Interpreting the Collections
William Logan: the Biography of a Geological Surveyor
Octant awarded to William Logan for obtaining the highest mark
in geometry at Edinburgh University, Scotland
William Edmond Logan was born in Montréal on April 20, 1798. His father
and uncle had emigrated from Scotland, and were prospering as bakers and general
merchants. Logan began his education in Montréal and, after the family
returned to Scotland, continued at Edinburgh High School and for one year at the
University of Edinburgh. His uncle Hart Logan was by now very successful, and
William spent the next 15 years working for his uncle's business interests, in
London during the 1820s and from 1831 in South Wales.
Because of the proximity of abundant coal, Swansea (South Wales) was a major
industrial centre. Logan soon became interested in mapping the local coalfields,
matching his own love of accurate detail with the growing popular enthusiasm for
geology. Logan also helped establish a local scientific association, the Royal
Institution of South Wales. When the newly established British Geological Survey
under Henry T. De la Beche (1796-1855) came to South Wales, Logan and De la Beche
became friends. Logan's work was recognized as setting new standards of accuracy
and was subsequently incorporated into the British survey.
In 1841, the colonial legislature of the Province of Canada (now southern Ontario and Quebec) voted funds for a geological survey, just as many American states had in the preceding years. Canadians were eager for an inventory of their natural resources; diversifying the colonial economy and promoting industrial development were necessary steps on the road to self-sufficiency. Logan, who had been at liberty since his uncle's death a few years earlier, was the ideal candidate to lead this survey for many reasons: he had been born in Canada, he was well known in the British geological community, he had experience in mapping, and he was an expert on coal, the mineral resource sought above all others.
Logan devoted the remainder of his career to Canada. His fieldwork in the 1840s
took him to the Gaspé peninsula, the Ottawa valley, and the north shores
of lakes Huron and Superior. His work at the Geological Survey of Canada (GSC) office in Montréal was equally important, though. He gathered the political support necessary to keep the Survey running year after year, he established a museum, and he assembled displays of Canadian economic minerals for European exhibitions.
Logan's 1856 Wollaston Medal, granted by the Geographical Society
of London. It was the highest honour awarded by geologists for geologists
Logan received prestigious awards from British scientific societies, and after
the Paris exposition of 1855 he was knighted by Queen Victoria. He retired from
the Survey in 1869, at the age of 71, after the publication of Geology of Canada and his large geological map. He continued to work privately for a few more years, but his health weakened, and he died at his sister Eliza's home in Wales, on June 22, 1875.
Additional information about Sir William Logan and his work is available at
the websites below:
Public Library scrapbook
Logan page (includes No Stone Unturned)