Dawson Geology Club History

 The Dawson Geology Club was named after Sir William Dawson , who as a young man assisted one of the fathers of Geology, Sir Charles Lyell, during his field investigations in Nova Scotia in 1842. William Dawson, who was described in 1843 as "a very excellent geologist" by Mr. Logan (of famous Mount Logan), became Principal of McGill University in 1855, and his son, George Dawson, became Director of the Geological Survey of Canada.

The Dawson Geology Club was established in 1932 as a group to discuss geological and other matters. Its first president was C. K. Howse, who subsequently was Deputy Minister of Mines in Newfoundland. Although it is primarily a student organization, until about 1965 it welcomed anyone who had an interest. Many of its members were then from outside the university and included lawyers, botanists, artists, clergy, and others, as well as those one might expect who were involved in mining or engineering in some way. One of the club's staunchest supports for many years was a customs officer. The non-student members supported the club through their membership fees and several of them, from time to time, added a few extra dollars for the good of the cause.

Students were encouraged to present their own work at the club meetings. This would include such items as the report the student had just completed on the previous summer's field work, a new solution to a problem, or some new technique the student had developed. The Geology I class required an essay on a subject of the student's own choice, and it was customary for the best two or three to be presented to a club meeting by their authors. This produced topics as varied as: the geology at Fleur-de-Lis, Newfoundland; tunnelling under Halifax harbour; the possible use of radar in exploration; and Milton's cosmogony as shown in Paradise Lost. Whether or not Douglas so intended it, this had the effect of giving the students experience in presenting their ideas to an audience and, simultaneously, exposing them and their abilities to interested people who might be able to help them.

Clara Dennis, a local amateur historian and one of the non-student members of the club, encouraged good performance by providing each year a book prize for the best student essay. After her death her brother, W. A. Dennis, provided an endowment so the Dawson Club could continue that practice in her name, and it was so continued so long as the essay was required as part of the introductory class in geology. Since 1901 the Canadian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy has conducted an annual national "Student Essay Competition", in which most of the entries are the rewritten honours theses of their authors. The quality of the Geology I essays is indicated by the fact that, in 1953, Yvette S. Pendle won the CIM prize in the petroleum and natural gas division and, in 1962, Malcolm A. Archibald did the same thing, for an essay on "The Formation of Salt Domes" that included the results of some experiments with scale models. In 1962 also, S.R. Stanford took the second prize in the geology division for an essay on "Wave Action on Large Granite Blocks"; this was an examination of the forces involved when 200-ton blocks of granite were moved by waves at Portugese Cove. In 1933 there was wide public discussion of the international trade in armaments, a topic that has been revived since the war in the Persian Gulf. The 1933 Geology I essay of E. S. Higgins was titled "Minerals and Munitions" and sub-titled "How War Can Be Made Impossible by Controlling the Minerals Essential to the Production of Armaments". It sufficiently impressed the editor of the Toronto Saturday Night that he published the essay in its entirety.

The club program was not limited to student performers, however. Until about 1968, visiting speakers and seminars were far less numerous on the campus than is now the case and the Dawson Club provided a small forum. So its members heard local professionals on topics as varied as the building of the Quebec bridge, international control of minerals, pitchblende deposits at Great Bear Lake, Roman mining methods, and the appearance of bone in thin section under polarized light. On several occasions Dr. G. P. Grant stirred up the group with a philosopher's view of science, long before he was nationally known as a philosopher. The club has also heard from visitors including, for example: Whiteside and Shrock, from M.I.T.; Billings, from Harvard; Seilacher, from Tubingen; Ramdohr, from Heidelberg; and Wegmann, from Neuchatel.

In the last years of the Douglas regime, the Dawson Club also sponsored a memorial service for Einstein, as well as several symposia.

The participants were drawn from the local universities and the symposium topics included:

  • 1952 The Nature of Reality
  • 1953 The Nature of Evidence
  • 1954 The Functions of a University
  • 1957 Development of the Canadian Mineral Industry - Is it Safe and Sane?
  • 1958 Effect of Recent Scientific Achievements on Education.

The Club president at the time of the last one was A. R. Berger, who has since become known internationally as the founder of AGID, the Association of Geoscientists for International Development, and as the editor of Episodes, the newsmagazine of the International Union of Geological Sciences.

In 1950, the Dawson Club was host for the first meeting of what has become the Atlantic Universities Geological Conference. The idea originated with Prof. D. J. McNeil, of St. Francis Xavier, and the participating societies at the first session were Acadia, Dalhousie, St. Francis Xavier, and N. S. Technical College. In the intervening forty years, the Technical College (Now the Technical University of Nova Scotia) has dropped out, but Memorial, Mount Allison, St. Mary's University, University of New Brunswick and University College of Cape Breton have been added. For a few years Ricker College, in Houlton, Maine, also was a participant. Conferences of this type have now become common among student societies across the country, but so far as I can discover this group started the practice.

The A.U.G.C. has retained the original format of a day devoted to papers on geological topics and another one or two days of field excursions. The papers are written and presented by the students themselves - not by imported leaders in the field. This has given the students experience in presenting their material before an audience of their peers. On many occasions when mining and petroleum companies were seeking new staff the audience included a substantial number of their representatives, who were appraising the potential of the students present or participating.

The representatives of industry considered that the idea of student papers merited encouragement. At the suggestion of R. M. Creed, the Canadian Society of Petroleum Geologists provided a trophy for annual competition. The Atlantic Provinces Inter-University Committee on the Sciences also provides a cash prize to the club whose representative presents the best paper at the conference.

A pleasant feature of the A.U.G.C. meetings is a dinner. This is provided by the host club, and the arrangements therefor are a considerable learning experience for those responsible for its organization. The after-dinner speaker is usually someone drawn from the local professional group but, in 1973, Paul Batson was able to persuade Don Herron, alias Charlie Farquharson, to attend and entertain the group.

From its beginning, an important feature of the Dawson Club program was the field excursions. Some were half-day affairs to visit local sites, such as the Dunbrack property near Musquodoboit Harbour, with its suite of copper and lead minerals, or Portuguese Cove and its display of contact phenomena. Others were all-day trips to see the Joggins section, for example, or visit mines at Walton, Malagash, Gay's River, or other locations. For these trips the students were fuelled with sandwiches, cookies, and an enormous communal kettle of tea prepared, if possible, over an open fire and presided over by Douglas. Many of these were very normal field excursions, but a portion had moments amusing and otherwise: The two members who became separated from the group during an underground tour at Walton, to the consternation and anger of the manager, were responsible for the club being banned from that mine for several years. There was a non-student member who went underground at Malagash and then discovered she was claustrophobic. She was a good soul, however, and suffered for three hours at the bottom of the shaft rather than disrupt the tour for others. The president of the club missed the first field trip of all to Grand Lake in 1932, as the result of a series of misadventures with a borrowed, and rather decrepit, car that was finally left in the ditch at Rockingham. He returned the next morning to find it stripped; fortunately the owner was an understanding individual.