John Douglas Gregson
1910 - 2006
John "Jack" Gregson was born on June 17, 1910, in Blackfald, Alberta, the only child of Arthur and Ettie Gregson. He attended a one-room school to Grade 7 and then the family moved to Courtenay on Vancouver Island. There his interest in 'bugs' established his lifelong association with nature and as a teenager he had amassed an impressive collection of butterflies. He earned his Bachelor of Arts at the University of British Columbia (1934), and his Master of Science in Medical Entomology from the University of Alberta (1936), with a thesis entitled: "A Preliminary Study of Tick and Host in Relation to Western Canadian Tick-borne Diseases". The historical document was noted not only because of its broad scientific scope, but also for some exquisite diagrams, hand-drawn and coloured by Jack.
Following his thesis, Jack took up a position in the Veterinary and Medical Entomology labs of the Canada Department of Agriculture (now Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada) in Kamloops, where he spent his whole career, serving as the lab's Director from 1944 to his retirement in 1971. It is also where he met and married Barbara Claxton and raised five children. His interest in ticks (Acarology) was very broad, including feeding dynamics, host immunity, taxonomy, natural history, morphology/histology and tick paralysis which eventually resulted in many trips throughout the world attending international congresses in Seattle, Vienna, Nairobi, Geneva and Nottingham. This whetted his and Barbara's appetite for further travels after retirement.
It was his interest in tick paralysis associated with the Rocky Mountain wood tick, Dermacentor andersoni, which led him to an observation in 1967 that helped solve a long-time puzzle of tick physiology. Although it had been known for at least two decades that ticks concentrate their blood meal by excretion of excess fluid, the route of this excretion remained an enigma, because most ticks do not excrete urine during and immediately after the feeding period as do blood-sucking insects. It was his observations on tick mouthparts attached to everted hamster cheek pouches that led him to propose salivation as the mechanism of blood meal concentration. This hypothesis, in turn, formed the foundation of new research directions in tick physiology. In order to find a remedy for tick paralysis Jack investigated the method and specific toxins ticks used. He pioneered a means of collecting tick saliva, (by the thimbleful), for analysis. In order to ascertain how ticks could both suck blood and inject saliva, Jack cut the tick's head, about the size of a grain of sand, into over one hundred slices which were then stained to differentiate the tissues. The resulting slide show, "A journey down the throat of a tick", is an example of his painstaking care and precision.
During his career Jack was invited to address the World Health Organization. He spoke, in the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Austria and Switzerland, to other councils investigating arthropoid-transmitted diseases. He was the U.S. Navy Medical Unit's consultant on parasitic problems in the Middle East. Scientists from Australia and Egypt visited Jack at the Lab in Kamloops and he traveled to Cairo to advise on methods for tick research there. Jack was once noted to say: "Wood ticks are friendly little creatures. You can get quite attached to them!"
Jack was one of those remarkably talented and self-reliant people who seemed to be able to do everything. In addition to building their house 'Grenehalghe' in the 1940s, and landscaping their extensive grounds (it was later designated a "Heritage Garden site"), he was also a keen naturalist, photographer and artist. In the 1940s, he painted alongside A.Y. Jackson of Canada's famed Group of Seven and his 1942 painting "Revelation Pass" was judged second-best in show at the Vancouver Art Gallery. In 2004, Jack had his first solo exhibit, in the Kamloops Art Gallery. In 1936 he established the Kamloops Outdoor Club, and in 1970 the Kamloops Naturalist Club.
In 1931 he joined Ben Hughes, Adrian Paul and Arthur Leighton on a trip to the unclimbed Red Pillar near the Cliffe Glacier on Vancouver Island and made the peaks first ascent. Hughes wrote: "Jack Gregson, the youngest member of the party, besides collecting some rare beetles for his collection, more than won his spurs as a mountaineer." The many alpine trips that he led in remote areas of British Columbia and beyond served as inspiration for his landscape oil paintings.
Jack has been a 'local hero' in Kamloops. He spearheaded the development of the McArthur Island Waterway Park in 1980, and a butterfly garden in that park in 1994 which is named in his honour. The bicycle path there is named "The Jack Gregson Trail", and he was named a freeman of the city of Kamloops in 1990. Among numerous local and Canadian provincial awards he received over the years, in 2000, Jack was awarded an Honourary Doctor of Letters degree from the University College of the Cariboo. Jack has more than 80 scientific publications, he named three species of ticks, discovered and had a stonefly, Capnia Gregsoni, named for him, as well as a new species of tick, Ixodes (Pholeoixodes) Gregsoni.
Jack Gregson passed away peacefully on October 29, 2006, at his home in Kamloops, British Columbia, at the age of ninety-six. He is survived by his wife, Barbara, their five children, nine grandchildren and four great grandchildren.
Below is a poem Jack wrote when a local group claimed the right to develop a ski village because they "owned" the land, reprinted here from the Proceedings of the 4th International Conference on Ticks and Tick-borne Pathogens, with kind permission of Springer Science and Business Media.
a cricket to an ice-bug as they sat on Mt. Paul's slide,
an eagle to a ground-squirrel as it soared o'er peaks sublime,
moral of this issue is, as far as I can see,
Grylloblatta, the Ice-bug.
Frisk, Trudy. "Jack Gregson - A man attached to ticks." http://www.cowboylife.com/
J.D. (1967) Observations on the movement of fluids in the vicinity of
the mouthparts of naturally feeding Dermacentor andersoni Stiles. Parasitology
Hughes, Ben. "Great Alpine Region Has Been Explored." Comox Argus [Courtenay, B.C.] (August 6, 1931) p.
"Obituary." Kamloops Daily News. [Kamloops, B.C.] (October, 2006)