The name of Allan Brooks was a household word in Canada thirty years ago. His illustrations in Taverner's Birds of Western Canada, a series in the National Geographic magazine, calendars, cards issued by the National Association of Audubon Societies, and covers on Keystone school exercise books all familiarized Canadian children and adults not only with North American birds and mammals, but also with the work of this eminent zoological illustrator.
For residents of the Vernon area Major Allan Brooks, walking with his military bearing, dressed in tweed jacket and plus fours, often with a gun under his arm, was a familiar figure, for Okanagan Landing was his home from 1905 until his death in 1946. To the end of his days he loved nothing better than rambling over the Commonage or Rattlesnake Mountain, checking on the wildlife, hunting in season. He was a superb marksman and a member of the Vernon and District Fish, Game and Forest Protection Association, donating his pictures as prizes for their crow and magpie shoots. There are some who remember his participation in Okanagan Landing and Kelowna regattas.
To children of Okanagan Landing Major Allan Brooks was "the bird-man." Marguerite Hodgson has written a delightful reminiscence of the spontaneous visits she and her friends used to make to Allan Brooks in his studio during the 1920's. Mrs. Hodgson writes:
Mrs. Hodgson finished with a remark that little did she and her friends know that this kind and gentle man would become the world famous naturalist and artist. It is possible that few adults, even in later years, understood the contribution that Allan Brooks was making to natural history through his scientific papers, his zoological sketches and paintings, and his meticulously prepared specimens.
Allan Cyril Brooks was born on 15 February 1869 at Etawa, India where his father, William Edwin Brooks, was a civil engineer with the Indian Railways. At the age of four Allan was sent home to England and remained there until 1881 when his father emigrated to Canada to farm at Milton, Ontario. In Canada W.E. Brooks continued his practice of collecting specimens for the British Museum. Allan, who from a small boy had shown his naturalist bent, enjoyed the encouragement of his father's friends who were among the pioneer ornithologists. In England the taxidermist John Hancock taught the boy how to blow eggs, collect butterflies, and recognize numerous trees and plants.2 At Hamilton, Ontario in 1885 Allan visited Thomas McIlwraith, veteran birdman of Eastern Canada, and learned from him how to prepare first-class skins.3 By the time he was eighteen Brooks was an expert marksman and a skilled skinner. Although he has little schooling after coming to Canada, he was well informed on subjects relating to wildlife study.
In 1887 W.E. Brooks moved to British Columbia, taking up a farm near Chilliwack. Oldtimers in the Fraser Valley remember Allan's habit of devoting every hour he could spare from farmwork in searching for wildlife and observing its habits.4 Sumas Lake was a haven for water fowl. On his trips into the mountains between the Fraser River and Mount Baker Allan often wondered about the dearth of border markers, only to learn some years later that the Boundary Commission of 1856 gave up trying to establish the border in that rugged area.5 When W.E. Brooks returned to Ontario in 1891 Allan remained behind for one year, hunting and preparing specimens for museums and private collectors. On 1 November 1891 he wrote his father from Victoria, "Tomorrow (Monday) I have to skin all day at the Museum."6
When his father bought a new farm at Mount Forest Allan went east to help him. However, in October 1894 Allan Brooks was back at Sumas. He had broken forever with agriculture, eschewing thereafter even the common garden spade. Never again did Brooks work at a job which interfered with his central interest. Nor, it should be said, did he ever allow himself to become institutionalized in the employ of the government or a university.
To make a living Brooks trapped fur-bearing animals in the winter and collected specimens, mainly birds and small mammals, in the summer. He also established a reputation as a big game hunter. He was the first to identify the western mink, the tawny pika, and the Puget Sound skunk.7 Arthur W. Gray has written an amusing account of Brooks' flea collecting.8
In the late spring of 1897 Brooks was in the mountains between the Nicola and the Okanagan. On July 1 his diary records his arrival at Okanagan Landing. The entry for August 5 reads:
By September Brooks was back and across Okanagan Lake. The winter was spent at Okanagan Landing.
