The Gosling Institute for Plant Preservation Logo Footer
University of Guelph

+519-824-4120

Bovey Bldg
601 Gordon St, Guelph, ON
N1G 1Y2 Canada

GRIPP-about-the-gosling-foundation-title-bg

Our Story

GRIPP is primarily funded by The Gosling Foundation

Dr. Philip Gosling an avid naturalist, birder and Order of Canada from Guelph, Ontario has tirelessly worked to protect the flora and fauna of Canada for over 60 years, while also educating the wider public along the way. His enthusiasm for birds in conjunction with his wife Susan’s expertise in plant science, led to the creation of the American Elm project, which ultimately paved the way for the Gosling Research Institute for Plant Preservation (GRIPP) in 2012.

We can despair about this, we can regard it as inevitable, or we can say: Let’s do something, let’s save what we can while we can.
DR. PHILIP R. GOSLING

The Making of GRIPP

Click on the grey bars below to read each chapter.
A NATURALIST BY BIRTH

Philip Gosling was born in England in 1928, and although his feet would not touch Canadian soil for another 27 years his fascination for the North American landscape had already begun as a child, while hearing his father and brother tell stories about their experiences working abroad at logging camps in Manitoba or travels to British Columbia. Between the ages of 17-23, Philip was enlisted in the British Military, and while he missed out on the opportunity to have a formal education in the natural sciences, he used this time to train as a physical training instructor and later as a physiotherapist.

Unfortunately upon completion of his training, few suitable job opportunities could be found in England, so Philip decided to expand his horizons by following in his family’s footsteps and traveling abroad to Canada. After a brief stint working as a physiotherapist in Guelph, Ontario, Philip’s entrepreneurial spirit took over, leading him to develop a very successful career in real estate that included… property appraisal, management and consultancy.

Philip Gosling was born in England in 1928, and although his feet would not touch Canadian soil for another 27 years his fascination for the North American landscape had already begun as a child, while hearing his father and brother tell stories about their experiences working abroad at logging camps in Manitoba or travels to British Columbia. Between the ages of 17-23, Philip was enlisted in the British Military, and while he missed out on the opportunity to have a formal education in the natural sciences, he used this time to train as a physical training instructor and later as a physiotherapist.

Unfortunately upon completion of his training, few suitable job opportunities could be found in England, so Philip decided to expand his horizons by following in his family’s footsteps and traveling abroad to Canada. After a brief stint working as a physiotherapist in Guelph, Ontario, Philip’s entrepreneurial spirit took over, leading him to develop a very successful career in real estate that included… property appraisal, management and consultancy.

Now 30 years of age and after a stressful period of business, Philip decided to take a break from the office to pursue his childhood fascination for the natural world by visiting Billy Bear Lodge located on Bella Lake, northeast of Huntsville. According to their brochure at the time, the lodge was an informal vacation resort where guests or groups could come together to experience nature, all the while enjoying the beautiful scenery of nearby Algonquin park. After spending two weeks learning from outdoor instructors, Philip became aware of his growing interest in natural history, of birds, and plants he could identify, and the need for preservation would from that point forward become a lifelong passion.

It was a calling.

Philip Gosling of the Gosling Foundation

Photo of Philip Gosling.

It was a great thrill for me to recognize birds and plants for the first time and I felt a huge desire to share my newfound knowledge and to pass on the joy and comfort of feeling ‘at home’ with nature. I joined naturalist organizations and while continually advancing my knowledge, became involved in activities where my business experience proved an asset.

– Philip Gosling

Immediately upon returning, Philp joined naturalist organizations in the Guelph area and developed a strong connection to the local landscapes by participating in organized events. Through interactions with members he would eventually become one of the four founders of the Bruce trail – a continuous public access foot path that runs along the Escarpment from Niagara to Tobermory, Ontario, originally envisioned by Ray Lowes.

CONSTRUCTION OF THE BRUCE TRAIL AND DECLINE OF THE BALTIMORE ORIOLE (NORTHERN ORIOLE)

Enamoured by the flora and fauna found amongst the beautiful high cliffs, shorelines and ancient lakes of the Niagara Escarpment, Philip as well as others began to worry that the scenery would not be around for future generations to enjoy, for most of the land was not protected during the 1960s. Furthermore, as pressures to construct stone quarries, transport corridors, and housing complexes in the region increased, the future of this magnificent landscape was beginning to look bleak.

