Department History: An Abridged Version


The Department of Geology and Mineralogy at the University of Manitoba was established in 1910 with the appointment of R.C. Wallace as Head. Dr. Wallace began teaching courses in mineralogy, petrology and petrography, and physical and historical geology.  He also began field investigations of the natural gypsum deposits and saline brines in the Interlake district and of the sulphide mineral resources of the Precambrian Shield. He later served as Commissioner of Mines for Northern Manitoba.

Over the next twenty years, the teaching staff grew with the addition of J.S. DeLury in 1915 (Petrology), S.R. Kirk in 1927 (Paleontology), G.M. Brownell in 1928 (Economic Geology) and E.I. Leith in 1935 (Stratigraphy and Sedimentation). Dr. DeLury became Head in 1928 when Dr. Wallace resigned to become President of the University of Alberta.

Although small, the Department was ambitious from the start. Geophysics began in 1911 with the installation of a seismological station at St. Boniface College as part of the Jesuit network. The Geology Club was formed during 1916-17, and the first student field trips were launched in the following year. The resources of the Department received a major boost in 1918 when J.W. Winthrop Spencer donated his lifetime collections of fossil, mineral and rock specimens, and his library of over 600 volumes. The “Spencer Collections” to this day form the core of the departmental teaching materials.

The home of the Department during the years 1910 to 1947 was the University’s Broadway Campus. The Department offices were in an annex of the Science Building. Although the Department had its own museum, lecture rooms and labs were shared among the arts and science disciplines. Geology research equipment was limited to specimen preparation facilities, microscope labs and field equipment.

During the late thirties to mid 1940s the University took steps to move all its facilities from the Broadway campus to the site of the Manitoba Agricultural College, later known as the Fort Garry Campus. The Department of Geology and Mineralogy moved into the Buller Building, where it occupied the top two floors of the west wing. G.M. Brownell became Head in 1944 and new faculty were added in 1947:  R.B. Ferguson (Crystallography and Mineralogy), H.D.B. Wilson (Petrology and Petrography) and G.A. Russell (Photo-geology, Environmental Geology and Mining Geology).


The years in the Buller Building represented a successful transition to a robust department, with well defined objectives in teaching and research.

Introductory classes taught by E.I. Leith drew ever-increasing numbers of students and led to larger enrolments in the General and Honours Geology programs. The Geological Engineering Curriculum was also taken on by the Department, with a Geology-Civil Engineering committee providing curriculum guidance. The five professorial staff had their hands full and met the challenge with excellent courses, and by establishing research labs and programs, all within limited space. R.B. Ferguson acquired X-ray diffraction equipment for his research on feldspars. H.D.B. Wilson was researching and writing on layered intrusions and ore deposits. G.A. Russell was acquiring separation equipment for his labs in mineral processing.  In 1957 W.C. Brisbin was appointed to the staff and took on the teaching of Structural Geology and Petroleum Geology. He also began a program of regional gravity interpretations of continental crust and mantle. In 1962 D.H. Hall was appointed to the staff and developed a full program in Geophysics. Dr. Hall brought seismic and other geophysical equipment to the Department and thereby developed a full program of study leading to specialization in geophysics. The name of the Department was changed to Geology, Mineralogy and Geophysics in 1963. Technical staff between 1947 and 1962 included W. Hill, K. Irwin, R. Wadge, and W. Hutchcroft.

It soon became obvious that the Department’s continued growth would require considerably more space and negotiations led to the acquisition of the old Chemistry-Physics Building of the Agricultural College, now the Fitzgerald Building. A complete building renovation resulted in new teaching labs, museum space, and laboratories for trace-element analysis, X-ray fluorescence spectrometry, mineral processing, and X-ray diffraction.


The move into the newly renovated space invigorated the Department and led to new appointments, new areas of research, and increased enrolments over the next 22 years.

Professorial appointments between 1965 and 1967 included D.T. Anderson (Remote Sensing), A.C. Turnock (Igneous and Metamorphic Petrology), G.S. Clark (Geochronology), J. Cherry (Groundwater Geology), and C.D. Anderson (Exploration Geophysics). At this time the name of the Department was changed to the Department of Earth Sciences, in recognition of the additional fields.

From 1970 to 1974 new appointments covered other important areas of geological science. These included J.T. Teller (Glaciology and Quaternary Geology), P. Cerny (Pegmatite Mineralogy and Geology), R.S. Harrison (Carbonate Geology), P. Laznicka, (Metallogenesis), L.D. Ayres (Precambrian Volcanology), and A.G. Green (Solid Earth Geophysics and Global Tectonics). From 1978 to 1983 new staff appointments included R.J. Elias (Paleontology), W. Moon (Satellite Imagery and Geophysics), W.M. Last (Petroleum Geology, Sedimentology), F.C. Hawthorne (Mineralogy, Crystal Chemistry), and N.M. Halden (Geochemistry). Technical staff consisted of A. Pasquale, J. Berta, K. Ramlal, P. Beaudoin, R. Pryhitko, I. Berta, I. Cerny, and J. Wenham.