The diaries, which were kept with fair consistency from 1890, are fascinating books, recording the birds sighted, specimens taken and fur trapped during specific periods. One finds also expense accounts, "grocery" lists (biscuits, cheese, butter, glass eyes, chemicals for curing skins, photographic chemicals to be purchased from Eaton's). One diary lists Chinook vocabulary; another, the Thompson and Okanagan words for mule deer, white-tail, elk, sheep, goat, moose. (Much of Brooks' information about wildlife came from native people. In 1930 he wrote of Old Kultus Lake Charlie and two other informants he had known at Sumas in 1890, both "over 100, keen, intelligent.")9 Price lists for specimens are included, orders and payment received noted. In 1891 Brooks received 20 cents for each mallard, 30 cents for a goose, 12 1/2 cents for a pintail, and 10 cents for a teal. Later, lists of drawings and paintings appear. Weather reports are noted, directions for filling snowshoes, recipes for tanning hides, target shooting scores, information on guns. The occasional article on game is clipped or copied from a newspaper. One of the first notebooks contains "Notes and Corrections on Montague Chamberlain's 'Birds of Canada'," a list of "Mammals of Chilliwack, B.C. and surrounding mountains," a list of "Birds of the Chilliwack Valley and Mountains to Eastward," this last containing 234 species noted in pencil in 1890 and corrected in ink in 1904. In short, the "diaries" record any information which Brooks needed for the purpose of carrying on his business of collecting, illustrating, or writing. There is almost no personal information except for the mention of hunting companions -- Ford, Brixton, Munroe, Lishman and, in his later years, companions on his Commonage rambles -- Colin Child and Allan Cecil Brooks.
For personal information one must turn to Allan Brooks' letters. Fortunately those written to his father in the 1890's are preserved. They show an affectionate concern for the father's health and his pocketbook. One discerns the companionable bond between father and son in the detailed description of the shooting of a fine goat or in the play-by-play account of a chess game played to a draw against "the Liverpool Expert." In the letter written 31 January 1897 from Sumas Allan complains, "There has been no Eastern mail for some time owing to snow in the Mts." On 3 May 1897 he wrote that he wanted "a good collection of mice from timberline." On 1 March 1898 he wrote from Captain May's summer cottage at Okanagan Landing thanking his father for papers forwarded. He says, "Reading matter is everything to a lonely man." He told about showing Captain May how he mounted birds. The Captain had learned another method "from Col. Irby at Gibraltar." On 8 July 1898 he wrote that he had left Captain May's house as the latter wanted it for the summer. "I now have my headquarters on the opposite side of the lake from the Landing in a little mining shanty built right on the beach within a few feet of the water -- 50 mi. to head of the lake and 35 to Mission." He tells his father that he is to have "an article or two in Recreation every month for which I get $6 a month, more promised, as soon as Mag. on a paying footing." The correspondence came to an end later that year with the death of W.E. Brooks. Allan went east to Ontario.
By May 1899 Allan Brooks was back in the Chilliwack area. Collecting resumed. The Provincial Museum at Victoria paid the following: 50 cents for a morning dove, $1.00 for a teal, and 35 cents each for a number of small mammals. Ninety-two specimens and a sketch were sent off to the Smithsonian Institute in Washington. In total, approximately one thousand items were collected in about two years, that is, shot or trapped, skin prepared, packed and shipped.
His 1901 diary reads:
Brooks spent almost two weeks at 158 Mile House packing up his gear and shooting. Then there follows a rather longer note:
Home for the winter of 1901-1902 was a cabin on the beach at Penticton near the present location of the Sicamous. On November 1 seventeen traps were set in the swamp at the lake's outlet and the daily take recorded. The following is the total catch noted for November: "three weeks: 1 Wildcat, 2 Mink, 1 Coon, 154 Muskrat, 1 Weasel." In December a trip into the mountains resulted in the killing of "two large bucks (9 and 18 pts.)." Brooks notes, "I could have shot 2 others -- doe and fawn -- but have lots of meat now." In spring he was off again. By April 25 he had "reached Cargells' ranch on Shuswap south of Mabel lake."
