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The Quest for Coal

One of the main reasons the Geological Survey of Canada (GSC) was formed was to find coal. It was a very important resource in the 19th century, used to fuel steamships and train engines.

Photograph of Harewood coal mine, Nanaimo,<br />British Columbia, 1875

Harewood coal mine,
Nanaimo, British Columbia, 1875

Canada wanted coal. William Logan was hired as the GSC's first director in 1842 because he was a British coal geologist. At this time, the Province of Canada only covered part of the area now known as Ontario and Quebec. Logan quickly concluded that there was no coal to be found in the Province of Canada because its rocks were from the wrong geological period. However, there was coal to be found in what is now New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Alberta, and on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Unfortunately, none of these provinces were part of Canada yet!

Photograph of a coal slide leading onto a wooden pier, Joggins, Nova Scotia, 1879

Coal slide, Joggins, Nova Scotia, 1879

Logan did do a detailed study of the coal at Joggins in Nova Scotia in 1843, even though it was not yet part of Canada. By the end of the 19th century, coal mining had become an important industry in both western and eastern Canada. The popularity of coal did not last long after that, however. Coal was eventually replaced by other sources of energy such as oil, gas and hydro.

Newsworthy Nugget

Coal and diamonds are both made of carbon. Diamonds are much harder than coal. They need a lot more pressure to form. That is why they are found buried much deeper under the Earth's surface.

Digging Deeper

How Trees Become Coal

Diagram of how trees become coalExplore this Topic

Photograph of a coal mine, near Fernie, British Columbia, 1898

Coal mine near Fernie, British Columbia, 1898, photo taken by George Dawson

Photograph of a big coal seam on the Saskatchewan River, Saskatchewan, 1886

Coal seam on the Saskatchewan River, Saskatchewan, 1886;
photo taken by Joseph Tyrrell