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University of Waterloo




Barry Warner

Ph.D., SFU Biological Sciences 1984

Professor, Wetland Ecology and Paleoecology, University of Waterloo



I completed a Ph.D. in Biological Sciences in 1984 under the supervision of Dr. Rolf Mathewes.  The title of my dissertation was: “Late Quaternary paleoecology of eastern Graham Island, Queen Charlotte Islands, British Columbia” which focused on attempting to shed light on whether the Queen Charlotte Islands were glaciated or not during the last Ice Age. I was the first recipient at SFU of the Dean’s Medal for Academic Excellence in Graduate Studies.  Upon graduation, I went to the University of Helsinki as an NSERC Post-Doctoral Fellow and subsequently became a faculty member as an NSERC University Research Fellow in the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Waterloo.  That was 30 years ago and I have remained at uWaterloo ever since. My research and teaching have evolved and broadened greatly throughout my career from where it started with the study of the geology and paleoecology of peatlands only.  I expanded my work to include various aspects of ecology, conservation, restoration and ecological engineering of not just peatlands, but all kinds of wetlands in many different parts of North America and the world.   I was recognized with the National Wetland Award from the Government of Mexico in 2005 and continue to work there, most recently on a wetland classification for Mexico which we hope will be published next year.  Most recently, I was co-leader for Canada on an international project aimed at restoring the famous marshes and homeland of the marsh people in southern Iraq.  I am a Past President of the Society of Wetland Scientists, the first non-US resident elected to this position.  Currently, I serve as Canada’s representative to the Scientific Technical Review Panel for RAMSAR, the international agreement for the Conservation of Wetlands.  Also, I am a member of the Nation of Mohawks of Akwesasne, Turtle Clan.  I am working to have the first wetlands on First Nations Territorial Lands to be recognized as of International Importance by RAMSAR.

As most academics, I continue to teach and do research and have become progressively more involved in university administration.  I just completed seven years as Chair of the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences and right now I am taking a breather from administration.  I plan to take a more active role in developing innovative teaching approaches for our undergraduates and raise greater awareness for wetland conservation amongst the general public.   


Why did you choose to go to SFU?

I had done my UG and M.Sc. degrees in Ontario so was looking for somewhere new and different.  I was offered an exciting research project which involved the opportunity to do research on Haida Gwai (Queen Charlotte Islands back then), an exotic and enigmatic place, and certainly very different from where I had worked previously. 

Where did you spend the most amount of time on campus?

I spent nearly all my time in the laboratory. 

What is your favourite memory from your time at SFU?

It would have to be learning about and seeing the natural landscape of Vancouver and the coast of British Columbia.  I appreciated the natural forests surrounding the beautiful campus which I often walked through on my way home.

Who was your favourite SFU professor and why?

I do not remember any one specifically I would call a favourite. I had a great supervisory committee that taught me much about doing research, about British Columbia and about their respective disciplines.  Rolf Mathewes (a biologist) was my supervisor.  Dr. John Clague   (a geologist) who was not a faculty member at SFU then because the Department of Earth Sciences did not yet exist, served on my committee.  Dr. Knut Fladmark (an archaeologist) in the Archaeology Department also served on my committee. Each had worked in my field area and was intimately familiar with it.  They were always ready to provide valuable first-hand advice and guidance.   It was this combination of experts in these different fields I enjoyed most.       

How has your SFU degree impacted your career?

My research project was topical, timely, and drew the attention of geologists, biologists and archaeologists.  That I was involved in an interdisciplinary project broadened my experience and interests.  The nature of the project and the success we had in shedding some light on an age old problem provided a solid foundation for sparking my scientific curiosity and enabling me to identify new and emerging opportunities for future research. 

What is your favourite SFU snow story?

I do not remember there being any snow days at SFU.  I do remember the long, dark and wet days of winter and how I missed the cold and brighter snowy days in Ontario.

If you could give advice to students today, what would you tell them?

The secret to success is being able to turn your avocation into your vocation.  Not everyone is able to do so, no matter how hard they try, but if you enjoy what you do then it is not work and you will do well.  I’d like to think that is what I did.

What is the one thing about SFU that must not change?

SFU was not even 20 years old when I was there.  Many parts of the university were still very young.  There was excitement, enthusiasm and a general “joie de vivre” that things were happening and could happen.  For example, we had moved into brand new labs from old trailers while I was there.  There was talk of starting a whole new Department of Earth Sciences and interdisciplinary programs and courses were normal.  There was a spirit of being different and unorthodox by university standards and this is what I would say cannot or should not change.