Stories from 20 Years: Remembering Jane Bowles

To those long acquainted with TTLT, the name Jane Bowles is a familiar one but, to those newer to the organization, her legacy may be less well known. A passionate advocate for the Trust since its early years, she had a profound influence on its evolution that continues to be felt today.

Raised in Kenya by a botanist mother and a nature-loving father, Jane acquired her naturalist skills at an early age. She proudly told stories of birding with Roger Tory Peterson and hobnobbing with the Leakeys of anthropology fame. After graduating in Botany from the University of Aberdeen, she came to Canada to study the effect of recreational pressure on the sand dune ecosystems of Pinery Provincial Park, which led to her obtaining a doctorate in Plant Sciences. 

Striving for a career in ecology, Jane jumped at any opportunity. Her first major job involved spending weeks in logging camps of northern Ontario working on the Clay Belt Ecosystem Identification project. This was followed by work as a botanist for the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources in Wingham. She then began to accept life science inventory contracts with various agencies. Southwestern Ontario woodlots became her new home and were a source of great joy to her, although not always without unexpected excitement. Once, when doing field work in Skunk’s Misery, she feared the worst when three Dobermans raced towards her barking ferociously. Fortunately, upon reaching her, they simply sat down, with no harm coming to Jane. 

Jane’s reputation as a careful and reliable ecologist led her to the point where she could choose the more interesting contracts, eventually finding full-time employment as an ecological consultant. All this was interlaced with a strong commitment to organizations such as the Field Botanists of Ontario, government committees concerned with Species at Risk (COSEWIC and COSSARO), and the Environmental and Ecological Planning Advisory Committee of the City of London (EEPAC), among others.

As an Adjunct Professor in Geography and Zoology at the University of Western Ontario, Jane was perhaps best known for her work as co-teacher, with Paul Handford, of a Sonoran Desert Ecology field course, which occasionally metamorphosed into a Biodiversity of Northern Argentina field course. She demanded a lot from her students and, in return, they held her in the highest respect. Soon after the founding of the Department of Biology through the amalgamation of the departments of Plant Sciences and Zoology at Western, Jane was appointed Curator of the UWO Herbarium and Director of the Sherwood Fox Arboretum. She revitalized these institutions and used the opportunity to promote environmental consciousness at the university. 

At about the same time, she began to contribute to life science inventories for TTLT and was soon appointed Chair of the Property Management Committee and Property Manager. In addition to meeting with landowners and preparing property management plans, Jane loved to organize weekend volunteer events, complete with baked treats that could include ingredients such as garlic mustard – “Eat the Enemy” was a favoured tactic. Participants new to field events were often taken aback by the pair of rather menacing looking knives she always carried in the field – best to stay on her good side! 

Jane’s rigorous personal and professional standards were balanced by a keen sense of humour, and she was known as a prankster of sorts. Once, as a graduate student, she prepared a fake take-home exam – featuring one particularly ridiculous question – and placed copies in the mailboxes of her fellow students. The professor subsequently sent out a memo distancing himself from the “exam”. While her mischievous and forthright manner may have raised a few hackles in academia from time to time, many found these to be among her most endearing traits.

As more properties were acquired, Jane became aware that the Property Manager workload exceeded what can reasonably be expected from a volunteer. In her last weeks fighting cancer, she was preoccupied with her desire to see a paid Conservation Property Manager position established. Jane did not live to see the position, made possible through a generous legacy donation on her part, filled expertly by Daria Koscinski, of whom she would be immensely proud. The Jane Bowles Fund persists through the generosity of other donors, and I hope one day to see the fund become a true-to-form, self-sustaining endowment.

Although she left us far too soon in 2013, Jane has left an indelible mark on TTLT, and the work she began nearly two decades ago with the Trust continues to this day.


André Lachance

Thanks to Bernie VanDenBelt for his assistance with this summary.

Photo by Linda McDougall