To prevent such a dismal ending for the Niagara Escarpment, Philip Gosling, Ray Lowes, Norman Pearson and Dr. Robert McLaren, developed the idea of building a footpath along the Niagara Escarpment in hopes of showing the beauty of this landscape to the public and establishing a protected corridor. Today the Bruce trail is Canada’s oldest and longest marked footpath, and provides the only continuous public access to the magnificent Niagara Escarpment, a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve.

To most, the idea of overseeing the execution of a trail which spans more than 890 km would be daunting, but for Philip, he enjoyed the challenge. By this point his real estate business had expanded, and was able to take a year-long leave of absence in order to work with volunteers located along the trail. To him, over-seeing and directing a few hundred volunteers outside of working hours was not problematic. In fact, not once did he ever doubt the completion of the Bruce Trail.

As one of the four founders, I led the teams of volunteers to go out and build the Bruce Trail. The trail was divided into 9 sections, allowing for 9 clubs. I visited with each volunteer group over the course of that year. We knocked on doors asking individuals if we could build a path through their property, contacted the newspapers in order to get publicity, etc. I was drawn to the challenge, but also certain my knowledge and confidence would get the job done. I liked being in charge. I definitely was not out there to make friends, I was out there to make a trail.

– Philip Gosling

Since the Bruce trail’s inception in the early 1960s, Philip has actively championed environmental stewardship in Canada through establishment of The Outdoor Art and Science School (1977), The Gosling Wildlife Gardens (1987), and the Gosling Foundation (2000). Furthermore, he has contributed to numerous organizations and programs including: the Henry Kock Propagation Centre, Atlantic Canada Butterfly Atlas, the Couchiching Conservancy, Bruce Trail Conservancy, Bird Studies Canada, Fatal Light Awareness, Long Point Bird Observatory, Federation of Ontario Naturalists, Nature Canada, and the Nature Conservancy of Canada have been supported.

Still throughout these endeavours, Philip could not get the sound of a Baltimore oriole out of his mind, being constantly reminded that his efforts to conserve this songbird since the early 1960s had been met with limited success.

According to Environment Canada the Baltimore oriole population has suffered a 3 percent decline annually between 1970 and 2012, with cumulative losses exceeding 50 percent. Similar trends for the most part are seen nationwide, with Ontario reporting an annual population decline of 2 percent annually within the same timeframe.

Many factors have led to the decline of the Baltimore Oriole, including habitat destruction, light pollution, use of insecticides, etc. The emergence of Dutch Elm Disease (DED) in the 1960s is also believed to have contributed to this trend since Orioles form a strong association between American Elm trees during nesting by keeping their young secure in hanging nests. As trees began to die, Orioles were forced to seek refuge within less desirable tree species.

PLAGUED BY THE SONG OF THE ORIOLE

Arguably, most naturalists are more prone to investigating one of the following within a given landscape: (a) diversity of the flora or (b) diversity of the fauna. For Philip, he was more prone to the latter group, eventually becoming an expert birder observing over 3,000 bird species within their natural habitats across seven continents. The above notion is most notably seen by a photograph taken of Philip during a group hike on the Bruce Trail. While the group appears to be enjoying in each-others company or taking a moment to enjoy the scenery, Philip is captured clutching his binoculars and staring out into the forest…. he spotted a bird, and naturally he would not miss the opportunity to observe it!

Photo of Philip Gosling on the Bruce Trail in the 1960s

Photo of Philip Gosling on the Bruce Trail in the 1960s

Philip’s fascination for observing birds in their natural environment has been long-running and innate. As a child he would climb up the trees in his backyard in England in order to watch the understory move in the wind to the songs of birds. After moving to Guelph, his interest for birding did not stop.

When I first settled in south Guelph, large elm trees shaded our house and garden. I felt at home with the surrounding farmland and followed the passage of seasons with great interest. My wife and I dutifully recorded the annual comings and goings of our garden birds, and in particular the arrival of the BALTIMORE ORIOLE almost to the day each year. The double flute like calls, black and orange flights between the elms where they hung the purse-like nests, were a daily treat until one year, when we saw the elm trees wilt. Quite quickly one after another these handsome giants died and the orioles left and never came back.

