This Week in History


A Versatile Researcher

For the week of Monday February 18, 2008

On February 19, 1864, William Francis Ganong was born in Carleton (now West Saint John), New Brunswick. He is recognized as one of the province’s most distinguished scholars, and he conducted extensive and significant research in such diverse fields as botany, linguistics, history and cartography.

William Francis Ganong in 1912
© University of New Brunswick
Ganong first studied at the University of New Brunswick, where he obtained a Bachelor of Arts in 1884 and a master’s degree in 1886. He then earned a second Bachelor of Arts degree in 1887 from Harvard University and soon after he began working there as a teaching assistant in botany in 1889. In 1894, he received a PhD from the University of Munich. He also received two honorary doctorates, the first in 1898 and the second in 1920, from the University of New Brunswick.

In 1894, he began his 38-year career as a botany professor at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, until his retirement in 1932. He also became the director of the college’s Botanical Garden.

From a very young age Ganong was an avid explorer of New Brunswick’s rivers and coastal areas. He was also interested in studying the province’s fauna and flora. His great love for New Brunswick led him to explore its littleknown areas, generally by canoe. At times he set out to carry out his research alone, but at other times he was joined by a number of researchers conducting research in their respective fields. Ganong spent all of his summers exploring and mapping various regions of his native province.

William Francis Ganong mapping Holmes Lake, New Brunswick, in 1901
© New Brunswick Museum, Saint John, N.B./ William Francis Ganong Collection (1987.17.1218.145)
He published many articles and works on cartography, botany and geography throughout his career. In addition, he translated into English a number of works by great explorers of Canada's history, including the writings of Nicolas Denys and Samuel de Champlain’s Les Voyages (Volume III). He also produced many maps and analyzed those produced by explorers in order to make copies, which allowed later researchers to interpret the old maps much more easily and gave them a better understanding of the great explorations. His work continues to be an invaluable source for historians of New Brunswick.

Ganong lived in the United States for most of his life, but died at his summer home in Saint John, New Brunswick, on September 7, 1941. William Francis Ganong was designated a National Historic Person in 1945. Nicolas Denys and Samuel de Champlain were also designated National Historic Persons of Canada.

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