In 1905 Allan Brooks bought an acre of land at Okanagan Landing and there he built his cabin which served as home, study and laboratory. The surrounding lot became a sanctuary for small birds. Mrs. Brooks has written that forty species nested and raised their young within one hundred yards of the cottage between the years 1905 and 1914.10 Predators met with no mercy: ravens, crows, magpies, cowbirds, house wrens, chipmunks, snakes, ants, and white-footed mice. Marjorie Brooks writes:
In the 1930's J.W. Wilkinson reported Brooks as saying:
Allan Brooks took the gamekeeper attitude towards birds and mammals. His friend Hamilton Laing writes of him:
Brooks' views brought him into conflict with some in high places, but once he
had made up his mind he was stubborn.14
The diary for the early 1940's records:
By 1905 when Allan Brooks "settled" at Okanagan Landing he had become familiar with the Fraser Valley and surrounding mountains, the Okanagan, the Gold Range, the Cariboo -- particularly around Horsefly, Quesnel, and 158 Mile House -- the east coast of Vancouver Island from Victoria to Comox and the Quatsino area on the northwest tip of the Island.15 Owning property did not keep Brooks from his expeditions. Trips were made in the Gold Range, the Selkirks, and the Rockies in search of big game, birds being noted as well. Nor did the larger trips cut out smaller excursions. On 22 November 1909, after returning from a prairie trip three days previously, Brooks writes:
Sometime after 1905 Allan Brooks accompanied C. deB. Green on a visit to Harry Parham at Vaseux Lake. Parham has given us this thumbnail sketch:
In 1906, at the age of thirty-five, Brooks received his first major contract, to illustrate Dawson and Bowles' Birds of Washington, a work which is now a collector's item. Brooks' articles and sketches had been appearing in Recreation since 1898 and from 1900 in The Auk, the official organ of the American Ornithologists' Union. Private collectors such as Dr. Wm. Brewster were buying drawings for $5 to $10 each. Birds of Washington established Brooks in the forefront of wild life illustrators and led to his collaboration with Dawson on the latter's Birds of California. Research for the newer book was undertaken during trips to California in 1911 and 1912 and to Arizona in 1913. Thus a lasting bond was established between Brooks and the American Ornithologists. In 1913 Dawson wrote an article entitled "Allan Brooks -- An Appreciation" in The Condor, the official publication of the Cooper Ornithological Club. He talks of Brooks being seated "at the great north window of our studio at 'Los Colibris,' whither we have succeeded in luring him for the winter."17 About this time Brooks sold the first of many works to the National Association of Audubon Societies. The diary for 1912 contains "notes for drawing" to the specifications of the Audubon Society and there is a letter dated 7 June 1912 from the Society's secretary acknowledging the receipt of two pictures and expressing pleasure in their quality.
Allan Brooks has sometimes been called "the Audubon of the West," a designation that Brooks himself did not particularly appreciate. He believed that he was able to give his birds a much more natural and lifelike appearance because he supplemented his work from dead skins with careful field observation through binoculars. In the diary record of a trip to the Kootenays in 1911, Brooks writes of looking over birds "carefully at close range with a powerful glass." Laing writes of Brooks:
A newer generation of nature artists has the advantage of the highly developed technology of colour photography to aid in making field notes.
When Allan Brooks left Okanagan Landing on 13 June 1914 to attend the National Rifle Matches at Bisley, England as a member of the Canadian team, little did he know that it would be almost five years before he would see home again. "The Great War," as we used to call it, broke out while he was in England. Brooks tried to enlist in the Imperial Forces, but as he was an officer in the Canadian Militia he had to return to Quebec where he trained with the first Canadian contingent. His distinguished war record has been covered elsewhere.18 At the Battle Arras he was awarded the D.S.O. and was three times mentioned in dispatches. He was selected as chief instructor in sniping and scouting for the Imperial Forces. In a lighter vein, he drew cartoons for the regimental paper. In 1917 the interrupted diary was resumed, birds observed in France being noted. One has to search for references to war and when they come it is obliquely as in noting the "effect of shell fire on birds and mammals." During the years overseas Brooks took the opportunity to learn what he could from British and continental nature artists.
