The Department of Geology - 1895-1993 - A History

Adapted from histories by C.G. Winder and A.E. Beck

On March 7, 1878, the Western University of London received a charter to confer degrees. Classes began in 1881, and geology was taught in a Natural History course within the Faculty of Arts, by W. Minter Seabourn, a Huron College teacher. The course ceased in 1885 for lack of students.

The Department of Geology within the Faculty of Arts was established in 1895 but a head was not designated. Between 1895 and 1915, Dr. Solon Woolverton, a London dentist and naturalist, taught geology.

Between 1915 and 1919 geology was taught by Dr. A.D. Robertson, a biologist, and for one year by Professor E.H. Perkins. John W. Russell, M.A., McMaster University, mineralogy, was appointed in 1920, and designated as department head. G. Harold Reavely, a UWO graduate in chemistry, with a Diploma from the Imperial College, London in petrology, was appointed in 1928. He was the department head from 1940-1965, followed by C.G. Winder until 1971.

Field trips were probably held between 1895 and 1915; Solon Woolverton led the local naturalist club on field trips to Thedford to collect fossils. They travelled by train! Beginning in 1946, G.G. Suffel organized weeklong field trips to mines at Sudbury, Noranda, and the Bancroft area. A weeklong field camp at Whitefish Falls, north of Manitoulin Island, close to the Precambrian-Paleozoic boundary, commenced in 1958, and continues today as the present second-year field camp. Eventually, field trips extended to all parts of North America and beyond.

Beginning in 1895 and continuing until 1924, classes were conducted at Huron College, located on St. George St., between St. James and Grosvenor Streets, overlooking the Thames River Valley. In 1924, with the completion of the Science building (current Physics and Astronomy Building) on the present campus, the geology department occupied a few rooms on the third floor. Geology occupied the entire third floor by 1947.

In 1957, the foundation of the Biology & Geology Building was laid, and geology and geophysics together occupied the main floor and part of the basement. In 1965, the space was doubled with two wings, one of which connected with the Chemistry Department. Facing stone for the first Science, and the B&G building, is Lower Silurian Whirlpool Sandstone, from quarries along the Niagara escarpment; the window trim is Mississippian Indiana Limestone; the wall base course is Middle Silurian Queenston Limestone from Queenston, Ontario; and the floor of the entrance is travertine, aka Italian marble.

In July of 1958, the geophysics unit within the Department of Geology was split into a new, independent Department of Geophysics, which was the first of its kind in Canada. Under the leadership first of R.J. Uffen and later of A.E. Beck, the Department Geophysics would be a separate department at Western for the next 35 years.

The first Masters degree was awarded to W.P. McGill in 1944, and the first Doctor of Philosophy was awarded in 1959 to A.J. Surkan. About 400 graduate degrees in geology and geophysics were awarded between 1944 and 1993. Plaques in the main hallway of the Department display the names.

In 1993, the Department of Geology and the Department of Geophysics were combined into the new Department of Earth Sciences, with F.W. Longstaffe as the first chair.

Chairs of Earth Sciences

G. Harold Reavely, 1940-65
C. Gordon Winder, 1965-71
William S. Fyfe, 1972-82
Robert W. Hodder, 1982-90
Alfred C. Lenz, 1990-93

Robert J. Uffen, 1958-63
Alan E. Beck, 1963-93

Earth Sciences
Fred J. Longstaffe, 1993-99
Lalu Mansinha, 2000-03
H. Wayne Nesbitt, 2003-07
R. Gerhard Pratt, 2008-