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- Huntsman, A. G.
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Archibald Gowanlock Huntsman was a Canadian academic, oceanographer, and fisheries biologist. He is best known for his research on Atlantic salmon and inventing the fast freezing of fish fillets in 1929.
He was born in Tintern, Ontario, on 23 November 1883 and died at his summer residence in St. Andrew’s, New Brunswick on 8 August 1973.
Huntsman received a BA from University College at the University of Toronto in 1905 and an MB in 1907, having entered the new program in biological physical sciences which combined courses in arts and medicine. After his fourth year in 1904, he was taken on as a class assistant by Professor B.A. Bensley and spent his summers at the Georgian Bay Biological Station at Go Home Bay, where he studied the development of young bass and which gave him a good grounding in biological research.
Huntsman’s first academic appointment was lecturer in biology at the University of Toronto in 1907. He spent the summers of 1908 and 1909 at the new Pacific Biological Station in Nanaimo and rose to be professor of marine biology (without salary) in 1927, with students both in biology and botany.
In 1911 the Biological Board of Canada, with A. B. Macallum as its secretary and supported by Ramsay Wright, appointed him curator and in 1919 director of the Atlantic Biological Station in St. Andrew’s, New Brunswick, where he spent his summers. In addition, he started between 1924 and 1928 the first of the Board’s technological stations for research on fish handling at Halifax. In 1934 he was appointed editor and consulting director by the Board [“kicked upstairs” as he put it in an oral history interview, but the Board “gave me the ability to do…any research I wished and all the facilities I asked for straight through for…20 years”], retiring from the former position in 1948 and from the latter in 1953.
“Huntsman felt the need of trying to solve the problem with which fishermen must deal: What fish will be where, and when? This could typify the general problem of what life there will be at any particular place and time, taking into account all the complexities of the organism and its environment…At the Georgian Bay, Pacific and Atlantic stations, ‘he ignored traditional ideas – for example, Aristotle’s teleology and Darwin’s principle of the survival of the fittest – in studying kinds of plants and animals…That the distribution of plants and animals is correlated with physical factors became clear to him when he was associated with Johan Hjort of Norway in the Canadian Fisheries Expedition of 1914-1915, an oceanographic survey in which the Gulf Stream…, the Labrador Current…and the St. Lawrence River…play prominent roles. It seemed obvious to him that each kind was limited in distribution and abundance by its environment. Fitness of the environment rather than the individual, Huntsman concluded, was the key factor in ecology.”
Hjort also introduced Huntsman to a process of quick freezing fish that had been developed in Norway. During World War I, with the encouragement of J.J.R. Macleod, Huntsman worked on adapting it at St. Andrew’s. One of the projects at the Halifax station was to perfect the process of handling frozen fish which was then marketed through a private company before the project met other commercial opposition and foundered.
“In 1934 Huntsman began an extended study of the behaviour of the salmon (Salmo salar). Those of the Margaree River of Cape Breton Island were causing most concern by not entering the river to become available for angling…Through the years, Huntsman studied other salmon populations living under varied conditions and verifying his inferences as to factors affecting salmon behaviour in laboratory and pond experiments. He came to see that the entrance of salmon into the Margaree River was dependent upon their being concentrated toward the estuary mouth by the hydrodynamic circulation set up by the mixture there of much freshet water with sea water, and through rheotactic guidance of fish through the shallow four-mile estuary by such freshet water. Also, he obtained experimental proof in the Moser River for the inference that salmon ascended with the decline of sharp freshets. The chief variables to which they responded were changes in light, temperature, current, salinity, and character of solutes…Only such complex environmental action accounts for where salmon are found to go in migrating, and it should replace the traditional fixed idea (lacking factual support) that they direct their courses first oceanward and then riverward. This elucidation of the role played by environment has broad implications for life in general, including that of man.”
Huntsman became a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 1917 and its president for 1938. He received the Society’s Flavelle Medal in 1952. In 1969 he received an LLD from the University of Toronto, and in 1978 the Department’s resource centre in the Ramsay Wright Zoological Laboratories was designated the A. G. Huntsman Aquatic Biology Reference Centre in his honour. In 1968, several eastern Canadian universities combined to establish the Huntsman Marine Laboratory at St. Andrew’s for the training of students in marine biology. It officially opened in 1970.
Huntsman had an insatiable curiosity and loved a good argument, as noted by his fellow students at the University of Toronto – ‘Though vanquished, he would argue still.’ These traits were reflected in his writings which ranged from purely scientific treatises to philosophical musings. His publications included over 200 articles, numerous reports for the Biological Board of Canada and other scientific bodies, and a book. The number of published pieces declined after his retirement, his principal work from this period being Life and the Universe (1959) which was, a reviewer noted, ‘an attempt to develop a new, simplified approach to an age-old question.’
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- B2005-0016 finding aid