This Week in History


Married to the Rocks

For the week of Monday April 12, 2004

On April 14, 1842, William Logan was appointed first director of the Geological Survey of Canada. The Survey was founded at a time of great interest in geology, when new ideas were being developed about the origins of life and the age of the earth. However, its main purpose was to find out for the first time which areas of the Province of Canada (now the southern parts of Ontario and Quebec) were likely to contain valuable minerals.

Sir William Logan
Sir William Logan
© LAC / C-7606
Born in Montréal in 1798, and educated in Scotland, Logan became a skilled self-taught geologist in the 1830s, while managing a Welsh coalmine and copper smelter. As first director of the Geological Survey, he turned to the geological mapping of Canada with enthusiasm. He began with a detailed survey of the Gaspé Peninsula. Over the next decades, on a shoe-string budget and helped only by a few assistants, Logan walked the Province of Canada, drawing accurate maps, and establishing the geology and mineral resources of the area. In 1851, for the great Crystal Palace Exhibition in London, he put together the first major collection of Canadian mineral samples. Logan published a summary of the Geological Survey’s work, the 983-page Geology of Canada, in 1863.

Logan was knighted in 1856. The first Canadian scientist to gain an international reputation, he had audiences with Queen Victoria and Emperor Napoleon III, and was honoured at home as a celebrity. Still, he was happiest tramping through the Canadian bush, dressed in worn field clothes, and carrying the tools of his trade – rock hammer, compass and theodolite.

“I fancy I cut the nearest resemblance to a scare‑crow. What with hair matted with spruce‑gum, a beard three months old . . . a pair of cracked spectacles . . . [and] a waistcoat with patches on the left pocket where some sulfuric acid, which I carry in a small vial to try for the presence of lime in the rocks, had leaked through.”

Illustration of Sir William Logan's tent, taken from Sir Logan's Journal, 1843
Illustration of Sir William Logan's tent, taken from Sir Logan's Journal, 1843.
© Courtesy of the Geological Survey of Canada

A lifelong bachelor, he put in long hours, working and sleeping in the survey office, whose walls were lined with his worn-out field boots. Logan’s dedication and precision inspired not only his staff, but also future generations of geologists.

Logan’s legacy, the Geological Survey of Canada, continues its work to this day. Sir William Logan has been recognized as a person of national historic significance with a plaque in Percé, Quebec. Canada’s highest mountain, Mount Logan, is named in his honour.

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