Thomas Gordon Lewis Northcote, BA(Hons)’50, MA’52, PhD’60

Thomas Gordon Lewis NorthcoteTom was born in Mission City on 16 December 1928, and passed away in Summerland on 24 April 2017. He grew up in Mission, where he attended school, including senior matrix and Latin by correspondence. During these years, he developed an avid interest in the outdoors, hunting duck and fishing with his family. His studies began at UBC in his second year in 1947, and he completed an honours BA degree in 1950.

From 1951, during summers he worked under the directorship of Peter Larkin on the BC lake survey program, and a strong interest in fisheries and fresh water ecology (limnology) was cemented. He completed his MA under Dr. Larkin in 1952 and joined the research section of the BC Fish and Wildlife Branch situated on the UBC campus.

Tom met his future wife, Catherine Heather McKay, in the Zoology Department, and they were married in 1954. Tom enrolled in the PhD program under the direction of Dr. Bill Hoar, and in 1955 took a leave of absence on an NRC scholarship to attend Cambridge University for a year’s study on fish behaviour with Sir James Gray.

Afterwards, he returned to the Fish and Wildlife Branch research section and completed his PhD studies in 1960. In 1958, sharing his time between the Fish and Wildlife Branch and the Zoology Department, where he was a faculty member, he instigated a 4th year course in limnology, which he taught annually until his retirement in 1992.

During the 1960s he developed an interest in the field of inland waters, attending limnological symposia in the Americas, Europe, and Japan. The Swedish Government invited him to investigate the whitefish fishery in Lake Malaren, Stockholm, from May to September 1969, and for this he was accompanied by Heather and their three sons. In 1970, Tom participated in a multidisciplinary study of the Okanagan watershed, with emphasis on the effect of water use on fish habitat.

In 1972, he left his directorship role with the Fish and Wildlife Research division to become a full-time faculty member at UBC, where he shared his time between Zoology, the newly established Westwater Research Institute, and the Faculty of Forestry. Over several years in the mid-70s, with professors Irving Fox, Tony Darcey and others, Tom completed a multidisciplinary study of the Lower Fraser River Valley and estuary and the impact of human development on the Salmonid fishery. In 1972 he developed the first course on Forestry/Fisheries interaction and taught it until his retirement.

Further afield, Tom was involved in studies in Britain, New Zealand, Sweden, Brazil and Peru, where he instigated a Canadian Government (CIDA) funded program to examine the effects of pollution in Lake Titicaca on the local fishery. It ran over several years and was designed to train local scientists in the management of their own resources.

Tom served on the board of the provincial Habitat Conservation Trust for many years, and on the board of governors of the Vancouver Aquarium from 1965 until his retirement. He was an active member of the Scientists in School program, emphasizing the importance of the study of limnology. He worked with the Musqueam Indian Band on the cutthroat trout population on the UBC Endowment lands.

At the instigation of Dr. Vladimir Krajina, he joined the newly formed provincial Ecological Reserves Committee to advise on unique inland water habitats, including the unusual high-saline and often anoxic lakes of the southern interior that he had observed during the lake surveys of his undergraduate summers. In particular, he studied Mahoney Lake, near Oliver, as part of the annual field trips of his limnology course. Mahoney Lake is now recognized as a highly unusual ecological system dominated by purple sulphur bacteria. It is the subject of more than 50 scientific research articles, many of which Tom authored. Along with Dr. Ken Hall, he was able to protect Mahoney Lake as an ecological reserve in 1972.

Upon his retirement from UBC in 1992, Tom and Heather moved to Summerland, where Tom continued to study the ecology of several lakes in the Okanagan Valley including Mahoney. He continued to publish research articles and co-wrote the book Fisheries and Forestry: Worldwide Watershed, Interaction and Management (2004).

Over his working career and well into his retirement, Tom published more than 275 internationally reviewed research articles and received many awards including the Izaak Walton Killam Senior Fellow Award (1986); the Murray A. Newman Award (1986); the American Fisheries Society Award of Excellence (1986); the Frank Rigler Award (1987); life membership from the Federation of BC Naturalists (1989); the Societas Internationalis Limnologica Naumann Thiesmann award (2001); the Habitat Conservation Trust Lifetime Achievement Award (2004) from BC’s Lt. Governor; and an honorary life membership from the Canadian Society of Environmentalists (2012).

Tributes from many of his numerous students show his leadership in helping them to achieve their goals, be they in limnology, fisheries or other biological interests. For Tom, this will always be his most valued reward.

After more than 63 years of marriage Tom passed away peacefully on April 24, 2017, in the presence of his wife Heather, BA’53, and his three sons Gordon, BSc’79, DipEd’82, Peter, BSc’82, PhD’89, and Rob, BSc’85, BASc’92.

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