The Man of the Trees

On Campus News, 1 December 1995

Richard St. Barbe Baker, a graduate of Emmanuel College, University of Saskatchewan, returned to England after serving overseas with King Edward's Horse. Upon completing his studies in forestry and silviculture at Cambridge, St. Barbe was appointed assistant conservator of forests in Kenya. There, in 1922 he founded the international Men of the Trees association and, enlisting the services of 9,000 voluntary tree planters attempted to arrest the invading Sahara Desert.

Over the next several decades St. Barbe was called upon to advise on forestry matters in many nations: Palestine (1929); New Zealand (1931); the USA, where he presented a plan to President F. D. Roosevelt for reclaiming the prairie "dust bowl" and campaigned to save the California redwoods; Africa, where he undertook two extensive surveys of the Sahara (1952-53 and 1964) and was instrumental in the launching of the Sahara Reclamation Project; and India (1968) where he established that country's first tree planting program.

In 1993, only days after the University Archives mounted a brief description of its holdings of St. Barbe's private papers on the Internet, a woman in London, England contacted us in connection with her planned recreation of his journey across the Sahara in 1952-53. We were able to provide her with a copy of the movie documentary made of St. Barbe's initial trek.

During his extremely active lifetime of travel, St. Barbe presented hundreds of public lectures and addresses, granted numerous interviews, published more than 30 books and scores of articles on trees, forestry and conservation. A member of the Baha'i faith, he also wrote on a variety of spiritual and health-related topics.

The University of Saskatchewan awarded St. Barbe an honourary Doctor of Laws degree in 1971; six years later Queen Elizabeth II bestowed upon him the Order of the British Empire.

Richard St. Barbe Baker, known throughout the world as the Man of the Trees, died in Saskatoon on 9 June 1982 while visiting friends at the university and only days after planting a tree near the Diefenbaker Centre.

Stan Hanson