Interpreting the Collections
An Audience of One: Logan's Personal Journals
Logan journal, from the McGill University Archives Collection
William Logan's personal journals are perhaps
the single most important source for understanding how and what he thought as
he explored the Canadian wilderness. Logan was a keen observer who enjoyed recording the sights, sounds, smells and sensations of a new environment. He tasted porcupine and bear, wrinkled his nose at cod cleaning and putrefying barrels of whale blubber, and felt the pain of tumbles down rocky slopes and head-on collisions with trees while jogging back to camp after dark. These journals are more than just a daily record of his work and travels; they are an ongoing, introspective examination of his relationship to the landscape, his methods, and the people he worked with and met along the way. Unlike many examples of nineteenth-century travel writing, the author here is not merely a detached, objective voice, absent from the scene. Instead, Logan himself is the real subject of these journals, providing a fascinating counterpoint to the scientific data that he was simultaneously recording in his field notebooks.
A list of things Logan needed to take on his trip from London
to the Bay of Chaleur. An extremely important item is listed under number 12:
The first major journal is Logan's record of his trip to Canada and the United
States between August 1840 and October 1841. Although Logan undertook this trip
to deal with his deceased uncle's North American business affairs, he used much
of the time to familiarize himself with regional geology. In particular, he was
thrilled to discover that the same clay beds he had found under coal seams in
South Wales also existed in the coalfields of Nova Scotia and Pennsylvania, proving
the broad validity of his theory that the clay underlay was the ground in which
the coal plants (Stigmaria) had originally grown. This journal is divided
into 10 parts, corresponding to his travels to Halifax, Montréal, Kingston,
Albany, New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and points in between.
Logan began his fieldwork as geological surveyor of Canada on the Gaspé
peninsula, the easternmost part of Quebec below the St. Lawrence River. In 1843,
he travelled the coast from Cape Rosier to Paspébiac, assisted only by
a Mi'kmaq guide, John Basque, and a young White man from New Brunswick, John Stevens.
The 1843 journal contains numerous observations of the cod industry that dominated
the Gaspé economy, as well as many remarks on the physical challenges of
adjusting to the Canadian environment. In 1844, Logan returned with a much larger
party, including Alexander Murray (1810-1884), his assistant geologist, determined
to cross the mountainous interior and acquire a more complete grasp of the land.
This expedition was successful, but not without difficulties caused by serious
illness and by tension between Logan and his French-speaking Polish chemist, Count
E. S. de Rottermund (circa 1812-1859), who was to be a thorn in his side in later
years. The 1844 field season laid the foundation not only for the scientific work
of the Survey, but also for the rugged masculine image of the surveyor.
A page from one of William Logan's journals with a sketch of
his camp, 1843
Logan's next two years in the field took him into very different territory:
to the Ottawa valley in 1845, and to the north shore of Lake Superior in 1846,
where he examined potential mining locations by special request of the government,
to facilitate the process of assigning exploration licenses.