Processing the archive of Casey Wood, McGill’s Birdman

By Sarah Adams, a McGill Master of Information Studies student and Young Canada Works Summer 2018 Archives Intern

As a Rare Books and Special Collections intern, I have been given the task of processing a collection of Casey A. Wood and to provide a description of the material and create a finding aid. This will allow for a better understanding of what is in the collection, as well as, better access for those interested in learning about Casey Wood and his work in ornithology, zoology, and the history of ophthalmology. I have also been re-housing the collection in archival boxes, an important step for preservation. Once my task is complete, all this information will be available on the McGill Library Archival Collections Catalogue for everyone to see.

Dr. Casey A. Wood, a photograph. From digital exhibit “The Birdman of McGill: Casey Wood.”

I’ve found a vast assortment of materials in the collection, such as manuscripts, letters, photographs, artwork, newspaper clippings, mementos from Wood’s life, and even palm-leaf manuscripts. It has been interesting to study these materials and to learn about who Casey Wood was and all the work and travel he did during his life. Which has led me to wonder – when did this man sleep?

From what I’ve heard, this was a question those involved in the 2018 colloquium “The Eyes Have It: A Re-appreciation of Casey Wood” had as well. At the colloquium presenters talked about Casey Wood, his work, and the development of the Blacker Wood Collection located in McGill’s Rare Books and Special Collections. In a great presentation called “Enriching the Blacker-Wood Collection,” Christopher Lyons, Head Librarian, Rare Books and Special Collections, talks about who Casey Wood was and Wood’s development of the Blacker Wood Collection. The Colloquium was recorded and is available on the Library’s YouTube channel


Casey Wood did a lot during his lifetime. Even after his retirement in 1920 from the U.S. War Department Office of the Surgeon General, he continued to research and travel. A time when people usually finish their career and take it easy, Wood, his wife Emma, niece Marjorie Fyfe, and their much beloved parrot John the Third were exploring places around the world to learn more about birds in their natural habitat. Wood wanted to learn everything he could about them. And what he learned, he wrote about. Some of his major publications, such as Fundus Oculi of Birds and An Introduction to the Literature of Vertebrate Zoology, are represented in this collection. As well as his many journal and newspaper publications.

Marjorie Fyfe, Dr. Casey A. Wood, and Emma Shearer Wood, a portrait. From the digital exhibit “The Birdman of McGill: Casey Wood.”  

John III, Yellow-headed Amazon Parrot. From the digital exhibit “The Birdman of McGill: Casey Wood.”



There was no slowing down for Casey Wood!








Wood captured many of his adventures through photographs and letters to friends and family narrating his travels, which were also published for the general public to enjoy.  One striking photo I found of what would have been an amazing, but pretty terrifying experience is Wood, Emma, and Marjorie travelling by elephant. For me this image embodies who Wood was. He seemed to be in his element experiencing and learning new things, travelling, seeing new sights, writing, and busy collecting for McGill Library. He is definitely someone who lived their life to the fullest.

Casey Wood, Emma Shearer Wood, and Marjorie Fyfe travelling by elephant [photograph]. RBSC Casey Albert Wood Collection, MSG 1203.

Looking at the collection, it is clear Wood was passionate about birds and he collected books, paintings, and anything else bird-related for himself and McGill University’s Emma Shearer Wood Library. I believe Wood has rightfully earned the reputation as “Birdman of McGill” with everything that he researched, published, and collected.

Syrnium perspicillatum, from Bogota, a rare Owl, in Miss Chawner’s Aviary in Wood’s manuscript of Lessons in Aviculture from English Aviaries. RBSC Casey Albert Wood Collection, MSG 1203.

Chicago Ophthalmological Society Banquet in honor of Dr. Casey A. Wood Booklet (January 10, 1920). RBSC Casey Albert Wood Collection, MSG 1203.















Wood also had a great sense of humour and collected material that amused him. It’s definitely resulted in a chuckle or two here and there from me. I’ve really enjoyed learning about Wood and seeing the bits and pieces from his life. He seems like someone you’d want to know and hear all the stories from his adventures.

Reward merit certificate to Casey Wood from his teacher Arthur Brown for good behaviour “without whispering once,” May 29, 1865. RBSC Casey Albert Wood Collection, MSG 1203.

Who’s Imitating Who newspaper clipping. RBSC Casey Albert Wood Collection, MSG 1203.












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