Source: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
FLETCHER, JAMES, entomologist, botanist, author, and civil servant; b. 28 March 1852 in Ash, near Rochester, Kent, England, second son of Joseph Flitcroft Fletcher and Mary Ann Hayward; m. 1879 Eleanor Gertrude Schreiber, eldest daughter of Collingwood Schreiber*, and they had two daughters; d. 8 Nov. 1908 in Montreal of a gastric tumour and overwork.
Educated at King’s School in Rochester, at age 19 James Fletcher became a clerk at the Bank of British North America in London. He was transferred to the branch in Montreal in 1874 and to that in Ottawa the next year, but finding the work uncongenial he took employment as an assistant in the Library of Parliament on 1 July 1876. Here he had ample leisure time and access to information in his choice of subjects, science and natural history. Self-taught in botany and entomology, he joined the Entomological Society of Ontario in 1876 and was one of the founders of the Ottawa Field-Naturalists’ Club three years later. By rigorous observation and extensive discussion he became an expert taxonomist and a recognized specialist in diurnal moths and butterflies. Seventeen species of butterflies were named after him.
A demand for scientific advice to the expanding Canadian agricultural community was becoming evident by the early 1880s, and in 1884 a parliamentary committee on agriculture recommended that the importance and value of insect control and entomological research to Canada be tested. Fletcher’s standing, his services to ministers and mps seeking information for their constituents about plants and animals, and the recommendations of leaders in agricultural science led to his appointment as honorary dominion entomologist and botanist in June 1884 by the minister of agriculture, John Henry Pope*. Fletcher immediately instituted a nation-wide network of correspondents, most of them practical farmers and gardeners, to report on noxious insects and weeds and on remedies for their control. He emphasized the absolute need of precisely identifying injurious pests and weeds before proceeding with measures of control, and he was committed to a philosophy that outbreaks be contained with the minimum of environmental disruption in order that agricultural productivity be maximized. In this context he promoted some of the first experimental attempts to control harmful insects with arsenical and plant-based insecticides.
By 1886 Fletcher’s work had proved the value of economic entomology. On 1 July 1887 he was made the first permanent dominion entomologist and botanist and was attached to the newly founded Central Experimental Farm in Ottawa. Until 1892 he was solely responsible for identifying insects and weeds and making recommendations for pest control, but thereafter he had the aid of two assistants; one, Arthur Gibson, later became dominion entomologist. The wording of the first federal legislation pertaining to insects, the San Jose Scale Act of 1898, was due in large measure to Fletcher. The destructive San Jose scale-insect had entered Canada by 1897, and the act prohibited the importation of nursery stock (defined as “trees, shrubs, plants, vines, grafts, cuttings, or buds”) from countries, including the United States, where the insect was known to exist. Two years later an amendment lifted the prohibition but imposed quarantine restrictions on nursery stock imported from countries affected by the act. Under Fletcher’s direction, federal stations were built at ports of entry to fumigate nursery stock. Fletcher established the National Herbarium of Canada on the Central Experimental Farm, and he started a collection of insects which grew into today’s prestigious Canadian National Collection of Insects. As conversant with botany as he was with entomology, Fletcher wrote to advise growers about plant diseases and served as an examiner in economic botany at the University of Toronto. His research on plants and plant diseases ended in 1890 when John Craig was appointed horticulturist at the Central Experimental Farm.
Fletcher produced a great many publications. From 1880 to 1908 he published articles annually in the Canadian Entomologist, and the Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada, of which he became a fellow in 1885, contain several of his papers on practical entomology, injurious insects, and new butterflies. He also wrote numerous articles on fungicides, rust, smuts, and cold-hardy plants for newspapers and magazines. In 1906 he and George Harold Clark, later dominion seed commissioner, published the pictorial Farm weeds of Canada, an outstanding contribution to science. However, his best and most varied works are the 22 annual reports of the dominion entomologist and botanist and the large number of bulletins published by the Department of Agriculture. In these may be found life histories of a vast number of noxious insects, with detailed descriptions interspersed with accurate drawings of each stage of their development, reports on the damage they caused, and accounts of methods of controlling their outbreaks. A founder of the American Association of Economic Entomologists in 1889, Fletcher was also a fellow of the Linnean Society of London (1886) and the American Entomological Society (1906). He was awarded an honorary lld by Queen’s College in Kingston, Ont., in 1896.
Fletcher travelled extensively in Canada collecting weeds and insects, investigating outbreaks of pest insects, lecturing to students, addressing farmers and growers, and advising on practical weed and insect control. He was in great demand as a speaker, captivating his audiences with lively humour and well-phrased candour, and on nature excursions students were eager to be with him and learn the secrets of wood and field that he knew so well. His premature death in 1908 terminated the exemplary career of one who was widely regarded as the “Father of Economic Entomology” in Canada.
An extensive bibliography of James Fletcher’s publications, prepared at the time of his death by Arthur Gibson and Herbert Groh, is found in the Ottawa Naturalist, 22 (1908–9): 227–33, as “The published writings of Dr. Fletcher.” Although incomplete, it lists several hundred articles and reports published in numerous newspapers and magazines as well as in the Canadian Entomologist (London, Ont.); the Annual report of the Entomological Soc. of Ontario (Toronto); the Ottawa Field-Naturalists’ Club’s journal, the Ottawa Naturalist; and various publications of the federal Department of Agriculture, including several issues of the Dominion Experimental Farms, Bull. (Ottawa).
Fletcher’s first two reports as dominion entomologist and botanist appear in the report of the minister of agriculture for 1884 (app.47) and 1885 (app.56), and are printed in Can., Parl., Sessional papers, 1885 and 1886 respectively [these reports are not cited in the Ottawa Naturalist bibliography]; the rest of his reports were issued with the experimental farms reports for 1887–1908, and appear in the Sessional papers for 1888–1909.
NA, RG 17, A II, 2330–69. Canadian encyclopedia. Canadian Entomologist, 30 (1898): 1–2 (sketch of Fletcher by the editor [Charles James Stewart Bethune*], with photograph facing p.1); 40 (1908): 433–36 (obit. tribute by C. J. S. Bethune, with photograph facing p.433). Canadian men and women of the time (Morgan; 1898). DNB. Encyclopedia Canadiana, ed. K. H. Pearson et al. ([rev. ed.], Toronto, 1975). Entomological Soc. of America, Bull. (Lanham, Md), 35 (1989), no.3: 35. Entomology Newsletter (Ottawa), 33 (1955), no.2: 2–3. L. O. Howard, A history of applied entomology (somewhat anecdotal) (Washington, 1930). Le Naturaliste canadien (Québec), 35 (1908): 164–67. Ottawa Naturalist, 22 (1908–9), no.10 (James Fletcher, lld, memorial number). P. W. Riegert, From arsenic to DDT: a history of entomology in western Canada (Toronto, 1980). RSC Trans., 3rd ser., 3 (1909), proc.: 45–48. Standard dict. of Canadian biog. (Roberts and Tunnell).