When the Allan Brooks Nature Centre was still a dream, it was named after an important Okanagan – based naturalist. Allan Brooks (1869 – 1946) was a very talented, self-taught painter and wildlife artist of international stature who lived in the Okanagan Landing area in the early 1900s. His work was featured in numerous publications including National Geographic Magazine in the early 1920s and 1930s, and Birds of Canada (Taverner, 1934).
Most of Allan Brooks original paintings (over 1800 cataloged to date) are in private and institutional collections around the world, including many in Canada. The only permanent collection of Brooks’ works can be seen right here in Vernon at the Greater Vernon Museum and Archives.
The Commonage (the location of the Allan Brooks Nature Centre) was one of Brooks’ favorite places. He often used the area for hunting, bird watching and as a background in his numerous paintings.
Inspired by his father, Brooks developed an interest in birdwatching early in his life. His talent in illustrating birds was evident in sketches he produced when only five years old. Brooks’ skills as a naturalist grew as he traveled widely, studying and recording observations of birds in sketches and detailed notes. To attract his subjects, Brooks perfected his imitation of bird calls.
The quality and diversity of habitats in the Okanagan provide excellent opportunities for naturalists and must have been important in attracting Brooks to settle and remain in the Vernon area. In his small bird sanctuary in Okanagan Landing alone, Brooks recorded 40 species of nesting birds. His detailed records made a significant contribution to understanding bird life in the early days of settlement and for making accurate comparisons today.
In addition to his work as an artist, Brooks’ work assisted the scientific community of his day and of present times as well. In his early years in British Columbia he collected specimens and field notes for many prestigious universities. He also amassed a vast personal collection of avifauna (or native birds) for study, the majority of which (9000 skins) now reside at the University of California in Berkeley.
The Government of Canada has recently declared Major Allan C. Brooks a “Person of National Historic Significance,” and he is commemorated in the siting of a plaque at the Allan Brooks Nature Centre in Vernon.
The commemorative ceremony took place on October 7th, 2001 with Robert Bateman, renowned Canadian wildlife artist (and a member/sponsor of our society), in attendance. Mr. Bateman described the inspiration that Brooks gave him during his formative years as an artist through the study of a collection of Brooks’ paintings, then hanging in the rotunda of the Royal Ontario Museum. He considers Brooks to be one of the “foremost realistic bird painters of the early 20th century” who influenced many illustrators in later years.
For more information about the life of Major Allan C. Brooks, please visit the online biography “Major Allan Brooks of Okanagan Landing” by Jean Webber.
– Information courtesy of Allan Brooks Nature Centre