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Banner: Written in Stone: William E. Logan and the Geological Survey of Canada
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William Logan: Author

William Logan: Biography

William Logan: Documents




Geological Maps

Interpreting the Collections

William Logan: the Biography of a Geological Surveyor

Photograph of octant awarded to William Logan for the highest mark in geometry in university

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.

Photograph of Logan's 1856 Wollaston Medal, back and front

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:

Toronto Public Library scrapbook
Harrington biography
NRCan Logan page (includes No Stone Unturned)

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