Naturalist Joan Crowe (HBSc'70) Leads the Way for Lakehead Students

Joan and Walter Crowe headshot

When World War II broke out in the fall of 1939, an 11 year-old girl from the northwestern edge of London spent the autumn days wandering among the ancient oak and beech trees of Epping Forest.

School ad been cancelled because of the threat of a German bombing campaign and she wasn't going to waste a minute of her time indoors.  In her hand was a wildflower identification book and at her heels was her high-spirited terrier named Dan.

Eighty years later, that young girl is a distinguished botanist and a passionate field naturalist.  Joan Crowe has also become a woman who has had a lasting impact on Lakehead University as a student, a lecturer, a volunteer, and as the curator of the University's Claude E. Garton Herbarium.

Joan and her late husband, Professor Emeritus of Business Administration, Dr. Walter Crowe, have also given Lakehead students a brighter future with their generous donations to the University.

This year, Joan made a $16,000 gift to Lakehead's Claude E. Garton Herbarium to establish the Joan Crowe Bryophyte and Lichen Collection (bryophytes are a group of plants consisting of liverworts, hornworts, and mosses.)

The Claude E. Garton Herbarium, located in the Centennial Building, has over 100,000 dried plants.  "Herbaria are used for plant identification and mapping plant distribution," Joan explains.  Because of her generosity, the Herbarium has been able to purchase equipment and supplies, continue digitizing the collection, and hire a work-study student.  

So how did Joan end up on the other side of the Atlantic far from Epping Forest?

"Walter and I liked to travel and in 1966, he saw a job posting for an assistant business professor at Lakehead University and he applied," Joan says.  Walter quickly settled in and turned his attention to shaping the fledgling Faculty of Business Administration and mentoring his students.

Joan, meanwhile, spent her first year in Thunder Bay as a teacher in the public school system before completing an Honours Bachelor of Science in Biology at Lakehead.  She subsequently did a Master of Science at the University of Manitoba - while based in Thunder Bay - and used the Herbarium for her research.  Once her master's was finished, Joan went back to teaching Grade 7 and 8 students.  

Her retirement in 1985 gave her the opportunity to teach plant courses at Lakehead and volunteer at the Herbarium.  Then in 1990, Joan was appointed as the Herbarium's curator, a post she held until Walter retired in 1993 and they moved to Owen Sound.  Despite starting a new chapter, the couple continued to support Lakehead students.

With Walter's death in 2016, Joan and her children sought out ways to honour his legacy.  They became one of the first donors to Lakehead University's Teaching Commons campaign, making a $25,000 gift to dedicate a space "In memory of Professor Walter Crowe" outside the office of Learning Technologies and Innovation.  In addition, the family donated $30,000 to create the Walter Crowe Business Bursary.

"We want Walter to be remembered- the University was a big part of his life and he did a lot for Lakehead," she says.  

His loss was grieved by his family and friends as well as the Lakehead community.  In an online condolence, one of his former students said:

"He was the best teacher that I had (and lots of them were very good.) He was so down to earth and approachable, with an incredible sense of humour...Thank you Dr.Crowe.  The world is a better place becase you were here."

To make a gift to the Herbarium online, visit and go to the Herbarium project page or contact:

Kathryn Davidson, Philanthropy Director:
T: (807) 343-8476