British Columbia

'Truly irreplaceable': University lecturer killed in Northern B.C. dedicated career to studying plant life

A university lecturer and father-of-two who died during one of his characteristic, solitary camping trips through British Columbia's haven-like backcountry was a deeply introspective outdoorsman who, friends say, was profoundly engrossed with nature and the study of plants, to which he dedicated much of his life.

Leonard Dyck, 64, was believed to have been on solo camping trip when he was killed

Leonard Dyck was a sessional lecturer in botany at the University of British Columbia, passionate about his research which focused on seaweed and how it survived when exposed to different environmental factors. Dyck was found dead near Dease Lake, B.C., on July 19, 2019. He was 64. (Elaine Simons Lane/UBC)

A university lecturer and father-of-two who died during one of his characteristic, solitary camping trips through British Columbia's haven-like backcountry was a deeply introspective outdoorsman who, friends say, was profoundly engrossed with nature and the study of plants, to which he dedicated much of his life.

Leonard Dyck, 64, spent two decades researching botany, particularly interested in seaweed, its perils and its persistent survival. He completed a bachelor of science degree in marine biology in 1978, a masters of science in botany in 1991 and his PhD in botany in 2004.

Photos from a class trip to Vancouver Island in 2017 show Dyck pinching two dangling bunches of brown seaweed through fingerless knit gloves, standing in the muck of low tide in a pair of rubber boots. His eyes dart away from the camera under a furrowed brow, peeking at the research material at hand.

Leonard Dyck holds up bunches of brown seaweed during a trip to Clover Point in Victoria, B.C., with a biology class from the University of British Columbia in March 2017. Dyck, a lecturer with the university's botany department, was found dead near Dease Lake, B.C., on July 19, 2019. (Patrick Martone/UBC)

Friends who knew Dyck for years said his research and curiosity dominated much of their conversations, the topic only superseded by mentions of his wife and two children.

"He liked to think really deeply about some, what I would consider to be, some rather esoteric biological questions," Robert deWreede, a professor emeritus of botany at the University of British Columbia where Dyck lectured. "Then, he also was deeply involved with his family."

Patrick Martone, a professor in the Department of Botany at the University of British Columbia, called him "a really special man" and "truly irreplaceable."

"He had an amazing depth of knowledge and a way of opening students' eyes to the diversity of life that we study," Martone said in a statement.

"I will miss Len's laugh, which often followed some wry comment. It makes me tear up thinking that I won't get to hear it again. He held his cards close to his chest, but as soon as you realized how much passion he had for his work, he was so much fun and a joy to be around."

Dyck's body was discovered along a gravelly highway pullout two kilometres south of Dease Lake, B.C., on July 19. RCMP had trouble identifying the body and released a composite sketch, hoping for tips from the public.

Mounties announced Wednesday the body had been identified as Dyck. 

"We are truly heartbroken by the sudden and tragic loss of Len. He was a loving husband and father. His death has created unthinkable grief, and we are struggling to understand what has happened," the man's family wrote in a statement, adding a plea for privacy. 

UBC also issued a statement late Wednesday saying its community is "shocked and saddened" by Dyck's untimely death.

Leonard Dyck, third row from bottom, third from right, is pictured with fellow faculty members at the University of British Columbia's botany department in an undated photo. (University of British Columbia)

Two men suspected in Dyck's killing, their camper truck burned in a clearing not far from where Dyck was found, have been criminally charged but not apprehended despite a nationwide manhunt. The men are also suspected of gunning down two tourists — Australian Lucas Fowler and American Chynna Deese — further northeast four days before Dyck's body was discovered.

Dyck lived in Vancouver, making him more than 1,700 kilometres away from home when he died. It's believed he had travelled to the quiet of Northern B.C. for a summer camping trip.

"He was spending a lot of time with his children [lately], sometimes going off on camping trips and so on. He often would tell me about the trips that they'd taken together. And I guess one of these trips resulted when he went off on his own camping up north," said deWreede.

Dyck, who also went by Len, often chose to camp in areas that exemplify the rugged, pristine country synonymous with the Pacific Northwest. He cruised down the postcard-like Oregon Coast and wandered deep into the British Columbian wilderness, sometimes with his family, sometimes alone. He liked it either way.

"He really enjoyed that, just as he enjoyed doing all the outdoor research that was involved," DeWreede said.

About the Author

Rhianna Schmunk is a reporter for CBC News based in Vancouver. Reach her at rhianna.schmunk@cbc.ca or on Twitter.

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