History of the Canadian National Collection

Beginnings and search for a Home

1883 - 1916:

In 1883 James Fletcher, an accountant in the Library of Parliament in Ottawa, was appointed as honorary entomologist to the Department of Agriculture following the formal recognition by the Canadian Government of the value of having well-informed entomologists in the Department. Although he assumed his duties in that year, Mr. Fletcher was not officially appointed Dominion Entomologist until 1897 when he moved on to the Central Experimental Farm site in Ottawa. He was the inaugurator of the biological collections when he donated his personal holdings of insects and plants to the government in 1886.

1916 - 1920:

In 1916 the Parliament buildings burned and the parliamentarians moved to the nearby National Museum (Victoria Memorial Building). In 1917, because of the resulting congestion of people and artifacts, the entomology collections of the National Museum, (12 steel cabinets with 600 drawers) were administratively transferred to the Entomology Branch in the Department of Agriculture, and physically moved to an alternate structure (Birks Building). Around that time, this transferred collection also amalgamated with a much smaller collection of the Biological Division, Geological Survey in the Department of Mines. From these origins the Canadian National Collection of Insects was born and has remained the responsibility of the Department of Agriculture since that time.

1920 - 1949:

Dr. C. Gordon Hewitt, succeeded Mr. Fletcher as Dominion Entomologist1. In 1919 Dr. Hewitt formed the Division of Systematic Entomology. In 1931, two of the first insect taxonomists, moved the entire collection by horse-drawn wagon from the Birks Building to the Confederation Building near Parliament Hill. Finally, in 1949 the collection was moved to its current home in the K.W. Neatby Building on the Central Experimental Farm.

Administrative Matters and Name Changes

1949 - 1970's:

Over 120 scientists and biologists have worked in insect systematics or related areas in what was first known as the Division of Systematic Entomology. The administrative names of the organizations immediately responsible for insect systematics and the collections have changed eight times over the past 110 years. Considering all the name changes it has been simplest and appropriate to refer to the entomology collections component of the AAFC systematics science program as the Canadian National Collection of Insects, Arachnids and Nematodes. This name and acronym (CNC) has not changed since 1917 and is formally recognized around the world.

1970 - 1986:

In 1973 all of the systematics programs in the Department of Agriculture were united in a unique research centre (the Biosystematics Research Institute). In 1984, systematic studies on non-medical bacteria were added to this Institute's mandate. In 1986, the Institute was renamed the Biosystematics Research Centre. Over the past decades the name again went through further changes, with the systematics component in the AAFC Research Branch finally becoming a science Program within the Eastern Cereal and Oilseed Research Centre.

The Collection is joined by other National Treasures

1986 - today:

By 1986, the science Program responsible for developing and maintaining the Canadian National Collection of Insects, Arachnids, and Nematodes had about 16 million specimens. At its ECORC home other National collections were being developed:

Expeditions and Field Work

Systematics research in Ottawa has been conducted by a staff of over 55 scientists, biologists and technicians on insects, arachnids, nematodes, vascular plants, fungi, and non-medical bacteria.

The remarkable growth of the Collection has been largely a consequence of the field work by research and support staff. Field surveys by individuals, as well as large scale expeditions have been continuously supported by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada as part of the department's sponsorship of the systematics research program.

The most extensive survey work undertaken by AAFC entomologists and taxonomists was that of the Northern (Canadian) Insect Survey (1947-61) which involved no less than 66 field parties collecting specimens from more than 64 arctic and subarctic localities.

Other notable expeditions were made to:

  • Canada:
    • Southern Manitoba (1958);
    • British Columbia (Terrace area) (1960);
    • Canadian National Parks (St. Lawrence Islands, Ontario [1975-76]; Kouchibouguac, New Brunswick [1977-78]; Riding Mountain, Manitoba [1979-80]; Waterton, Alberta [1980]; Cape Breton Highlands, Nova Scotia [1983-84]);
    • Yukon (1980-87);
    • Gatineau Park, Quebec (1982).
  • United States and Mexico:
    • Florida (1952);
    • Mojave Desert (1955);
    • Highlands, North Carolina (1957);
    • Southern Texas (1959);
    • Colorado (1961);
    • Mexico (1962, 1969);
    • Southeastern United States (1987).
  • Around the world:
    • New Guinea (1957);
    • Nepal (1967);
    • Guatemala (1985-86).


  • Cody, W.J., Savile, D.B.O., Sarazin, M.J. 1986. Biosystematics Research Centre, Agriculture Canada. Ottawa, ON. Historical Series No. 28. 164 pp.
  • Gibson, A., McSwaine, J. 1920. Charles Gordon Hewitt. Canadian Entomologist 52:97-105.
  • McDunnough, J.H. 1926. The Canadian National Collection of Insects. Canadian Field Naturalist 40:36-40.
  • Spence, G.J. 1964. A century of entomology in Canada. Canadian Entomologist 96:33-59 (CNC on p. 46-50).
  • Vockeroth, J.R. 1981. Canadian entomology of the last century. Canadian Field Naturalist 95:18-23.