Two collaborative research initiatives stand out during this period. Project Pioneer which began in 1966 was a study of the Rice Lake-Beresford Lake area by the Department and the Manitoba Department of Mines. The project was innovative in that it applied a coordinated series of geological, geochemical, and geophysical techniques to a single Precambrian area. The second initiative was the formation of the Centre for Precambrian Studies as a semi-autonomous unit of the University in 1972 to implement multi-disciplinary research on larger areas of the Precambrian Shield. M. Keys served as the administrative officer.

Annual geology and geophysics field courses were introduced first at the Chemalloy Mine property at Bernic Lake in 1964, and in 1971 at the newly constructed Star Lake Field Station. The field courses were augmented by local and international field trips to acquaint our students with a multitude of geological environments and processes, a philosophy that has continued over the ensuing years with trips to the Black Hills, Grand Canyon, Canadian Cordillera, plate margins in California and Baja California, Southern Appalachians, Florida Keys, Northwest Territories, and Yellowstone.

The Department was also committed to providing geoscience education to grade school teachers through its EdGeo program at the Star Lake Field Station. Many staff members were also involved with continuing education, travelling to communities to present geoscience courses in places as far north as Churchill, as unusual as Stony Mountain Penitentiary, and as far away as Canadian Armed Forces Bases in Germany. The Department hosted the GAC-MAC Annual Meeting in 1981.

By 1975 the growth of the Department surpassed the capacity of the Fitzgerald/Geology Building. An annex had been added to the existing building, trailers had been placed in the quadrangle in front of the Buller Building, graduate students were occupying space in trailers near the Russell Building, and classroom, lab, and office space was spilling over into the Bison Building. Although the University and University Grants Commission had a new Geology building at the top of their priority list it wasn’t until the early 1980s that the planning and design were completed, and construction began.


On October 26, 1986 the new building was officially opened and named after R.C. Wallace, the first head of the Department of Geology and Mineralogy. Coinciding with the opening, the Department’s name was changed to the Department of Geological Sciences.

The design of the Wallace Building represented a major change in architectural style on the campus and provided a site for much of the 1996 GAC-MAC Annual Meeting. The new building was also a harbinger of other changes for the Department. During the six years after the move the following appointments were made: M. Osborne (Mineralogy, Crystallography), N. Chow (Carbonate Sedimentology), C. Macrides (Geophysics), B.L. Sherriff (Mineralogy), I.J. Ferguson (Electromagnetic Geophysics), A.C. L. Larocque (Geochemistry), A. Chakhmouradian (Mineralogy), and A. Frederiksen (Earthquake Seismology). Teaching appointments included J. Young, W. Mandziuk and K. Ferreira.

During this same period discussions in the Department were focussing on the future and the changing role of the geological sciences in Canada. These discussions led the Department to take a major step in promoting the formulation of a new faculty. In 2003 a new faculty was formed involving the Department of Geological Sciences, the Department of Environment and Geography, and the Natural Resources Institute. The name of the new faculty was modified in 2005 to the Clayton H. Riddell Faculty of Environment, Earth, and Resources. Clayton Riddell is an alumnus of the Department (B.Sc. Hon. 1955) and provided a $10 million endowment to support the new faculty.  Four new departmental appointments followed 2003: E. Sokolova (Crystal Chemistry), M. Fayek (Environmental and Isotopic Geochemistry), A. Camacho (Tectonics), and A. Bekker (Isotopic Geochemistry).

Since the move to the Wallace Building, the Ed Leith Cretaceous Menagerie has been created with generous donations from alumni, the R.B. Ferguson Museum of Mineralogy has been expanded, and another half storey has been added to the Wallace Building to accommodate the Riddell Faculty offices and the Centre for Earth Observation Science.  Lab facilities related to the research of faculty have been redesigned using impressive, state of the art, analytical and data processing equipment. Technical staff supporting and advancing this world-class research have included N. Ball, M. Cooper, R. Chapman, S. Mejia, W. Blonski, G. Morden, M. Serzu, P. Yang, M. Yun, and R. Sidhu.

Over the Department’s history, many other individuals have passed through our doors and helped build the Department into what it is today.  Office support staff, including M. Riddell, F. Starratt, E. Ross, S. Kirsch, M. Watson and B. Miller, have spent significant portions of their careers ensuring that students receive the advice and assistance they need to succeed. Research associates, post-doctoral fellows, adjunct professors, and visiting researchers have made significant contributions to research and student progress.


Without question the most important component of the Department throughout its history has been the students. Each year they challenge, they frustrate, they entertain and above all they provide the Department with a sense of accomplishment, satisfaction and pride.  The Department has strived to maintain contact with alumni and in return alumni have provided generous support through contributions to the Department’s endowment funds, scholarships, and other initiatives.

The first B.Sc. degrees were awarded at the University of Manitoba in 1912 but without discipline designation. The first recorded B.Sc. Geology degree was awarded in 1922 to C.A. Merritt. The first M.Sc. Degree in Geology was conferred in 1924 to L.G. Thompson and the first Ph.D. Degree in Geology was conferred in 1960 to L.C. Kilburn.  Departmental records for the period between 1922 and August, 2009 indicate the conferring of 902 B.Sc. Geology (Hon.) and B.Sc. Geology (Maj.) degrees, 357 B.Sc. Geological Engineering degrees, 300 M.Sc. degrees, and 45 Ph.D. degrees.

     Bill Brisbin and Brenda Miller
     Department of Geological Sciences
     University of Manitoba