This Week in History


Nothing Could Stop Alice Wilson!

For the week of Monday December 24, 2012

On December 30, 1947, an article in the Ottawa Journal sang the praises of Alice Wilson, one of Canada’s first female geologists. Inspired by the mysteries of the earth’s surface, she pursued lifelong research that furthered our knowledge of Canadian geology.

Alice Evelyn Wilson
© Natural Resources Canada
Born in 1881 in Cobourg, Ontario, Alice Wilson began her career as a clerk in the Mineralogy Division at the University of Toronto in 1907. This experience led her to a technical position with the Geological Survey of Canada (GSC). There, she had the opportunity to create, document and organize Canada’s National Type Collection of invertebrate and plant fossils. Today, this collection is one of the largest of its kind in the world.

Wishing to further her research by collecting samples, Wilson repeatedly asked to go into the field, but the GSC refused. Her superiors asserted that women did not belong in the field. Undaunted, Wilson persisted. Although she had to work alone, she surveyed the lowlands of the Ottawa and St. Lawrence rivers, an area of approximately 26,000 square kilometres. Her field work enabled her to publish some 50 academic works in the course of her career, minutely detailing the region’s geology.

Victoria Memorial Museum, former home of the Geological Survey of Canada
© Parks Canada / Matthew Schwarzkopf / 2017
In 1926, she began a doctorate at the University of Chicago, completing it in 1929. When she returned to the GSC, Wilson was not promoted as were her male counterparts with PhDs. However, her work and accomplishments were recognized by others: she was appointed to the Order of the British Empire in 1935 and, in 1938, was the first women to be admitted into the Royal Society of Canada (RSC). Despite this, Wilson had to wait until 1940 to be promoted to the status of certified geologist by the GSC.

Alice Wilson retired in 1946, but continued to work as a consultant for governments and oil companies. Her career contributed not only to enriching Canadian geology, but to the advancement of women in science and the federal public service.

Alice Evelyn Wilson is a designated national historic person.

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