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Life in Camp

The members of the Geological Survey of Canada (GSC) had to live in the wilderness for many months of the year. They had to do everything for themselves: cooking, cleaning, as well as packing, moving and setting up camp.

Photograph of Geological Survey camp showing geologists in front of their tents, Quebec, 1878

GSC camp, St. Anne River, Quebec, 1878

Photograph of a man drying caribou meat at a survey camp, Northwest Territories, 1893

Drying caribou meat, Carey Lake,
Northwest Territories, 1893;
photo taken by Joseph Tyrrell

They brought along some foods that last a long time, like salt pork and dried biscuit. These were the same foods that sailors took on long sea voyages. It was a boring diet, so they also hunted whatever animals they found around them and gathered plants to eat.

One of Logan's Mi'kmaq guides, John Basque, was not only an expert canoeist, but also a good hunter and cook. Basque knew how to cook many kinds of birds, fish and animals such as porcupine. He also used local plants such as wild chives to give the meals more flavour.

Page from one of William Logan's journals with text and a sketch of his camp

A page from one of William Logan's journals with a sketch of his camp, 1843

Camp was an important workplace. At night and on rainy days, Logan went over his notes and maps. He also wrote down what rocks he had looked at, made entries in his journal and wrote letters to government officials and relatives.

After working in the field for many months, the crew's clothing would get more and more torn and battered. It would have been hard to know that these men were geologists. They looked very different from the educated gentlemen that many of them were.

GSC members were proud of the hard work and many discomforts they faced while doing their scientific work. The crews were made up entirely of men. At this time in history women were thought to be too weak for this kind of work. Also, it was not considered proper to be alone in the wilderness with men who were not relatives. Times have changed.

Photograph of Robert Bell's camp showing tents and canoes and geologists going about their daily activities, 1886

Robert Bell's camp, 1886

Where Are the Women?

Newsworthy Nuggets

- Alfred Selwyn (GSC director, 1869-1895) once had a horse eat one of his field notebooks!

- Visitors to Logan's Montréal office were often surprised by the large number of worn boots lining the office walls. Robert Bell, another geologist, noted that Logan walked so far that he wore out more boots than clothes while working in the field!

In His Own Words

"While Basque was preparing the frying pan by boiling some water in it to get the rust off, he said we were in want of a dish cloth. Such is forgotten; and such being the case, he takes a hand full of leaves from the white tree and makes a dish cloth of them. But the want of a dish cloth puts me in mind that we have no towels, and the want of towels reminds me that we have no soap. Shaving will therefore be out of the question for some time. Of course we shall wash our faces every morning but it must be with water alone, and our handkerchiefs must dry them. A man must have his thoughts about him when he takes to house keeping in the woods."

(William Logan's journal, July 13, 1843)

In His Own Words

"Again I have lost my book and this time I have been obliged to return to the tent disconsolate without it. I shall put all hands to search for it tomorrow, for I shall die of a broken heart if it is not found. All the work I have done since I commenced is noted in it; and I shall be obliged to do it over again if the book is not recovered. A fortnight will thus be lost, and I doubt whether the work will be so well done the second time."

William Logan's journal, July 20, 1843)

Luckily for Logan, Basque did find the notebook the next day hidden in a small bush.