The diary entry for 15 April 1919 reads, "Arrived at Okanagan Landing after nearly 5 years absence." The next day he notes, "1st Vesper Sparrow. A little snow in sheltered places on Commonage." Allan Brooks lost no time in resuming his collecting: in 1919, on Vancouver Island and on the Queen Charlottes; in 1920, in Alberta and Florida; and in 1921, again in Florida. The British Museum and the Geological Survey Museum at Ottawa were among his customers. However, the post-war diaries are more apt to record exchanges rather than sales for Allan Brooks had himself become a collector. From now on his livelihood was to come principally from his paintings. In his list of "pictures painted since 1 Nov. 1920" we find that the Audubon Society paid $30 for "The Great Horned Owl; Dr. J. C. Phillips bought seven pictures at $50 each, and a picture entitled Bald Eagle Catching Goldeneyes (15" x 11") is listed at $100. Subsequent listings indicate a very marked increase in Brooks' income. The collected bird skins served as studio models. Finally the collection grew to over eight thousand items and represented every bird found in North American, north of the Mexican border, with all major variations in plumage being included. After Brooks' death in 1946 the collection was bought by the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, University of California at Berkeley. (Our Provincial Museum was offered the collection but was unable to house it at that time.)
The year 1922 marked an interesting concentration of naturalists in the South Okanagan when Ottawa's Geological Survey decided to look into bird life there. On April 23 Brooks recorded:
On June 16 Brooks notes that Thackers left and Taverner, Laing, and Allen Sampson arrived. H.M. Laing, in his Biography of Allan Brooks which remains in manuscript, tells of this meeting which was to begin a lifelong friendship. He observes that Brooks' hand still showed the effects of a fire the previous year that had destroyed a storage shed and with it precious books and skins, some of the latter dating from Brooks' childhood in India. Laing writes:
A fuller description of Brooks' bird calling appears in Laing's article published in The Auk.20 Later the party was joined by Frank Farley of Camrose, Alberta and George Gartrell, Fisheries Inspector at Summerland.
In 1920 Brooks attended his first annual meeting of the American Ornithologists' Union held in Washington, D.C. and shortly afterwards he visited Louis Fuertes, the eminent American bird artist, at his home in Ithaca. Brooks and Fuertes worked together in the latter's studio. Harry Harris has left a touching memoir of the relationship of these two artists. The occasion was the first A.O.U. meeting held in Chicago at which an exhibition of bird pictures had been assembled. Harris writes:
When, a few years later, Fuertes was killed in an automobile accident, Allan Brooks completed Fuertes' last project, the plates for Forbush's Birds of Massachusetts.
In the 1920's Brooks' painting began to attract attention in Canada. On 10 February 1926 he received an order for illustrating "Anderson's Arctic Coast Volume" -- eleven birds, 12" x 9" in colour, at $40 each -- to be delivered before March 31. Wallace H. Robb of Montreal ordered pictures at $35 each, stipulating two or three birds to a plate. At a dinner in Ottawa on 13 October 1926 Robb, on behalf of the Canadian National Exhibition, presented Brooks with a Gold Medal Award of Merit. The following year Robb donated his collection of Brooks' paintings to the Royal Ontario Museum.22
When the order came for illustrations for Taverner's Birds of Western Canada, the specifications in the interest of economy were for pictures 4 5/8" x 3 5/8", scales to be 1/2 for small birds, waders 1/3, and larger birds 1/4 and 1/7. Brooks' method of opaquing his colours by adding Chinese white to them produced a clarity and brilliance which assured good reproduction. A delightful example of Brooks' ability to work on a small scale is to be found in the book of Okanagan birds which he painted for his son, Allan. There are almost eighty pictures mounted four to a page in a small photographic album, each picture on a square of grey tag about 1 1/4" ' 1 1/4", and glowing with colour. Allan Cecil Brooks says that very often, in the evening, his father would sit down and in half an hour make him one of these pictures.
