Plenary Session - Wednesday, November 16

Three Brothers in Biology: Bugs, Birds, Books, Conservation, and Politics 

The Cannings brothers – Rob, Syd, and Dick – have a long history as biologists in Canada. Growing up in the diverse habitats of British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley, they immersed themselves in birds and insects, botany and geology. Their careers have taken them all over the world but their hearts are in Canada, where they have worked in nature interpretation, parks development, museum collections and research, conservation biology and, in Dick’s case, even national politics. They have published on many biological topics in both the scientific and popular literature. The three brothers each speak on their careers and interests and how their individual histories have intertwined.

Richard Cannings
Member of Parliament
Representing South Okanagan-West Kootenay, British Columbia


Richard Cannings was born and raised in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia and worked for most of his career as a biologist. He curated the Cowan Vertebrate Museum at the University of British Columbia for 17 years, then worked with Bird Studies Canada for 16 years, coordinating Canadian Christmas bird counts, the eBird program, and the British Columbia Owl Survey.

He served on various boards and committees, including 8 years as co-chair for birds on the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, 11 years on the British Columbia Environmental Appeal Board, and 5 years on the British Columbia Forest Appeals Commission. He was a founding director of the Okanagan Similkameen Conservation Alliance and has also served as a board member for the Nature Conservancy of Canada.

Richard has written more than a dozen books on the natural history of British Columbia. In 2015 he moved from biology to politics and now serves as the federal Member of Parliament for South Okanagan-West Kootenay.

Rob Cannings 
Curator Emeritus
Royal British Columbia Museum

Rob Cannings grew up in the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia in a family known across Canada for its contributions to natural history and conservation. Early in his career he was a nature interpreter for BC Parks and the Canadian Wildlife Service and was curator of the Spencer Entomological Museum at the University of BC in Vancouver. At the Royal BC Museum, from 1980 until his retirement in 2013, he was curator of entomology and, from 1987 to 1996, managed the museum’s Natural History Section. He is now curator emeritus there.

Rob has been active on the Scientific Committee of the Biological Survey of Canada (Terrestrial Arthropods), the Arthropod Subcommittee of the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, and the executive committees of Societas Internationalis Odonatologicae, the Dragonfly Society of the Americas, and the Entomological Societies of BC and Canada. He has written more than 250 scientific and popular articles and six books on topics from dragonflies and robber flies to birds and nature interpretation.

Rob and his brothers, Syd and Richard, were made Honorary Fellows of Okanagan College in 2008 for their work in biology, public education and nature conservation in BC. In 2009 he won the Bruce Naylor Award for outstanding contributions to museum-based natural history studies in Canada. On his retirement he received the Royal BC Museum’s Lifetime Achievement Award and was made an Honorary Member of the Entomological Society of BC.

Syd Cannings
Species at Risk Biologist
Canadian Wildlife Service

Syd Cannings he works on a variety of issues dealing with assessment, listing, and recovery of species at risk—everything from bumble bees to bears. Since 2012, he has been a representative for the Canadian Wildlife Service on the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.

Early in his career, Syd was the curator of the insect collection at the University of British Columbia, and he later worked as a program zoologist at the British Columbia Conservation Data Centre.

He is the author of several books (with his brothers and others), including British Columbia: A Natural History, The New B.C. Roadside Naturalist, and Geology of British Columbia: A Journey Through Time.

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