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National Museums

Did you know that three of Canada's large national museums were born from the Geological Survey of Canada (GSC)?

Many of the specimens that members of the Survey collected and brought back to be examined and identified, now form part of the collections of the Canadian Museum of Nature, the Canadian Museum of Civilization, and the Canada Science and Technology Museum.

Photograph of the Victoria Museum being built, 1899

The Victoria Memorial Museum being built, Ottawa, 1899 (now the Canadian Museum of Nature)
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At first GSC kept its collections at its headquarters in Montréal, but there was little space to display the rocks and fossils properly, and no budget for staff to classify and label them. This made it hard to show all the work that Logan and his crew had done. Logan made it his goal to establish a museum within the headquarters for this purpose, starting with a few exhibit cases purchased with his own money. In 1856, the government agreed to help with this project and gave a grant that helped put the museum on its feet. The Survey remained in Montréal until 1881. Then it moved to Ottawa, and a new headquarters in an old hotel building on Sussex Street. There, its collections continued to grow. Eventually a larger museum was needed to show off the Survey's extensive collections of Native artifacts, rocks and minerals, as well as its botanical and zoological specimens. In 1910, the Survey and its museum moved to the newly constructed Victoria Memorial Museum building. Soon after, the GSC opened its new museum to the public. The Victoria Memorial Museum building is still open to the public today. It is now the Canadian Museum of Nature.

Photograph of Logan Hall at the Geological Survey of Canada Museum

Logan Hall at the GSC Museum
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After a fire in the Parliament buildings in 1916, Parliament moved into the Victoria Memorial Museum building and the Geological Survey had to move elsewhere for a time. After it returned, the museum changed its name to the National Museum of Canada in 1927. In 1959, the GSC separated from the National Museum and moved to new buildings on Booth Street, where it remains to the present day.

Over time, the National Museum collection was divided into four parts and four museums. The anthropological and historical collections went to the Canadian Museum of Civilization. The zoological and botanical specimens, as well as part of the geological collection, went to the Canadian Museum of Nature. A portion of the geological collection remains with the GSC as a national reference collection, parts of which are displayed in the GSC's own small museum, fittingly called Logan Hall. Finally, the Canadian Museum of Science and Technology received the scientific instruments and technological artifacts.

When you visit these museums, remember that they exist because of the work done by William Logan and the Geological Survey of Canada.

Newsworthy Nugget

The Victoria Memorial Museum building (now the Canadian Museum of Nature) was built on Leda clay, causing it to start sinking into the ground even before it was finished. In 1915 a tower was removed but the building continued to sink until it was finally stabilized in 1965.

In His Own Words

"When we moved from the old Museum, the hundreds of bundles of ...specimens that were scattered about everywhere were all got together and it was enough to frighten one only to look at them."

(J.M. Macoun [John's son] to Theo Holm, April 6, 1911)


Photograph of Geological Survey of Canada exhibits at the Victoria Memorial Museum, 1913

GSC exhibits at the Victoria Memorial Museum, Ottawa, 1913
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