Today, April 3, is Brother Marie-Victorin Kirouac’s birthday. Here in Quebec, Marie-Victorin’s name is almost synonymous with botany. I often drive past multiple Parcs Marie-Victorin in my weekly travels.
Marie-Victorin was born Conrad Kirouac in 1885 in Kingsey Falls, Quebec. He was educated by and later joined the Frères des écoles chrétiennes, a Catholic religious fraternity. He taught in several schools in Montreal, where he developed an interest in botany and Quebec nationalism. He wrote for several publications on various topics.
Marie-Victorin is known for his two major life achievements. First, his collection of botanical specimens became the foundation of Montreal’s Jardin Botanique when he donated them in 1920. He was a tireless advocate for the botanical garden and pushed city administrations to fund and complete the work.
Second, his 1935 book Flore Laurentienne was the first comprehensive catalogue of plants indigenous to Quebec. It lists more than 1500 species, and remains the definitive text on native plants of the St. Lawrence River Valley.
Marie-Victorin is well-remembered here. Besides parks and streets and an electoral district, the line of seeds I use for planting native wildflowers bears his name and image. A statue of him stands at the entrance to the botanical gardens. Maybe the biggest honour for a botanist, a species of evening primrose, Oenothera victorinii, is named after him.
I am going to try to celebrate Marie-Victorin’s birthday by paying attention to the native plants around me today. We’re going for a hike, then to a sugar shack on Mont Saint Grégoire this afternoon, so I’ll have a lot of opportunity to look at trees of Quebec.