Dick Harington, Ph.D., FRGS, FRCGS (1987 Massey Medalist) and Officer of the Order of Canada, passed away in Ottawa on September 8.
He started his storied career as an Arctic wildlife biologist, specialising in muskoxen and polar bears after obtaining his BSc from the University of Alberta. His research continued through his MSc at McGill, spending the 1957-58 International Geophysical Year as leader of the winter party at Lake Hazen on Ellesmere Island (northernmost Nunavut). Dick was employed as a wildlife biologist by the Canadian Wildlife Service in the early 1960s, achieving legendary status doing winter research by being curious enough - and brave enough - to crawl into the snow-covered dens of hibernating polar bears to record their body temperatures.
He was hired in 1965 by the National Museum of Natural Sciences (now the Canadian Museum of Nature) as its Curator of Quaternary Zoology, a position he held until his retirement in 1998. He maintained his link with the museum as Curator Emeritus and was an active researcher until his death. He led numerous field expeditions to Yukon Territory, leaving an enviable legacy of friendly cooperation and mutual respect with the placer gold mining community near Dawson and with the Gwich’in First Nations people in Old Crow. His career work inspired the establishment of the Yukon Beringia Centre in Whitehorse and the Government of Yukon Palaeontology Program. Dick’s work in the Yukon was the basis for his PhD from the University of Alberta and expanded the Canadian Museum of Nature’s collection of Pleistocene vertebrate fossils to more than 40,000 specimens, making it one of the largest collections of its kind in the world. It is fitting that Haringtonhippus, an extinct genus of stilt-legged horse found in the Yukon and elsewhere in North America was named in honour of his work.
Dick was in his element in the field. He collected vertebrate fossils in numerous regions including Alaska, Siberia and Patagonia. His last 10 field seasons were spent on Ellesmere Island, Nunavut, studying the fauna and palaeoenvironment of the four million-year-old Beaver Pond fossil site. He was a quiet man, but his passion, humour, wide-ranging knowledge and field experience made him a popular speaker within the scientific community and with the general public, whether the topic was Ice Age megafauna, marine mammals of the post-glacial Champlain Sea, or long-term climatic oscillations.
Dick recognised early on the remarkable and long-lasting effects of climate change. Beginning in 1983, he organised and chaired three international scientific meetings on climate change in Canada. The resulting five volumes were among his 300+ publications. He was thesis advisor for a number of students at universities in Canada, USA and UK, and established fellowships at the universities of Winnipeg, Alberta, Simon Fraser, and Calgary. Dick was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Science by the University of Alberta in 2004.
A more complete tribute for Dick can be found here.