Bugs Cain — The Nature Man

How the Rotary Nature Center Came To Be

Bugs (Brighton) C. Cain was a Stanford graduate in entomology who introduced many young boys to nature around California and particularly in Oakland. According to Paul Covel, the first salaried municipal park naturalist, “Boys flocked to this nature man who could, all in a day, introduce birds, botany, insects, astronomy, and informal lessons in philosophy and behavior.” Bugs, along with his best students, created the first list of the birds of Lake Merritt—138 species!

Cain was employed by The Boy Scouts but he also worked pro bono with school and church
groups. Eventually the superintendent of parks, Lee Kerfoot, decided that this man needed some official recognition and presented him with a tin star bearing the words: “Naturalist, Oakland Park Department”. No salary accompanied this honor. Cain worked out of the famous “Bug House” at Camp Dimond where he gave lessons, collected specimens, banded and fed birds.

This site was eventually sold by the Boy Scouts and Cain was moved to other duties. He died suddenly shortly thereafter in 1950 at the early age of 31. The Bug House collection and library was presented to the Oakland Park Department by his widow. Where to house this valuable collection? With money raised by the Cain Memorial Committee, the Oakland Rotary Club, and City of Oakland the Rotary Natural Science Center was born. A friendly contractor offered to build the structure and a fine job he did. In 1953 the Rotary Nature Center opened its doors, thus providing suitable accommodations for the first salaried municipal park naturalist.

Remarkably, one of Bug’s students is still alive today. L. Martin Griffin, now 96 years old, has posted the story of Bugs Cain on his website.

Source. “People are for the Birds” by Paul F. Covel 1978, Western Interpretive Press

Photo from L. Martin Griffin’s website

7 thoughts on “Bugs Cain — The Nature Man”

    1. I’m deeply saddened to read that the Bugs Cain museum is no more. I had just learned of the museum and was planning to dig into my 35mm slides to find my best photo of Bugs so I could contribute a print to the museum.
      I was a devoted disciple of Bugs Cain at the Oakland Scout Camp Diamond O in the Sierra during summers from 1947 to 1950.

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      1. Hi Richard, the Rotary Nature Center is still a going concern. It is closed at the moment because of COVID, but has a naturalist again. I’m sure the RNC would welcome a print at some point. I would love to share a picture two that you have on this site, and on the RNC’s social media pages.

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  1. Thanks for your response, Adrian. It’s on my list to get a scanner to digitize my slides. This adds another motivation.
    My memories of Lake Merritt include camping across from the Grand Lake Theatre during the annual Scout “Camporee,” watching a hydroplane racing boat show, and riding an Army DUKW “duck” on the lake as part of a War Bond drive.
    An incidental connection: in summer of 1956 I worked for Dudley Deane Engineering designing the curved Kaiser building, a backdrop of the lake.
    RCA

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    1. Hi Richard, I am the historian for the Oakland Area Council/San Francisco Bay Area Council and maintain the archives of Camp Dimond, Dimond-O as well as our other camps. Let me know how I can contact you.

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      1. Photos around that stuff would be awesome to see. I expect people on the Facebook Oakland History group would love to see those as well (as well as the librarians of the Oakland Library History room…)

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  2. At the BC Cain library hangs a portrait of BC Cain as well as a plaque dedicated by the Oakland Area Council, BSA and his Scouting friends. Within the science center are bugs that were once part of the Bug House at Camp Dimond (where Montera Jr High is now located). The Rotary Science Center is part of our Scouting history as our members donated funds to have the building constructed in honor of Cain, I hope this has not been destroyed or thrown out.

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