GILCHRIST, FREDERICK CHARLES, merchant, farmer, inspector of fisheries, politician, and jp; b. 20 April 1859 in Port Hope, Upper Canada, son of Charles Gilchrist and Belle —; m. there 1 July 1882 Harriet Marian Newbegin, and they had six children; d. 20 March 1896 in Fort Qu’Appelle (Sask.).
Frederick Charles Gilchrist’s grandfather had been a distinguished doctor in Upper Canada and evidently his parents hoped that their son would follow in his footsteps. However, at the age of 18 he chose instead to pursue his interest in fish and wildlife and for a time assisted his father, who was fisheries overseer for the district of Rice Lake. He became a self-taught expert on fish and an amateur taxidermist, and he experimented with the growing of wild rice. Early in his career he showed a remarkable interest in the application of scientific research methods and in the dissemination of his findings through publication. The results of his studies on wild rice, for example, were published in a letter to the editor of Forest and Stream in 1880
From 1880 until the beginning of 1883 Gilchrist ran a store at Rice Lake. There he met his future wife, a recent immigrant from England who was working as a Methodist missionary. Following their marriage, and probably in the hope of bettering their financial situation, they moved west and took up farming. Gilchrist homesteaded near Qu’Appelle (Sask.), completing his application for land on 26 April 1883.
In October 1884 he was appointed by the federal government the first fisheries overseer for the Qu’Appelle (The Fishing) Lakes and their tributaries. Eventually, after numerous requests on his part, his jurisdiction was enlarged when he was promoted inspector of fisheries for the North-West Territories on 1 May 1891. He continued in this position until his death. As inspector, Gilchrist made a number of extensive trips, including one in 1891 as far west as Kootenay Lake (B.C.). A good canoeist, he travelled down the Saskatchewan River in 1894 conducting inspections at various points, including Fort-à-la-Corne and Cumberland House (Sask.).
Gilchrist took an active part in community life in the west, serving as municipal councillor of Qu’Appelle in 1884 and as director of the local agricultural society that year and for several years afterwards. He was also a school trustee, municipal assessor, and justice of the peace. In 1886 he and his family moved to a new farm on Echo Lake.
In the course of his work Gilchrist was required to prepare reports, some of which were published in whole or in part in the reports of the Department of Marine and Fisheries. Probably the most important of these, in 1894, was on the spawning of whitefish in Long Lake. He concluded that although his findings justified the departmental policy of closing the fisheries between 15 December and 1 January, they did not settle the question of when spawning occurred. Further research was required to determine when it was safe to open the fisheries for the Indian and Métis populations in need of food. Perhaps somewhat sanctimonious and pedantic, the report does show his careful scientific approach. Gilchrist’s work brought him in touch with the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, and on at least two occasions he sent it specimens of fish preserved in alcohol from lakes in his district. The many ornithological observations he noted in his diary have proven to be a useful source of information.
Frederick Charles Gilchrist gave every promise of making significant contributions to the knowledge and management of the fisheries in what is now western Canada. His untimely death at age 36 cut short a promising career, but his pioneering studies formed the basis for the work of others.
Frederick Charles Gilchrist is the author of three items in Forest and Stream (New York): “All about wild rice,” 15 (August 1880–January 1881): 168; “Sawdust in Ontario streams,” 34 (February–July 1890): 150–51; and “The tullibee,” 38 (January–June 1892): 325.
NA, RG31, C1, 1881, Port Hope. Sask. Arch. Board (Saskatoon), A76, F. C. Gilchrist papers; Dept. of the Interior, dominion lands branch, file 365–18, F. C. Gilchrist, application for patent for SW-12-23-15-W2, 9 May 1887. Can., Parl., Sessional papers, 1887, no.16; 1888, no.6; 1894, no.11. Smithsonian Institution, Annual report (Washington), 1893: 234; 1895: 119. D. H. Bocking, “The Gilchrist diaries,” Saskatchewan Hist. (Saskatoon), 20 (1967): 108–13. Mary and C. S. Huston, “F. C. Gilchrist’s diary – Fort Qu’Appelle, 1883–1896,” Blue Jay (Saskatoon), 24 (1966): 169–70.