History of the Fish Collection

The Fish Collection was begun by Dr. C. McLean Fraser, the first head of UBC’s Department of Zoology, in the 1940s. Some specimens date back as far as 1903, but cataloguing didn’t begin until 1945.

A new era of expansion began in 1952 when the Institute of Fisheries was formed at the University of British Columbia. M.A. Newman was appointed as part-time curator of the collection in 1953 when the collection consisted of 973 entries representing over 1400 specimens. He instituted a new cataloguing system, transferred the collection from formalin to isopropyl alcohol, and built the first vats for the storage of large specimens. Between 1953 and 1956 the collection increased rapidly, due to three expeditions to the eastern tropical Pacific at the invitation of H. R. MacMillan, the addition of extensive local freshwater material by members of the B. C. Game Commission, and several exchanges with institutions in other parts of the world. By the end of 1956, the collection contained some 1970 catalogued collections, representing about 1180 species.

In 1960, the collection was moved to the Biosciences building, where it continued to grow to its current size of almost 350,000 records. Dr. Wilbur Clemens, G.V. Wilby, and Drs. Casimir Lindsey, Norman Wilimovsky, and J. Donald McPhail each expanded the collection greatly over the decades.

In Memoriam of Don McPhail

In the summer of 2023, Don McPhail peacefully passed away at the age of 89 in his home. Don, Professor Emeritus in Zoology and long-time curator, advocate and champion of the UBC Fish Collection, made many notable contributions to advancing our comprehension of the origins and persistence of fish biodiversity. For more information about Don and his lasting scientific legacy, please visit his obituary in the Canadian Journal of Zoology.