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Saint John, New Brunswick

George Upham Hay: Famous Botanist

   George Upham Hay was born on 18th June 1843. A true renaissance man, George Hay was one of New Brunswick's most enthusiastic botanists, as well as a journalist, editor, teacher and writer of educational books.

   After attending local schools in the Norton parish; he apprenticed in the printing trade, working for the St. Croix Herald in St. Stephen (which was founded by his brother John Smith Hay.) George would have been on the Herald's staff on December 19, 1861, when it was looted by a mob enraged by the paper's pro-North stance during the American Civil War.

   In 1868 George earned a teaching license and from then on his career moved back and forth between teaching, writing and editing. He even spent some time as a reporter and night editor at the Saint John Daily News. He acquired his knowledge of botany through independent study and dedicated himself to cataloging New Brunswick flora and fungi. When the Natural History Society of New Brunswick (NHSNB) was relaunched in 1880, George became a leading member. He founded an herbarium in the society's museum in 1881 and spent the next 33 years chairing its committee on botany.

   Conscious of the limited opportunities for scientific training in Saint John, George and his NHSNB colleagues initiated summer camps for field research and instruction, a provincial summer school of science for teachers, lecture series on elementary natural science, and university extension courses. Driven by his enthusiasm for learning, and aware of the need for Canadian history texts that would be more stimulating to the youthful imagination, founded and edited the Educational Review a monthly magazine, and wrote history texts for public schools. During these years, George also established a "wild garden" on his summer property neat Westfield, where he maintained more than 500 species of flowering plants.

   George was granted an honorary MA and Doctorate of Science from Acadia University. He was president of the Botanical Club of Canada for 1904 to 1906 and remained an active member of the NHSNB until he died of a heart attack on April 23, 1913. After his death, his colleagues wrote the following epitaph: "There are few of New Brunswick's many distinguished sons whose life touched and influenced so many other lives - and always for good."

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