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Memorial garden dedicated to pioneering UTSC researcher Fred Urquhart

Students from nearby Highland Creek Public School took part in a special ceremonial release of butterflies and planted milkweed ias part of the dedication ceremony for the Urquhart Memorial Garden. (Photo by Ken Jones).

UTSC Professor Fred Urquhart dedicated his life’s work to understanding the migratory pattern of the monarch butterfly.

Now, nearly 40 years since his groundbreaking discovery, the butterflies he cherished so much will have a place to rest a little closer to home. In honour of his pioneering research UTSC today dedicated the Urquhart Memorial Garden on campus.

“Fred Urquhart solved a scientific mystery and he did it in UTSC style by working innovatively and collaboratively,” says UTSC Interim Principal Bruce Kidd. “He established a continental network of amateur volunteer scientists to solve the mystery of monarch butterfly migration long before the terms crowdsourcing and citizen science became familiar.”  

Students from nearby Highland Creek Public School took part in a special ceremonial release of 50 butterflies – to mark UTSC’s 50th anniversary – and planted milkweed in the memorial garden.

Urquhart and his wife Norah – who also became his research partner – founded the Insect Migration Association to enlist the help of thousands of ‘citizen scientist’ volunteers across North America. The goal was to tag hundreds of thousands of butterflies in order to determine where they migrated each winter. The tagged monarchs were finally discovered in Mexico’s Sierra Madre mountains in January 1975.

The Urquharts’ research and eventual discovery is immortalized in the award-winning IMAX movie Flight of the Butterflies.

Despite retiring in the mid-1970s, Urquhart continued his research, keeping an office at UTSC. Colleagues remember their house on Military Trail in Scarborough remained “butterfly headquarters.” He continued to receive tagged monarchs from across North America well after he retired.

UTSC Professor Ian Brown says he rarely saw his former colleague alone. “Fred and Nora were almost joined at hip. They were so close, not only as a couple, but also as research partners,” he says. “Their discovery was a great science story and an equally wonderful personal story as well.”

The Urquharts were named joint recipients of the Order of Canada in 1998. Their discovery also led to international efforts to preserve the high-altitude forests in Mexico which are threatened by logging, climate change and tourism.

Professor Malcolm Campbell, vice-principal of research at UTSC, says Urquhart’s story is one that continues to inspire future generation of scientists.

“As a founding faculty member of UTSC Fred Urquhart was vitally important in establishing a spirit of research and discovery on campus,” he says. “That spirit of engaging others to get involved also continues to be a guiding principle here at UTSC.”

Click here for more photos from the dedication or visit the Fred Urquhart Memorial Garden webpage for additional information.

© University of Toronto Scarborough