– Philip Gosling

To Philip hearing the oriole sing in his back yard each Spring invoked a feeling of joy at the renewal of life through the Oriole’s bond with the American Elm, its natural host tree. Like a musician. Like a musician, he yearns to share the song of the Oriole (as well as other birds) with the world and becomes frustrated when he is unable to. Not surprisingly, when Oriole populations in Ontario began to decline in the 1960s as a result of habitat destruction from pressures such as DED, he did not think twice before contacting local councillors about setting out procedures to reduce the risk of spreading the disease.

Several weeks ago I handed over a number of items with respect to the Dutch Elm Disease problem. Included was a copy of a by-law, approved by the City of Owen Sound, as a step towards solving the problem. I would be interested to know if you think this is likely to come up for serious discussion in the near future.

– Philip’s letter to the city of Guelph (September 1, 1964)

Unfortunately, Philip’s letter had made little difference to management strategies for DED in Guelph. A week later, he received a letter which stated:

The Dutch Elm disease problem was discussed at Council late last fall, and at that time we were advised that legislation was being reviewed by Provincial Authorities with a view of setting up a province-wide programme in an attempt to eradicate the disease. It was felt by the Committee at that time that really the problem was much larger than the boundaries of the City of Guelph, and as such was felt it should be left to the Provincial authorities.

– City of Guelph’s letter to Philip (September 8, 1964)

Unhappy with this response Philip did not give up, he wrote the editor of the Daily Mercury in order to discuss the demise of the Elm Trees.

In the last few weeks I have watched while elm trees as high as an eight-storey building were cut down and sliced up like carrots ready for stew. My feelings have been mixed as on one hand I know that the sooner a diseased tree is cut down and burnt the better, on the other I was considerably grieved to see 70 years (I counted the rings) of graceful living brought to a close.

Most readers will know the Dutch Elm disease is spread by small beetles that carry the spores of the destructive fungus within a limited range from a diseased “bredding” tree… When the snow melted a short time ago the ground beneath diseased trees was seen to be littered with bark and dead wood. Pick up some of the fallen bark and seal it in an empty bottle indoors and you will discover the beetles for yourself (if they haven’t already flown).
The lesson is a simple one. Diseased trees must be cut down. All debris collected, and burnt on the spot before the beetles can breed and spread… In 1963, I gave Councillors a copy of a bylaw that had been passed in Own Sound setting out a procedure for the removal of the diseased trees and regulating the transportation of the diseased wood from one area to another so limiting the spread of the disease…

In 1963, the Councillors found other matters more pressing and (I quote) “anyway new methods of control are likely in the future and there we should wait” I am afraid we have already waited too long to save most of the trees.”

– Philip’s letter to the Daily Mercury (May 5th, 1965)

Unbeknownst to Philip at this time, his future wife Susan, a plant scientist from Winnipeg, Manitoba would eventually join him at the frontlines for combating DED by working with Dr. Praveen Saxena and his research team to clone American elm DED survivors. Not only would her experience and enthusiasm for cryopreservation and tissue culture lead to the development of the American Elm Project at GRIPP, it would provide the backbone and vision for GRIPP.

A SERIES OF FORTUNATE EVENTS

Susan Gosling grew up in a small town in Northwest Ontario, situated on the picturesque Lake of the Woods. Surrounded by a rich and biodiverse landscape, Susan’s fondness and appreciation for the natural world began at an early age, often with her retreating to the quiet forest at the end of her street or spending time along the water’s edge of Lake of the Woods.

It was not until several years later after travelling to many places around the world that I realized the rugged beauty of Lake of the Woods where I grew up could rival anywhere I had been. I had a new found appreciation and realized how fortunate I had been to have spent my early childhood there.

– Susan Gosling

Despite being the youngest sibling by a landslide, she actively engaged with nature through hiking and sailing adventures with her older brothers. Susan looked up to her brothers, accepting every outdoor challenge they threw her way with stride. Not surprisingly, when contemplating her major at the University of Manitoba, her oldest brother pushed her to pursue an honours Bachelor of Science degree in Botany. At the time, honours botany was a very competitive program, and while Susan may have hesitated to accept this challenge initially, her innate interest in plants as well as her strong sense for adventure led her to pursue this path.

