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Memorable Manitobans: Ralph Durham Bird (1901-1972)

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Ralph Durham Bird
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Entomologist, naturalist.

Born at Arrow River on 20 May 1901, son of Arthur Durham Bird (1870-1964) and Ethel May Cannington Winter (1873-1933), grandson of Christopher Tatchell Winter, he received his early education at Blenheim School, Thoona School, and Birtle School. He then moved to Winnipeg to study Botany, Zoology, and Entomology at the University of Manitoba, receiving BSc (1924) and MSc (1926) degrees.

During the summers of 1924 to 1926, he worked at Aweme under the guidance of entomologist Norman Criddle, which was to have a profound impact on his subsequent career. He obtained a PhD in 1928 from the University of Illinois, for his work on the ecology of the aspen parkland, then took a teaching position at the University of Oklahoma, from 1929 to 1933. While there he met and married Lois Hazel Gould (1905-1959), daughter of the head of the Oklahoma Geological Survey. They had one son, Charles Durham “Charley” Bird, and two daughters, Maida Bird and Linda Bird.

During the summers of 1931 to 1933, he conducted research on insects at Vernon and Hat Creek, British Columbia and returned to Canada permanently in 1933 as Officer-in-charge of the Federal Entomology Laboratory at Aweme following Norman Criddle’s death. The facility was moved to the Brandon Post Office building later that year and he remained in the position until 1957. His work from 1933 to 1942 was focussed on grasshoppers, expanded after 1942 to include other insect pests on agricultural crops. The lab was closed in 1957 and its staff were transferred to Winnipeg as part of the newly-formed Canada Department of Agriculture Research Station at the Fort Garry Campus of the University of Manitoba. He was Head of its Entomology Section and, as of 1963, Head of the Crop Protection Section. He retired in 1966 and moved to Salt Spring Island, British Columbia with his second wife, commercial artist Lilian Mary Watson (1914-1996).

Bird was a Life Member of the Entomological Society of Canada and the Natural History Society of Manitoba (from which he received the Bronze Medal for his research on the insect life of the Treesbank area, in 1927, and served as President in 1960-1961), and a member of the Entomological Society of Manitoba (President, 1964-1965) and Scientific Club of Winnipeg. He had broad interests as a naturalist, writing about birds, vascular plants, and lichens, and was an active amateur taxidermist. He wrote the book Ecology of the Aspen Parkland of Western Canada in Relation to Land Use (1961). Fascinated by archaeology, he carried out investigations of the Stott Site near Brandon.

He died at Ganges, British Columbia on 1 March 1972.

See also:

Historic Sites of Manitoba: Stott Mound and Camp Site (RM of Whitehead)

Historic Sites of Manitoba: Standing Stone Burial Site (Arrow River, Municipality of Prairie View)


Birth registration, Manitoba Vital Statistics.

1911 Canada census, Automated Genealogy.

Obituary, Winnipeg Free Press, 4 March 1972, page 36.

Death registration, British Columbia Vital Statistics.

“Ralph Durham Bird, 1901-1972” by C. D. Bird, Canadian Field-Naturalist 86(4):393-399 (1972).

Obituary [Lilian Mary Bird], Winnipeg Free Press, 7 December 1996, page 53.

Obituaries and burial transcriptions, Manitoba Genealogical Society.

We thank Charles Bird for providing information used here.

This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.

Page revised: 4 June 2023

Memorable Manitobans

Memorable Manitobans

This is a collection of noteworthy Manitobans from the past, compiled by the Manitoba Historical Society. We acknowledge that the collection contains both reputable and disreputable people. All are worth remembering as a lesson to future generations.

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