GSC Reports

By Kerr Canning

These reports and associated maps are available online. Go to GeoScan Basic Search and enter “Geological Survey of Canada, Annual Report vol. 16” (or other volumes).


This page comments on use of GSC Reports published during the early years of the GSC Surveys to identify sites of potential archeological interest*; the early years include the period from the creation of the GSC in the decade before Confederation until the close of World War One. This cut off date was chosen because of the decline in the archaeological and anthropological fieldwork conducted during the war years. A short statement in the director’s annual report of 1918 stated: “Archaeological field work has practically stopped for two years in order to enforce war economy”. [1]
*Material on this page was prepared originally for an article in the Newsletter of the Nova Scotia Archaeology Society; it was published in Volume 18, No. 2, Spring 2006.

Geological Survey of Canada Reports

The early GSC reports provide fascinating reading. The writing style gives one the feeling that the authors were renaissance men who were well acquainted with literature as well as science. Even though the focus of their writing is the reporting of geology observations made during their summer fieldwork, the articles are interspersed with unexpected comments or observations that do not pertain to geology. A short paragraph in a report describing the work done by Hugh Fletcher in Kings and Hants Counties during the summer of 1901 provides a good example.

Remains of the villages of the Micmac Indians, their landing-places, trails, and burying-grounds, are still traceable at Starrs Point, Canard, Gaspereay, and other places. Heaps of shells and bones of various animals attest the former abundance of game and fish. They are associated with implements and arrow-heads of a primitive civilization, chipped out of stone obtained from Blomidon or fashioned from pieces of native copper from Cape d’Or. [2]

The GSC has always produced prolific quantities of written material. A variety of records were published and to uncover all of them is beyond the scope of this article. Fortunately, Morris Zaslow wrote an excellent and comprehensive section on GSC source materials called “Essay on Sources” for his book Reading the Rocks: The Story of the Geological Survey of Canada 1842‑1972. [3]

The GSC reports were written during the winter months back at the headquarters. Articles were prepared by the field officers and their assistants as well as the director of the GSC. The field geologists prepared at least two types of documents: an interim report and a final report of their fieldwork.

The Hugh Fletcher article mentioned in the last paragraph is one of several final reports included in a volume with the title “Annual Report (New Series)”. For a number of years the Annual Report (New Series) was a major publishing method used by the GSC. The sixteen volumes that were produced cover the years 1885 to1904. [3] Frustrating delays often prevented a volume from being printed on time. Each Annual Report (New Series) volume contains several sections. The director’s annual Summary Report comprised Section One and each remaining section is a field officer’s final report or a report on a special topic, the chemistry involved in mineralogy is one example.[3]

The Interim Report was submitted to the director of the Survey describing the previous summer’s work.[3] The director then incorporated portions of these reports into an annual report that he wrote for submission to his superior and subsequently published.3 When Alfred Selwyn became the Survey’s director in 1869, the director’s annual report was given the title “Summary Report”, a term that was used until 1933. [3]

The Summary Report for the calendar year 1892 illustrates how interim reports were sometimes incorporated into a director’s annual report.[4] The director, Alfred Selwyn, describes the activities of fifteen field parties. The three parties active in Nova Scotia that year were lead by Robert Chalmers, E. R. Faribault, and Hugh Fletcher. Selwyn’s description of the work directed by Robert Chalmers consists of a succession of direct quotes from Chalmers’ interim report. The short introduction, written by Selwyn, gives an overview of the explorations carried out and then introduces Chalmers’ report with the statement “On the result of the work Mr. Chalmers reports the following:-“. Three pages of short paragraphs follow this statement. Each paragraph begins with, but does not end with, quotation marks. For example:

Kames and terraced gravels, sands etc. are found in many parts of Cumberland county, the most noteworthy of the former being the ‘Boar’s Back’ along the River Hebert. The terraces along the east side of the valley in which Halfway Lake lies appear to be marine, and if so River Hebert valley and the Parrsboro’ pass in the Cobequids formed a straight during the post-glacial subsidence of the land. The materials of the terraces referred to and the ‘Boar’s Back’ were thrown down at this stage, and the erosion which took place during the rise of the land which followed shaped the later. A post-glacial lake existed at Halfway River of which Halfway Lake is a remnant, and the discharge from this was by River Hebert valley. The details here are of great interest but investigations are not yet complete. [4]

