Life on the Road

Most of the Geological Survey of Canada's (GSC) early work was done on foot.

Photograph of a dog team ready to haul a sled piled high with wood from Churchill to Winnipeg, 1894

Dog team ready to make the trip from Churchill to Winnipeg;
photo taken by Joseph Tyrrell, 1894

Photograph of A.P. Low's survey party in front of their canoes beside the Hamilton River, Labrador, 1894

A.P. Low's survey party beside the Hamilton River, Labrador, 1894

Photograph of a Geological Survey camp showing men building boats, Dease Lake, British Columbia, 1887

Building boats at a GSC camp, Dease Lake, British Columbia, 1887

Photograph of a Geological Survey party and their horses in Bow Valley, Alberta, 1884

Geological Survey party, Bow Valley, Alberta, 1884;
photo taken by George Dawson

The Survey's crew members had to leave behind cities and towns and travel deep into the wilderness. There were not many roads and few railways in the early days. The best way to get where they needed to go was by foot, boat and canoe, just like the fur traders and Native peoples.

In the first year (1843) of surveying Canadian territory, William Logan covered hundreds of kilometres by foot. He walked along the Gaspé Peninsula in Quebec, where the rocks are exposed almost everywhere. When the tide went out Logan was able to explore more ground. But when the tide came in he had to either scramble up cliffs, which could be dangerous, or take off his boots and get wet.

The next year, when Logan crossed the mountainous interior of Gaspé, he took his group upriver by canoe. No white man had ever crossed these peaks before. Logan and his crew would not have managed it without their Native guides. Leaving the canoes behind, they crossed the hills on foot. He then had his Mi'kmaq guides build new canoes, so they could continue downriver on the other side of the hills.

After Confederation, Canada gained additional provinces and territories. The country now covered a larger area and further distances needed to be travelled. Team members were away from their headquarters in Ottawa for long periods of time. The field parties were larger and included not only geologists, but also surveyors and naturalists. They needed to bring along lots of supplies, which had to be carried through the wilderness. The terrain was also much more rugged, as the field parties had to explore the Rocky Mountains, the Arctic, northern Quebec and Labrador. Geologists often used ships, boats, horses and dog sleds to get to where they were going.

In His Own Words

"I have had a crack on the head from a great stone weighing half a hundredweight [25.4 kilograms -- now that would really hurt!], which fell on me, from no great height fortunately, but it has bruised my temporal muscle on the left side´┐Ż John brought up soup about four in the afternoon. If he had brought anything that required the use of the jaws, I must have gone without dinner."

(William Logan's journal, August 18, 1843)

Photograph showing pieces of broken wagons in the snow at a Geological Survey camp at the summit of the Rockies, 1886

Broken wagons in the snow at the GSC camp,
summit of the Rockies, 1886

Newsworthy Nugget

Working for the GSC was challenging, and sometimes even deadly. In 1895, geologist Albert Low, an excellent canoeist, decided to take a chance and run a long series of heavy rapids in a narrow canyon on the Mouchalagane River in Quebec. One of his canoes turned over and sadly, an Innu assistant named Paul Bacon was drowned.