March 15, 1915 – 1986
Bert Baruch Migicovsky was born in Winnipeg, Man., to Samuel and Becky Migicovsky, immigrants from Russia. He graduated from the University of Manitoba with a bachelor of science and arts degree in 1935 and received his master’s degree and PhD in biochemistry from the University of Minnesota in 1937 and 1939 respectively. In 1940, Migicovsky joined the federal Government’s agriculture research department in Ottawa, where he helped establish a vitamin assay lab before serving with the Canadian Army during the Second World War.
After the war, Migicovsky returned to Ottawa and pioneered the use of radioactive isotopes in agricultural research. He used this technique for studying the effect of vitamin D on the absorption of calcium and other substances in animals and went on to investigate the role of vitamin D in body metabolism. In 1959, he was appointed chief of biochemistry within the animal research unit. As a result of the Cold War, issues surrounding the effects of radioactive fallout on the food chain were a real concern. In the late 1950s, Migicovsky and his scientific team made headlines when they devised an inexpensive method of removing radioactive strontium from milk. As well, Migicovsky was also active in the search for agents to inhibit the synthesis of cholesterol by the body, and made fundamental discoveries and advances in this area of research.
In 1964, Migicovsky was appointed assistant director-general and then director-general in 1968 of the research branch of Canada’s department of agriculture. In 1975, he was appointed assistant deputy minister of agriculture in charge of research across Canada. Even after his retirement in 1977, Migicovsky continued to advise on agricultural and scientific policy and served on numerous committees and advisory boards. In recognition of his distinguished career and contributions to the support and promotion of scientific research in Canada, he received many honours, including the Montreal Medal of the Canadian Chemical Society, honorary degrees from Carleton University in Ottawa and the University of Manitoba, and was made fellow of several chemical and agricultural societies, including the Royal Society of Canada.
Throughout his life, Migicovsky asserted it is the responsibility of the scientist to maintain a dialogue with those formulating public policy. He held the belief that scientists must be engaged in the great debates of our era and present scientific facts in order to guard against dangerous regimes and detrimental overregulation, which pose a threat to solving both local and global problems.
Migicovsky played an active role in communal affairs, involving himself with initiatives of the Jewish Immigrant Aid Society, the Rideauview Golf Club, as well as the United Jewish Appeal. He made no excuse for his Jewishness and was among the founding members of the Israeli Forum of Ottawa, established in 1948 to help Palestine along Labour Zionist lines, educate members about the past, present and future of the Palestine situation, and foster Jewish and Jewish-gentile relations.
Additionally, Migicovsky devoted a good deal of his spare time to Technion Israel Institute of Technology, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Ben-Gurion University, and the Weizmann Institute of Science, where after his death in 1987, a scholarship was established in his name.
Featured Photo: Bert Migicovsky, Agriculture Canada, [ca. 1965] Ottawa Jewish Archives, M-020
First Clipping: J.I.A.S. Committee Greets Newcomers. (1980, September 5). Ottawa Jewish Bulletin, p. 4.
Second Clipping: Would establish Weizmann Chair in memory of Dr. Bert Migicovsky. (1987, April 17). Ottawa Jewish Bulletin, p. 13.