“Even after all this time, it was endlessly fascinating.”
In March 2010, Cowan visited the reconstruction of a Blue Whale being prepared for the Beaty Biodiversity Museum at UBC by conservator Mike DeRoos (a younger relative of Cowan’s nephew by marriage, Tom DeRoos) at a big warehouse in the Inner Harbour of Victoria. It was 73 years after he had flensed the Minke Whale in the same spot using gasoline! The reconstruction was near completion and shortly to be shipped over to Vancouver for installation and the grand opening of the museum. The Blue Whale was the final skeleton needed to complete the Cowan tetrapod collection. Cowan spent most of the afternoon there, talking with the crew and meeting Joanne Thomson, the artist hired on the project and a friend of Ann’s, who photographed him under the giant skeleton. Cowan remarked, “Even after all this time, it was endlessly fascinating.”
He had always wanted a Blue Whale specimen for a museum collection. British Columbia boasts the smallest mammal in the world and the largest, and having the two skeletons side by side is an incomparable lesson in evolution, not to mention the biodiversity that BC offers. He had collected the smallest Pygmy Shrew in Ootsa for the collection, but there had never been an opportunity for a Blue Whale. A 1945 newspaper article, describing him as “Dr. (Bring ’em back) Cowan,” had quoted him as saying, “The smallest creature, about an inch and a half long, is a pigmy [sic] shrew, like a midget packrat. The largest, which space does not permit to display at UBC, is a sulphur-bottomed whale that runs around 110 feet long and weighs a ton per foot.”
Viewing the Blue Whale reconstruction would be his last major outing. Ian McTaggart Cowan died of pneumonia three weeks later, on April 18, surrounded by his family, two months short of his 100th birthday. He would miss two grand celebrations: the opening of the Beaty Biodiversity Museum, and his 100th birthday party at the Lieutenant Governor’s house. If Cowan were to have had a regret, it might be that he was denied these last two opportunities to don his ceremonial plumage and enthuse with an audience about how “fascinating” this world is.