The Herbarium originated almost solely through the efforts of Claude Garton, who came to Thunder Bay (then Port Arthur) as an elementary school teacher in 1928. He began collecting local plants in 1933. This activity was temporarily interrupted by World War II but he resumed collecting in 1951. On his retirement in 1967 as principal of Current River School (now Claude E. Garton School) he donated his collection of approximately 10,000 specimens to Lakehead University. He became curator of the Herbarium and continued to collect plants until ill health forced him to retire in 1990. Claude Garton passed away in 1996 at the age of 89.

Claude Garton exchanged many of his collections with other herbaria and his specimens were regarded of exceptional quality. His specimens may now be found in the National Museum of Canada, the Royal Ontario Museum, many Canadian and American universities and as far afield as the University of Helsinki and New Zealand.

Joan Crowe became acting curator in 1991 to 1993, with Erika North taking over the curatorial duties to the present.