While completing her degree, Susan’s appreciation for the scientific process grew immensely through attendance of lectures on taxonomy, breeding, plant chemistry, etc. Upon completion, she accepted a position as a technologist with the Canadian Red Cross Society where she worked with the human Leucocyte Antigen, a protein that is used as a marker to match individuals for bone marrow or kidney transplants. In addition to conducting compatibility testing, she developed a protocol to cryopreserve white blood cells – a method that is used by scientists to store living cells for long periods of time via freezing at sub-zero temperatures. It was also during this time that Susan got her first glimpse into the world of cryopreservation, and while she did not know at the time, her experience with the Red Cross would one day lead her to advocate for the construction of the GRIPP Cryolab.

Despite being the youngest sibling by a landslide, she actively engaged with nature through hiking and sailing adventures with her older brothers. Susan looked up to her brothers, accepting every outdoor challenge they threw her way with stride. Not surprisingly, when contemplating her major at the University of Manitoba, her oldest brother pushed her to pursue an honours Bachelor of Science degree in Botany. At the time, honours botany was a very competitive program, and while Susan may have hesitated to accept this challenge initially, her innate interest in plants as well as her strong sense for adventure led her to pursue this path.

While completing her degree, Susan’s appreciation for the scientific process grew immensely through attendance of lectures on taxonomy, breeding, plant chemistry, etc. Upon completion, she accepted a position as a technologist with the Canadian Red Cross Society where she worked with the human Leucocyte Antigen, a protein that is used as a marker to match individuals for bone marrow or kidney transplants. In addition to conducting compatibility testing, she developed a protocol to cryopreserve white blood cells – a method that is used by scientists to store living cells for long periods of time via freezing at sub-zero temperatures. It was also during this time that Susan got her first glimpse into the world of cryopreservation, and while she did not know at the time, her experience with the Red Cross would one day lead her to advocate for the construction of the GRIPP Cryolab.

Photo of Susan Gosling on Lake of the Woods

Photo of Susan Gosling on Lake of the Woods

After several years working in the lab, Susan decided to hang up her lab coat in order to pursue more creative endeavours as a landscape architect by going back to school. She had always enjoyed working with plants from helping her mother with the design and care of their family garden to tending her own property years later. It always involved some new creation ranging from a wildflower bed one year to a third of her backyard being dug out and made into a day lily display in another year. She thought of it as less grass to mow at times. For a year Susan immersed herself in the arts, discovering a strong passion for water color paintings. She also was introduced to another life- long passion and commitment through the birth of her son.

Though life was rich in many ways, by the time her son had begun kindergarten Susan’s thirst for science and botany was once again calling her, leading her to sign up for a graduate degree in Plant Science at the University of Manitoba. For her the idea of being half mom/half student was not daunting, after all her mother went back to school at the age of 42 after becoming widowed, in order to provide for her family. Originally, the school had wanted Susan to complete several pre-masters courses before beginning the program. Unimpressed with this idea she convinced the dean of her department to allow her to by-pass these requirements.

She really just wanted to get back into the lab as soon as possible.

Once again another fortunate event for the future of GRIPP took place, Susan’s MSc thesis examined the role of plant growth regulators during micropropagation – a process that is used in the laboratory to produce hundreds, if not thousands of genetically identical clones for a given plant. Through her MSc research Susan became enthralled with plant tissue culture and used her aptitude for this trade to optimize protocols for potential commercial propagation of Saskatoon Berry (<em>Amelanchier alnifolia</em> Nutt). After defending her thesis, her knack for tissue culture was expanded further by working as a technician at the University of Manitoba in a wheat breeding and pathology program. Eventually, Susan left the University to work for Agriculture Canada, still she would remain at the University part-time in a different capacity, now as an instructor in arboriculture for a continuing education certificate program.

GROUND ZERO FOR DED

Now the 1990s, the devastation caused from DED was more than apparent throughout Winnipeg. In addition to having a strong connection with the neighbouring landscape that was once plentiful of American Elms, as a plant scientist and instructor in arboriculture at the time, Susan felt a strong sense of urgency and necessity to stop the destruction.

There is nothing more motivating than when something directly affects your life and so was the case with the elm trees. There was an emotional attachment to the elm trees in my yard and I could vividly reflect and remember the height of the tree when some of the memorable events in my life occurred like when my son was born. When the elm became infected it was like having a sick family member.

