Scott and Crossman: The Freshwater Fishes of Canada

NARRATOR: Dr. Bev Scott has just celebrated his ninetieth birthday …… But he has not lost his love for fish or fishing.  He’s retired - but he still comes here, to the Queen’s University Biosciences Research Centre, to talk to researchers, former students and colleagues. 

He’s been showered with honours, degrees, medals and citations for his many accomplishments…but this is the jewel, The Freshwater Fishes of Canada, a book that virtually all freshwater fisheries biologists in Canada own a copy of, and have used as a reference in their work.

This monumental work was researched and written with his colleague and former student, the late Edwin J. Crossman.  The book took thirteen years of arduous field work and careful preparation to complete.  On publication, it won the prestigious Wildlife Societies Publication of the Year award!  Nothing like it has been produced on this scale anywhere in North America - before or since.   But this is not just the story of a book.  It’s also the story of what can be achieved to protect Canada’s freshwater fishes. 

Although the field work for Freshwater Fishes of Canada began in 1960, the seeds of the book began many years before in the east side of Toronto - where Bev Scott was born in 1917. Bev’s interest in fish began with family fishing and camping trips from as early as he can remember and continued to blossom as a hobby in his school years

DR. BEV SCOTT:  “I got interested in tropical fish and one thing led to another, my father showed me how to make tanks, then I started making my own tanks. I was I guess about 10 or eleven or twelve.   I started out of course with a bowl and guppies. That grew until it reached the stage that I was actually selling fish.”

NARRATOR:  Bev’s hobby of raising fish in the aquarium expanded into a desire to learn more about aquatic science.  His science teacher at Malvern Collegiate, Mr. S. P. McCready, suggested that Bev visit the Royal Ontario Museum, and look at the many species of fish in the aquarium there. 

DR. BEV SCOTT: “I did go to the Royal Ontario Museum. They had a big rectangular tank under an overhead window. They were dirty.  They had goldfish in them who were nipping in the sand; they were cloudy. There were no plants.   I was pretty upset. At one stage, a guard appeared.  I asked him if there was somebody I could see, “I’d like to talk to him about the condition of the aquariums.” “Oh”, he said, “The person to see would be the director”, who was J. R. Dymond, and J.R. Dymond was a delightful person, and I don’t know what he thought of it at the time, but I proceeded to tell him what a dreadful state the aquaria were in and they should be better looked after than that. The gall!

But that led to my contact with J. R. Dymond. And before I knew it, I was asked if I would like to volunteer, so that’s what I ended up doing. I was in my latter years at high school then and had a half a day off so I used to go to the museum and look after the aquaria.”

NARRATOR:Dr. John Richardson Dymond was an “ichthyologist”, the Curator of Fishes at the Royal Ontario Museum, and Professor of Zoology at the University of Toronto. Bev loved his job at the ROM - and when he went to work on the aquariums J.R. Dymond always found time to come and talk to him about ichthyology, the scientific study of fishes. J. R. recognized Bev’s passion and commitment and would serve as Bev Scott’s teacher, friend and mentor as long as he lived.

DR. BEV SCOTT: It was because of J. R. Dymond that I really got involved in the museum and the PhD and research on fishes generally.”

NARRATOR:Bev wanted to attend university but he couldn’t afford to. J. R. encouraged him to take an extra term in high school to improve his marks and promised that if he did well he would help him find a way to finance his undergraduate work. Bev applied himself, and J. R. was impressed; soon afterwards, he offered Bev a summer job as a field assistant to three biologists from the ROM, who were conducting ichthyological studies on several lakes.

DR. BEV SCOTT: “The first summer I went on field work, I guess was ’38 we were in Quebec and Northern Ontario and in 1939 we were in Lake Attawapiskat -- these were three month field trips for the museum party.  And 1940, we went to Fort Severn. Field trips were quite memorable because we’d usually ended up camping in the middle of the bush and doing a fair amount of portaging and this sort of nonsense."

