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Archival description
Omond McKillop Solandt fonds
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Wilderness Research Foundation

During the late 1980s the future of the Quetico-Superior Wilderness Research Center at Mukluk Bay, Minnesota was very much in question. The Wilderness Research Foundation, which sponsored it, was assessing its future at a time when its founder was withdrawing from active participation prior to his death in December, 1988. Dr. Solandt was initially a member of the Advisory Committee to the Board of the Foundation and later a member of the Board. He pressed for the continuation of wilderness research at Mukluk Bay and left the Board in 1991 only when he felt that this would be achieved.

The correspondence, minutes, memoranda and reports written by Dr. Solandt and others, along with articles and institutional reports, clearly document the relationship between the Foundation and the Center, the work done by the latter, the problems it faced, and the policies that were developed in an attempt to save it.

Omond McKillop Solandt fonds

  • UTA 1791
  • Fonds
  • 1915-1994

When Dr. Solandt started donating his personal records to the University of Toronto Archives in 1988, beginning with his certificates and diplomas, the richness, diversity, and volume of the material still to come was only hinted at. Over the next five years further donations were made, punctuated by telephone conversations about the need for still more boxes and folders and archival methods of arrangement and description. Dr. Solandt was very interested in our professional approach to managing his records and was determined (as always, I was to discover) to do things in the proper manner. Twenty years after his death his widow, Vaire, donated the last of his personal records; they had been partially arranged by Dr. Solandt and stored above the garage at the Wolfe Den.

Dr. Solandt’s running commentary on his past life, as the boxes piled up for transfer to the Archives, proved of considerable assistance. I faced a huge volume of records documenting wide-ranging, complex, and often inter-related events, which he had divided into categories roughly equivalent to his numerous activities. These were to form the basis of most of the forty-six series in this inventory. In addition, beginning several years before, he had undertaken to do what few individuals have ever had the time or the inclination to attempt – an overview of each principal activity. There are more than twenty of these, totalling several hundred pages. Each demonstrates the clarity of thought and an understanding of the essentials of any problem facing him that characterized his work and enabled him often to juggle several divergent projects at once. They proved invaluable as I sought to make sense of the mountain of material in front of me, and should be equally useful to researchers.

The records, dating from 1915 to 1994, encompass most of the media one might expect to find in an archives, the bulk being textual records, graphic material (primarily photographs and slides), maps and plans, and publications. The material pertaining to his personal life consists primarily of biographical files (including press coverage), correspondence and diaries, files on his travels and, especially, on his canoe trips as part of the “Voyageurs” group.

Most of the records, not surprisingly, document his extraordinarily active and productive professional life, from the beginning of World War II to the end of the 1980s. The earlier portions of his career, especially his years with the Defence Research Board, Canadian National Railways, de Havilland, and the Electric Reduction Company are not well represented here as the records are largely found elsewhere. The volume of records begin to pick up in the mid-1960s and the greatest strength is to be found in those generated from the early 1970s on, when Dr. Solandt’s activities became complex indeed, with directorships in many companies, many consultancies, trusteeships and advisory committees. Three activities which seemed to please him most were ...the Scientific Advisory Committee to the Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories [1976-1982]..consultancies for international agricultural and medical research [1975-1988]...and Senior Consultant to the Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of Toronto, enabling him to retain a close association with the University.

This finding aid for this fonds is arranged by series, with the accessions clearly designated. In the series that are grouped by activity, the arrangement, once career changes are identified, is largely chronological. The principal concentration of activity in any project is the determining factor in the order. Organizations that predominate in one series may be represented in another, particularly those dealing with international agricultural and medical research, such as the umbrella Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research. Most accessions have more than one series.

Dr. Solandt’s abiding interest in scientific research and development is a recurring theme throughout and was instrumental, for instance, to his agreeing to chair the newly established Science Council of Canada (1966) and in joining the IMASCO/CDC Research Foundation (1978). Similarly, it was his acknowledged excellence as a manager that, in later years, brought him into contact with the international research agencies that needed professional advice on internal structural problems. On another level, the canoe trips he began at the age of 41 nurtured an interest in wilderness conservation and, subsequently, involvement with the Quetico Foundation and the Wilderness Research Foundation. One factor linking all these activities was Dr. Solandt’s inter-disciplinary approach to ideas and problem solving; it is a recurring theme in his correspondence and in his introductions to the series.

Solandt, O. M.