he was forced out of his office so a rainstorm is improbable.

178. LAC, box 3, folder “Hanna Dr W. F.”, letter dated 15 February 1943 from Buller to Hanna.

179. F. T. Brooks, 1945.

180. BML, Buller autopsy report by Winnipeg General Hospital, 4 July 1944.

181. The seventh volume of Buller’s Researches on Fungi was published posthumously by the Royal Society of Canada, after being edited by his friend and former University colleague, Guy Bisby.

182. Buller had a life-long interest in history, having written early in his career about the use of fungi by the Greeks and Romans (in typical Buller fashion, he wrote a limerick on the hypothesis that Julius Caesar became bald from the effects of a fungal infection), and the origins of wheat agriculture and breeding on the Canadian prairies, in his Essays on Wheat, published in 1919.

183. BML, Buller autopsy report by Winnipeg General Hospital, 4 July 1944.

184. Buller’s will was written in August 1939, prior to his falling out with the University administration. Buller told a friend, as early as 1921, that “if I remain here [Winnipeg] indefinitely I shall probably give my mycological library to the University of Manitoba. I think I have a provision to that effect already in my will.” (LAC, box 3, folder “Kelly, Howard A.”, letter dated 24 March 1921 from Buller to Dr Kelly of Baltimore)

185. “Library Dr. Buller’s Memorial : Scientist Rests Among His Books”, WFP, 31 May 1958. The majority of Buller’s files were transferred from BML to LAC in 1998.

186. Brook had written to Buller in 1925, seeking employment, with the promise that “I would not demure to fulfill any part of the employment which may seem unpleasant to others…” (LAC, box 6, folder “Letters to take home. Lecture notes etc. Royal Soc. 1925”, letter dated 2 May 1925)

187. Personal communication, Dr. P. K. Isaac, December 2003.

188. Estey (1986) noted that, during lectures, Buller would “accidentally” break a piece of chalk while writing on the blackboard then grab the broken piece in midair. In an anecdote relayed by P. K. Isaac, this trick backfired on Buller when he once found the fly in his trousers undone and, while behind a lectern, used his chalky hands to surreptitiously do it up. On another occasion, Buller noted that the rate of illegitimate births in Germany increased by two percent during his studentship there, then feigned surprise when students attributed correlation between the two events.

189. On Buller’s arrival in 1904, the University of Manitoba consisted of one faculty with six departments, each with one professor. When he died in 1944, it had 44 departments distributed across six faculties. The academic faculty consisted of 116 professors and lecturers, 9 professors emeriti, and 43 sessional lecturers. (UMA, University Annual Report, 1943-44)

190. Buller’s books and papers continue to be cited by scientists, over 60 years after his death, and his contributions to the field of mycology are acknowledged widely. See B. C. Sutton (editor), A Century of Mycology, Cambridge University Press, 1996.

See also:

Memorable Manitobans: Arthur Henry Reginald Buller (1874-1944)

Historic Sites of Manitoba: Reginald Buller Monument (University of Manitoba, Winnipeg)

MHS Resources: The Poetry of A. H. R. Buller

Page revised: 21 March 2017

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