NARRATOR:Summer fieldwork and part-time employment as a lab assistant for J. R. Dymond helped Bev pay for his under graduate degree. J. R. would later give Bev a joint authorship credit for a paper he published on research they did together in 1941. This would prove to be the first of many published works with Bev Scott’s name on them.

World War Two, and a young woman named Millie Fairfield, would also bring momentous changes to Bev’s life.

DR. BEV SCOTT: “Coming back from one field trip, I met this pair of twins at my parents’ cottage in Haliburton. I immediately fell in love with one of the twins, and on graduation we married…I had already joined the army. I was wearing my uniform when we were married, as a matter of fact. Married on July 11, 1942 and went overseas later that year.”

NARRATOR: But the war did not end Bev’s contact with his mentor. They continued to correspond with each other. When Bev was wounded and sent to London on sick leave, J. R. asked Bev to conduct fisheries research for him at the British Museum. After the war, in the fall of 1946, Bev returned to the University of Toronto as a PhD student under the direction of Dr. J.R. Dymond.

DR. BEV SCOTT:  “To my surprise, I was hired as a fishery helper in the Department of Ichthyology, and became curator after a year or so and on occasions was asked by J.R. to help teach his courses… one of the students that arrived was Ed Crossman.”

MRS. MARG CROSSMAN:  “Ed grew up with his dad going hunting and going fishing. And then there was a high school teacher, probably in grade 12 or grade 13, his biology teacher that really turned him on to studying fishes.”

“He came from Queen’s to the University of Toronto to do his master's and he took the ichthyology course, which Bev Scott taught, and they clicked from the very beginning. So Ed came to do work for Bev, and they just went on from there.”

DR. BEV SCOTT: “It was a….really delightful relationship, as far as I was concerned.  Ed and I got along very well together, and we saw big things in the future to do.”

NARRATOR: Ed’s arrival in 1952 coincided with an unusual ichthyological publication by Bev Scott.

DR. BEV SCOTT: I got myself involved in a project: The Fishes of Eastern Canada. Millie, my wife, typed the manuscript for me and did the numerous revisions that were necessary. I put it together as a… book for fishermen primarily. I just thought there wasn’t anything that really told fishermen about the fish and about its habits and essentially about how to catch it. We finally brought the book out, it was published in 1954, it was paperback. It was a very enjoyable and very valuable learning experience.”

NARRATOR:  Bev’s approach of making a scientific publication accessible to laymen was unique.  When the first copies came off the press in 1954 it met with immediate success.

Forest and Outdoors Magazine announced: “No angler or commercial fisherman should rest until a copy of this book is in his possession, and he has thoroughly digested the contents.”

In the same year that Bev’s paperback was published, Ed Crossman completed his M.A. Thesis on the Muskellunge population of Nogie’s Creek in Ontario.

DR. BEV SCOTTWhen he got his degree and decided to go for a PhD.  I don’t know how many people tried to influence him and if the were successful, or if he just wanted to go the west coast on his own, but whatever the story was… that’s where we were all happy he was going because, J.R. and myself had done a lot of work in eastern Canada by this time and we needed someone back at the museum who had some experience on the west coast.”

NARRATOR:During the three years Ed Crossman was a Post Graduate student at UBC, Bev corresponded with him regularly.  And, when Ed successfully completed his PhD, Bev invited him to return to the ROM as his assistant Curator - and Ed agreed.

Ed also began teaching ichthyology at the University of Toronto helping lighten the load of an enlarging student body. Some of the students who took Scott and Crossman’s courses became leaders in aquatic science in Canada - and often recalled their ichthyology studies at the ROM under the mentorship of Bev Scott and Ed Crossman. 

DR. WILLIAM C. LEGGETT: “One of the remarkable things about Ed and Bev was the interest they showed in young people and their careers. They seemed to know every graduate student in Canada and many in the United States, and took personal interest in their careers.  And ….steered many of them to other opportunities: either professional opportunities or graduate opportunities. So they really had a profound interest, not only in their own science but in people who were pursuing in future of the discipline.”

