Marine Biology at U of G: A Brief History
The University of Guelph’s Marine and Freshwater Biology program has been a space for learning, teaching, and inspiration for over fifty years.
Founded in 1965 under the umbrella of Wellington College, the program became part of the College of Biological Science in 1971. It wasn’t until 1998 that ‘Freshwater’ was added to the name, reflecting the evolving research interests of faculty, and underscoring the value of studying diverse, yet ultimately similar, aquatic environments.
The Marine Biology program has burgeoned from only two students in its first year to over 1300 alumni today. Nowadays, former students can be found all over Canada and the world—from the Northwest Territories to Vancouver Island, from Australia to Finland—and have gone on to pursue careers in conservation, education, research, and NGOs, to name but a few.
Since its inception, the Marine and Freshwater Biology major has offered students unique learning experiences and opportunities to conduct independent research, whether on board research vessels in the flagship field course or through hands-on experiments at the state-of-the-art Hagen Aqualab.
The Marine Biology and Oceanography field course, which takes place in St. Andrews, NB, has been a hallmark of the program from the very start. Every summer since 1969, students have been introduced to the rich diversity of marine life at the celebrated Huntsman Marine Science Centre, of which the University of Guelph is a founding institution. Some 700 undergraduate students have gone through the intensive two-week program, gaining practical skills in marine and oceanographic research from the seashore to the open ocean.
Today, the scope of the field course has expanded to recognize that the lands and waters where it takes place are part of the traditional territory of the Peskotomuhkati Nation. Curricula are being redeveloped to nurture meaningful relationships with the Peskotomuhkati Nation and integrate Peskotomuhkati knowledge of the area as an essential component of learning. As the field course moves into its next fifty years, a new emphasis is placed on fostering learners’ connection with place.
Closer to home, students and researchers can explore diverse marine environments without ever leaving campus thanks to the Hagen Aqualab, a technologically advanced research facility inaugurated in 1996. The Aqualab, which uses recirculated water, can simulate a wide variety of aquatic environments—from tropical to arctic climes, brackish to fresh water.
The relatively recent arrival of the Marine and Freshwater Biology Co-op, in 2018, further expanded the program’s offerings to provide students with professional experience through work placements. Participants in the co-op program gain valuable skills in a variety of workplace settings and, most importantly, can test the waters of various career paths in aquatic sciences.
From investigating biological processes in simulated aquatic environments to incorporating Indigenous knowledge into oceanographic studies, the Marine and Freshwater Biology program continues to provide a uniquely enriching environment for students and researchers. The fundamental mission of exploring the incredible diversity of aquatic life, which motivated its founding over half a century ago, will no doubt inspire generations of scholars to come.
Where Are Our Alumni Now?
During the Saturday, June 25 reception for our alumni, we will have a slideshow going with pictures and updates of what all of our alumni are up to. If you’d like to share your update(s) with us, please complete the short form. Note that information provided will only be shared with event attendees via PowerPoint.