Ernest Thompson Seton
Manitoba's World Renowned Naturalist
By George Siamandas
Seton was born August 14, 1860 in South Shields, Durham, England, the 12th of 14 children. His family moved to Canada in 1865 settling on a farm near Lindsay Ontario.
Here Ernest developed his interest in nature. In 1871 the family moved to Toronto where Ernest spent all his leisure time exploring nature at a birder's paradise known as the Don Valley.
Earnest's father encouraged him to study art, an activity that came in very useful, as Ernest later was able to accurately depict the details in nature. He won a gold medal in the Toronto's Art Society's 1879 art contest. He received a scholarship and went to London to study art at the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture. Seton returned to Toronto, but because of strained relations with his father, Seton decided to head west like all young men before him.
WONDER AND DISCOVERY AT THE CARBERRY HILLS
In 1882 Seton came west to Manitoba on a colonist's train of settlers and went to live on a farm just west of Carberry with his brother Arthur. Here he found a paradise.
Seton would have stood out in Carberry. Wandering around in long hair and old shabby clothing. With notebook and sketchbook under his arm this tall man was an enigma. Why would he spend so much time out in the wild? He would later describe his time in the Carberry Sandhills as his "golden days." The area is now known as Spruce Woods Provincial Park.
ACCURATE DEPICTIONS OF WILDLIFE
While Seton spent only five years in Manitoba, much of his later life work was based on his observations in Manitoba. Seton became famous for detail and accuracy. On Oct 30 1882, Seton recorded his count of the number feathers on a bird and noted that there were exactly 4,915. Boggy Creek became a Mecca for Seton's bird watching. In 1892 he was appointed provincial naturalist. But Seton was soon in his way to wider pastures New York, Paris, where he married Miss Grace Gallatin in 1896. By this time Seton was a respected lecturer and author who toured the US in 1898.
Seton became involved with an organization called the Woodcraft Indians later known as the Woodcraft League, which became Boy Scouts. Seton became the first Boy Scout of the Boy Scouts of America and led the organization between 1910 and 1915.
Seton had an impact on people in all walks of life, apparently inspiring Jack London to write "Jungle Tales" and initiating a lifelong friendship with Pres. Theodore Roosevelt.
Seton was fascinated with wolves and they appeared in many of his stories. He signed some of his books with a drawing of a wolf's paw. These books became collectors' items. A copy of one of these "The Trail of the Sandhill Stag" was so inscribed when presented to Premier Hugh Macdonald in 1900.
In 1930 he settled in New Mexico where he died on Oct 23 1946. He left a library of 13,000 specialized books, 8,000 paintings and drawings, and 3,000 mounted birds and mammal skins.