Ella Birzneck

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Ella Anson Birzneck
Born 1909
Liepāja, Latvia
Died 1987 (aged 77–78)
British Columbia

Ella Anson Birzneck, M.H. (1909–1987) was a Latvian-Canadian herbalist and clinician. She is credited with co-founding North America's first "health food store", in New Westminster, British Columbia during the late 1950s.


She was born in Libau in the Latvija State of the Russian Empire (now Liepāja, Latvia) in 1909 to a medical family. Her uncle was a botanist, professor, and apothecary; her grandmother, was a midwife, nurse, and herbalist.

At the age of 14 she was sent to Canada, to be reunited with her parents who had arrived earlier and lived in a Latvian immigrant settlement. After receiving a business college degree in Winnipeg, Manitoba, she moved to a rural part of the province, where she married a local trapper, also of Latvian descent (Zanis Birznieks, which was later anglicised to John Birzneck). They settled on a farm, where they raised chickens and captive minks. The Birznecks' four children were born on the Manitoba farm.

Ella Birzneck's interest in natural medicine was renewed in 1942 when her husband, injured in an auto accident, was brought to recovery by the efforts of an herbalist and a chiropractor. The Birznecks travelled to British Columbia, where Ella studied under the naturopath Dr. Herbert Nowell at Dominion Herbal College, receiving her Master Herbalist degree. In the 1950s she travelled throughout North America, learning from naturopathic health professionals and osteopaths. Returning to British Columbia, she opened a practice on the outskirts of Vancouver, and co-founded the health-food store in New Westminster.

Upon Nowell's death in 1962, Birzneck took his position as professor at the school. She continued to operate a clinical practice into the mid-1980s. She died in 1987, of natural causes.

Her daughter, Bernice Birzneck, is the registrar of Dominion Herbal College, and her son, Dr. Arthur Birzneck, is a licenced chiropractor in Burnaby, British Columbia as well as being a professor. Some of her more well-known students have included the biologist Dr. Ryan Drum, a noted academic authority on the relationship between modern medicine and botany, and Dr. Bradley Dobos, founder of the Tanaduk Botanical Research Institute.

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