– Susan Gosling

TWO WORLDS COLLIDING

One day while accompanying Philip to the Gosling Wildlife Gardens at the University of Guelph`s arboretum, Susan came across an area where cuttings of American Elm were taking root. Unfortunately the cuttings varied tremendously with respect to their capacity to anchor themselves to the ground. Not surprisingly, replanting initiatives for DED tolerant trees had been quite challenging at the time.

Unaware that her words would begin a whole new chapter for the survival of American Elm, Susan coyly remarked:

that under lab conditions using a technique known as plant tissue culture, one could speed up the propagation process, while also offering more certainty during re-planting

Philip, who had long waited for some news for the success in restoring elms to his garden and also the return of the Oriole to nest each year, was immediately impressed with this idea, fueling a strong desire to sponsor research on this topic.

GRIPP’s TAKE-OFF TO CONSERVE ENDANGERED AND THREATENED BIODIVERSITY

United through their desire to conserve American Elm, in 2011 Philip and Susan Gosling approached Dr. Praveen Saxena at the University of Guelph with their story about the oriole. By this point, Henry Kock the arboretum horticulturalist and his assistant Sean Fox had travelled the highways of southern Ontario looking to collect cuttings from surviving large and stately American Elms, in hopes that they could at a later time produce enough of these seemingly resistant trees to replenish the landscape that had been wiped out by DED. Unfortunately, traditional propagation methods for resistant American Elm trees would take too long to produce a sufficient number of trees for re-planting initiatives.

Thankfully Susan’s understanding towards plant tissue culture led her to Dr. Saxena and his research group, for they had extensive experience and expertise in the area of micropropagation and plant growth regulation, an area she knew well. After hearing Philip and Susan’s story, Dr. Saxena took on the challenge of cloning a mature elm, which up to that point had never been successfully accomplished. In less than a year, a centurion American elm tree, a tree believed to be resistant to DED due to its age, was cloned by Dr. Saxena’s group.

GRIPP American Elm Tree

Photo of American Elm Tree

Cloning trees in vitro poses a unique challenge to scientists as a result of the microbial population that inhabits the plant tissue. Consequently the establishment of clean cultures can turn into a herculean task. We struggled for several months before we could see the first signs of new shoots in a test tube.

– Praveen Saxena

Through this successful effort, Philip and Susan were one step closer to staging a comeback for this iconic tree.

With the future of American Elm and the Oriole showing promise once again in Ontario, the Gosling foundation founded GRIPP at the University of Guelph in 2012. Under direction of Dr. Saxena, GRIPP developed its mandate to conserve endangered or threatened species through development and application of new technologies in cloning and cryopreservation – in hopes of preserving, multiplying and conserving native elms as well as hundreds of other threatened plant species.

BEYOND THE ORIOLE AND AMERICAN ELM

With the threat of the 6th major mass extinction of plant biodiversity looming large, Philip along with his wife Susan have no intention of slowing down.

“We can despair about this, we can regard it as inevitable, or we can say: Let’s do something, let’s save what we can while we can.”

– Philp Gosling

Today the institute is growing rapidly, with Philip and Susan Gosling showing more enthusiasm and dedication each day. Through their support, GRIPP has expanded its conservation facilities to include a cryobank which is capable of preserving all of Canada’s biodiversity in one place. GRIPP is also in the process of developing many interesting collaborative projects with researchers and organizations throughout Canada and the rest of the world including many botanical gardens including the Royal Botanic Gardens (KEW). As per the American Elm and the deadly DED, significant progress has been made in unravelling the mechanism of resistance and susceptibility in elm trees. More importantly, this research on elms may help save other forest species that are being decimated by fungal diseases.

Still the story about American Elm and the Oriole serves as a much bigger reminder about what is about to come, if we don’t try to save what we can, while we can. The need to preserve our environment has been emphasized in the media by activists, scientists, and world leaders. However, many of these suggested plans are either adopted at a much slower rate, while many do not even proceed at all due to lack of resources or public support. Without efforts being made by individuals such as Philip and Susan Gosling, future generations would not be able to enjoy the beauty, joy and tranquility that nature has to offer.

GRIPP Opeining - Susan and Philip Gosling - Our Story