RICHARD ZURBRIGG: “We knew him as Dr. Scott -- it was only later as we became graduate students that he became quite insistent that he be called Bev. He certainly was a mentor. He would want you to search yourself for what it is that you wanted to do and then he would try to guide you from his standpoint towards a particular goal that you might not realize that you’re striving for but which he would allow you to find for yourself.

NARRATOR:Apart from their teaching duties and their curatorial work at the ROM, Ed and Bev continued their ichthyologic studies in the field during their university summer breaks.

In 1960, they went to Newfoundland to carry out fresh water fish surveys there. The surveys went smoothly - they discovered twenty species of fresh water fishes present on the Island – but this trip proved momentous for another reason. One evening around the camp stove they decided to undertake the ambitious project of writing The Freshwater fishes of Canada.

DR. BEV SCOTT: Freshwater Fishes of Canada was a germ that grew. What started Ed and I really was the idea of a publication that would list all the species of fishes in Canada and provide a key to identify them.  And show where they occurred, as much as we knew. We were certainly thinking of teaching when we wrote the book, because each of us had taught by this time, and we knew what this meant, and we knew what someone who was teaching needed.

MRS. MARG CROSSMAN: “Bev was very, very knowledgeable with the East Coast, and Ed became very very knowledgeable about the West Coast, so in between it didn't take long to fill it in.”

NARRATOR:Scott and Crossman choose a fortunate time to research and write this massive volume documenting all the fresh water fishes of Canada.  They were able to proceed because of the ROM’s post war expansion of staff and resources, which they could readily access. With this support behind them Scott and Crossman initiated a long term plan to obtain the necessary ichthyological information for The Fresh Water Fishes of Canada.

It would be a daunting task.  The land area where the freshwater habitat of Canada is found is a huge 3,850,000 square miles (10 million square kms). And the actual lakes, rivers, ponds and streams that contain the fresh water species is estimated at 291,571 square miles (755, 165 square kms).  These habitat areas are contained within five vast drainage basins - the Atlantic, Hudson Bay, Arctic, Pacific and the Gulf of Mexico.  The authors decided to document fish surveys beginning with the Atlantic Drainage Basin and then move west across the country from drainage basin to drainage basin until they reached the Pacific. 

DR. BEV SCOTT: We started the process, initially, by putting together all the fishes of Canada into a checklist and putting out a checklist of Canadian fresh water fishes with keys for identification. Ed and I divided up the book.  We decided on the format. We did mock ups and this way we worked out the headings, if you will, for each of the individual write-ups in the book.  The book is done in a comparative way for each species. We built up the information on the life history, we built up the information on the importance to man, we built up the necessary information on the biology of the species itself and its breeding habits.”

MRS. MARG CROSSMAN: “They were very holistic too, it wasn't just fish; it was everything else that was involved. They studied every one of the fishes that were there; they studied the water; they studied the plants; they studied the insects.  You had to know everything, not just the one thing.

They would take all the information they had gathered and they had a whole team. There were people doing maps, there were people going through journals, books – they would give them a list of people and they would go back as far in history as they could … as far as fishes were concerned here in Canada.” 

NARRATOR:The support staff were particularly important - they included highly competent technicians, artists, research assistants, photographers, and trained clerical assistants.

PETER BUESCHAPER: “I miss going in the field collecting with them and taking their criticism of how to draw things – sometimes subtle, sometimes not so subtle – but always very constructive and very encouraging.”

NARRATOR:Graduate students from the University of Toronto and other universities also played a valuable role in appraising and testing various parts of the research.

DR. JOHN M. CASSELMAN: “I took ichthyology at the Royal Ontario Museum and our ichthyology class was actually one of the classes that was used to test the cyprinid, or minnow key, for Freshwater Fishes of Canada. So I have my own personal notes related to that key and they’re priceless because we helped in some small way validate that key.

NARRATOR:Most importantly though Bev and Ed had the full support and participation of their wives Milly and Marg.

MRS. MARG CROSSMAN: “Both the Scott family and the Crossman family went on field trips.  So we learned to pull nets, we learned to separate fish; we learned how to put them in bags. Milly was much more involved with the book than I was.  She was a secretary by profession; I would more dig in to the library and find information that way.  I was involved afterwards, after the book was printed.  You saw the galley sheets: that was my job.  When any information came in it was transferred in to that book and then later to fill up the pages in the file for each fish because it got too much for the galley book.  We were running out of space.” 