It should be said that Brooks considered himself an illustrator. He saw his art as the servant of science and strove to present the natural world honestly, intelligibly, and objectively. He eschewed the presentation of a subjective inner world or of a highly individualized concept of the external world.
In 1924 Allan Brooks accompanied his friend Harry Swarth on a collecting expedition to Atlin, B.C. The result of this trip was collaboration on A Distribution List of the Birds of British Columbia, published under the auspices of the Cooper Ornithological Club of Berkeley, California in 1925. This book is one of ninety-nine items which Allan Cecil Brooks includes in his comprehensive list of his father's scientific writings. (A.C.B. lists at least seventeen books for which his father was the major illustrator.) Speaking of Brooks' accomplishments G. Clifford Carl, at that time Curator of our Provincial Museum, has written:
Brooks had a lucid style, dignified but not overly formal, which served him well whether he was writing a scientific work, an article for a more popular periodical, or for his more personal "In Memoriam: Charles deB. Green."24 His writing remained temperate even when his argument was devastating, as in the article "Early Big-Game Conditions in the Mt. Baker District, Washington." In both his pictures and his writing, Brooks is an expert storyteller. His last paper, published in The Auk in October 1945, exemplifies his exposition when he describes the underwater action of the alula or the wings of white-winged and surf scoters as observed from the lodge windows at Yellow Point near Nanaimo. The style of this last paper is very much that of his first works, even as the handwriting in his last diary entry (12 December 1945) is noticeably that of the man who listed the birds of the Chilliwack Valley in 1890.
In the spring of 1926 Allan Brooks surprised his friends, who regarded him as a confirmed bachelor, by marrying. His wife, Marjorie, had grown up in Arundel, England, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Richard Holmes. In 1926 she was living at Okanagan Landing and mutual friends introduced her and Brooks. Marjorie was a woman of spirit and intelligence with the grace to let her husband be. Laing writes of her:
The wedding trip was to Alert Bay where, predictably, Brooks collected -- this time a series of surf birds in spring plumage. The next year Allan Cecil Brooks was born in Vancouver. Marjorie Brooks has written, "Matrimony did not make Brooks a stay-at-home," a remarkable example of understatement. Marjorie did not always accompany her husband on his serious birding expeditions; while Brooks explored bird life in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick in 1930, she took Allan Cecil to visit his grandparents in England, and in the spring of 1933 Brooks went to California for three months alone. But often Marjorie and Allan Cecil, too, were along: New Mexico, Arizona, California, Port Simpson, and the Skeena. In 1928 a second home was built at Comox where winters were sometimes spent, but "summer always found them at their real home at Okanagan Landing."26 In 1931 the family went to new Zealand and much of 1934 and 1935 was spent in a trip around the world.
World War II put an end to Brooks' longer trips and war conditions interrupted the winter visits to Comox. Winters from 1942 to early 1945 were spent at Sooke, Okanagan Landing, and Yellow Point successively. In May 1943 Allan Brooks made a field trip to Penticton, Okanagan Falls, and Keremeos; in August his diary records a two-day trip up Siwash Arm, and in October two days of camping at Sandy Grant's Bay. In June 1944 he made an eighteen-day round trip in the Kamloops region. In February 1945 he visited Chilliwack where, with his old friend Oliver Wells, he inspected the Luck-a-kuck Bird Sanctuary. Late in the year Brooks spent seventeen days in the South Okanagan and Similkameen, working close to the border. During the war he continued to paint, much of the proceeds from his work going to the Red Cross.
The fall of 1945 found Brooks back in Comox where his final illness caught him in the midst of his usual activities. His friend Hamilton Laing writes touchingly of Brooks' last days:
Upon Brooks' death articles extolling him appeared in the Vancouver papers, in The Chilliwack Progress (9 January 1946), Courtenay-Comox Argus (January 10), and The Vernon News (January 10). G. Clifford Carl wrote in The Murrelet of the "valued friend" whose passing leaves "a void that cannot well be filled."28 Hamilton M. Laing wrote the article quoted above for The Auk, and Harry Harris wrote "An Appreciation of Allan Brooks, Zoological Artist" for The Condor. Harris concludes:
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