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Norm Seymour

The Duck Hunter

In collaboration with

Perch Magazine - Logo

Story by Dr. Leigh McGaughey
Photos by Stephany Hildebrand

Norm Seymour lives and breathes ecology. He’s spent a lifetime studying it, teaching it, and writing about it. Now he’s sharing everything he knows for the benefit of the Great River Rapport.

Norm has a clear memory of being a young boy growing up in Cornwall in the late 1940s, unable to sleep and waiting for his Uncle Lal to knock on his door to take him for his very first duck hunt. He carried the excitement of that first experience into early adulthood when he hunted avidly and ferried friends and family who visited regularly to the best fishing spots in the region. At that time, the young riverman had no interest in extending his studies past high school. But when he reached his mid-twenties and met his future wife, Andrea, he decided that he could further his passions by augmenting his education.

Norm moved to Nova Scotia to complete a Bachelor of Science degree at St. Francis Xavier University (St. FX), using his lifetime connection to the St. Lawrence River to fuel his studies. Through his studies, he found insights that brought a further understanding of his observations as a hunter and fisherman. Everything meshed.

He went on to do a master’s degree in zoology at the University of Manitoba and a Ph.D. in fisheries ecology at McGill and eventually returned to St FX where he launched his career as a biology professor. With a potent mix of high energy, passion, and knowledge—not to mention a class he liked to call “Ducks, Sex, and Rock n’ Roll”—he knew how to teach. Many students rated him as one of the best professors they’ve ever had. Norm retired in 2007 after 37 years of teaching at St FX, making way for more time on the river and collecting duck eggs for his beloved collection.

Norm Seymour lives and breathes ecology. He’s spent a lifetime studying it, teaching it, and writing about it. Now he’s sharing everything he knows for the benefit of the Great River Rapport.

Norm has a clear memory of being a young boy growing up in Cornwall in the late 1940s, unable to sleep and waiting for his Uncle Lal to knock on his door to take him for his very first duck hunt. He carried the excitement of that first experience into early adulthood when he hunted avidly and ferried friends and family who visited regularly to the best fishing spots in the region. At that time, the young riverman had no interest in extending his studies past high school. But when he reached his mid-twenties and met his future wife, Andrea, he decided that he could further his passions by augmenting his education.

Norm moved to Nova Scotia to complete a Bachelor of Science degree at St. Francis Xavier University (St. FX), using his lifetime connection to the St. Lawrence River to fuel his studies. Through his studies, he found insights that brought a further understanding of his observations as a hunter and fisherman. Everything meshed.

He went on to do a master’s degree in zoology at the University of Manitoba and a Ph.D. in fisheries ecology at McGill and eventually returned to St FX where he launched his career as a biology professor. With a potent mix of high energy, passion, and knowledge—not to mention a class he liked to call “Ducks, Sex, and Rock n’ Roll”—he knew how to teach. Many students rated him as one of the best professors they’ve ever had. Norm retired in 2007 after 37 years of teaching at St FX, making way for more time on the river and collecting duck eggs for his beloved collection.

Norm has maintained memories and connections to the river as far back as he can remember. Case in point: his father’s family home and entire community of Moulinette was lost when they were flooded during the building of the Moses-Saunders hydropower project and the Seaway. The impact of the dam wasn’t lost on Norm. On one hand, Norm could see how these projects fostered economic development and created jobs in the region. In fact, his maternal grandfather came from the UK to work as a manager at Courtaulds in Cornwall, a fabric, fibre, and chemical manufacturer that benefited from the new shipping channels created by the Seaway.

Conversely, Norm also witnessed the scars that came from the communities’ loss of land as well as the ecological consequences such as barriers to migration for key species like the American eel, and environmental degradation and contamination. The loss of the Long Sault rapids, a true natural wonder, says Norm, was especially devastating.

Just as his family history is intertwined with contrasting realities of cost and benefit, Norm can also point to duality in his own observations of the river ecosystem. For example, he talks of how local goose populations (Canada and Snow) have increased significantly in the past 30 years while the numbers of common ducks (like Blue winged Teal and Black) have declined. In fact, the Blue winged Teal is almost extirpated or locally rare.

Norm is quick to point out the many contributing factors that lead to change: shifts in hunting regulations and practices, climate change, and also land-use change (an extensive rise in agricultural farming provides food sources for the geese but the loss of breeding habitat for the ducks). In basic terms, everything affects everything else and that brings about changes to waterfowl populations on the Upper St. Lawrence River—for better or worse.

In the summertime, you’ll find Norm at his cottage on Hamilton Island, a piece of history owned by his family since 1946. From there, he plans his duck hunting expeditions and waxes on about the changes to the river he has observed in his lifetime. Norm continues to freely share his knowledge—both observed and scientifically studied—with those of us working on the Great River Rapport. That, along with his penchant for storytelling and teaching, helps make the information-gathering process more complete. Ultimately, Norm’s colourful stories will help us paint a more complete picture of the health of the river.

“Ecology isn’t rocket science, it’s common sense. Anyone can understand the concepts and their significance to their lives.”

-Norm Seymour

In collaboration with

Perch Magazine - Logo

Story by Dr. Leigh McGaughey
Photos by Stephany Hildebrand

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