NARRATOR:Thirteen years of field-work, research, writing and revisions meant that these two men had to work closely together.

DR. BEV SCOTTI think Ed and I had some synergy between us.  I don’t know how this develops…I guess we had mutual respect for each other and that leads to synergy. I think we enjoyed working together, frankly.”

NARRATOR:On its publication, in 1973, Freshwater Fishes of Canada received enthusiastic accolades from aquatic scientists, not only in Canada but abroad.

DR. BEV SCOTT: I won’t deny that we grabbed each review with great eagerness…[laughs]….and read it to see what somebody had found that we had missed.  We did miss stuff.  We did make some mistakes.”

NARRATOR:Freshwater Fishes of Canada would be reprinted five times, the last in 1998 with supplementary information. When the second edition was published in 1979 – the introduction written by the authors, delivered some alarming news to readers. Through their continued research Scott and Crossman found that changes in the environment were affecting the range of some species and the introduction of alien species, some of which were competing with or preying on indigenous species was also having a profound affect. Each new edition of the book documented additional changes in species range and new alien incursions. 

In 1976 Bev Scott ended his brilliant career as Curator of the ROM and Ed took over his position. Bev and Millie moved to St. Andrews, New Brunswick, where Bev became the director of the Huntsman Marine Laboratory (now the Huntsman Marine Science Centre). After five years, Bev left to write a revision of Fishes of the Atlantic Coast of Canada, a book he had coauthored with Dr. Alec Leim in 1966. He co-authored the new book Atlantic Fishes of Canada with Millie and it was published in 1988. By that time Millie had been diagnosed with a long term debilitating illness and Bev moved her to Kingston, Ontario, where she was able to get the best medical care available.

The changes occurring in the environment with introduced species and the decreasing range of indigenous species led Bev and Ed to agree that a revision of Freshwater Fishes of Canada was in order but that dream came to an end when Ed died suddenly of a heart attack at his home on December 21st, 2004.

DR. RICHARD WINTERBOTTOM: “Ed was physically a very big man and he left an equally big legacy here. “

DR. BEV SCOTT:  “Ed’s death was most unfortunate: because there’s no doubt that a revision would have gone through, if he had survived. When the revision was not possible as we first envisioned it;  it made sense to me that this become a benchmark.”

NARRATOR: And a benchmark it is.

DR. WENDY WATSON-WRIGHT: “Scott, Crossman -- I would say is the bible of fresh water fisheries biology, and likewise on the Atlantic Coast: The Atlantic Fishes of Canada, which Bev also put together with his wife, Millie.

DR. WILLIAM C. LEGGETT: “It was a benchmark for everyone who ever began the study of any fresh water fish in the country.  It was the first synoptic overview of those species.  It was also an extraordinarily well done book.  So I think it established a level of excellence and established them as the leaders of excellence in the discipline.”

NARRATOR:While The Freshwater Fishes of Canada stands as a benchmark and is still widely used the need for an update is growing.  The changes in our environment, however, will require a lot more than just a revision of the Freshwater Fishes of Canada.

DR. RICHARD BEAMISH:  “The connection between Bev Scott, Ed Crossman and TheFreshwater Fishes of Canada with what we are trying to do now, in terms of ecosystem based management, trying to understand the impacts of climate on fish. Is that you need to understand how the fish survives in its ecosystem. Over its evolutionary history it’s adapted to a changing climate and we need to understand more about that individual fish. And while taxonomy might be the identification of fish, The Fresh Water Fishes of Canada was a book that told the story about a fish and its ecosystem.  And that’s what we need to promote and that’s what we need to concentrate on in universities and in governments.”

NARRATOR: As our climate and environment change this monumental text and the work of Bev Scott and Ed Crossman will become increasingly important as a tool to measure the affects of that change on the freshwater fishes ofCanadaand the ecosystems that they are a part of.