The final report was usually based on observations collected over a period of time and included several summers of field activities or described material gathered during a very long field session. It was much longer than an interim report and represented the completion of a project. A good example is the 193 page report submitted to Alfred Selwyn by Hugh Fletcher. Mr. Fletcher’s report, published under separate cover in 1892 and again in 1893 as part of a volume of reports, opens with a letter addressed to Selwyn. The letter begins: “I have the honour to submit herewith a report on work done during the summers of 1887 to 1891 in the counties of Pictou, Colchester, Hantz, and Cumberland, as described in the Summary Reports of the department for these years”. The letter ends with a list of names that includes local people such as Dr. W. D. McKenzie, Dr. A. S. Townshend, C.E. Day, and W. F. Jones, of Parrsboro, who helped Hugh Fletcher in various ways.[5]

The volumes of reports that were published prior to 1885 have the title “Report of Progress”. After 1904, volumes with the title Summary Report were to contain only the director’s annual report. The field officers final reports were meant to appear in a different publication. However, for several years after 1904 many geologists’ final reports were included in the Summary Report volumes.[3]

Two other pre-WW1 publications include the Memoir and the Museum Bulletin. In 1910, the Memoir began and the Museum Bulletin, later known as the Bulletin, started publishing in 1913.

Each Memoir is the size of a book and some, such as Memoir No. 20-E, are devoted to a single topic that represents a compilation of the results of field work that was not done by the Memoir’s author.[6] Memoir No. 20-E is 331 pages long and is an excellent source for information on Gold mining in Nova Scotia. As with other memoirs, No. 20 contains numerous photographs on a diversity of topics. See Fig.1 for example.

Fig.1: “Typical gold miner’s house”. (Memoir No. 20-E, Plate IV, p 44-45). Reproduced with the permission of the Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada, 2006 and Courtesy of Natural Resources Canada, Geological Survey of Canada.

Memoirs might deal with anthropological topics. Memoir No. 49, published in 1914, contains a large collection of Malecite Tales. Memoir No. 42 is devoted to “The Double-Curve Motive in Northeastern Algonkian Art”.

GSC Memoir 140 is a 180 page document devoted to the “Physiography of Nova Scotia”. Among the many photographs in this Memoir is a 1914 picture of a drowned forest that was exposed when a drainage ditch was constructed on a salt marsh in Yarmouth (see Fig. 2). There is also a 1914 photograph of a drowned forest at Fort Lawrence in Cumberland County. The Yarmouth photograph is described in the text of Memoir 140 as follows:

“At Yarmouth, stumps occur beneath salt marsh deposits on both sides of the harbour. On the west side they are exposed in a drainage ditch where the road to Markland crosses a broad dyked marsh about a half mile north of Yarmouth bar. A continuous mass of interwoven roots and stumps lies from 1 to 4 feet below the top of the marsh. In upright positions, with logs, sticks, and other forest debris matted down into a black bed of peat, (Plate XXVIII B). This is a relatively young forest growth; for most of the stumps are less than 6 inches in diameter. Several large stumps occur on the seaward side of the beach that encloses False bay, just north of the Markland hotel. Though they stand between mean and low tides, it is possible that their low position is in part due to their having grown on soft ground and been pressed down by the weight of the beach as it was beaten back over them. That process is going on at a short beach at “the point” of West cape, south of the Markland”. [7]

Fig. 2: “Old forest under salt marsh, Yarmouth”. (Memoir No. 140, Plate XXVIII B p 172). Reproduced with the permission of the Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada, 2006 and Courtesy of Natural Resources Canada, Geological Survey of Canada.

A depository of GSC reports contains a variety of documents, including thick volumes with names like Report of Progress and Annual Report ( New Series ); also, there may be slim booklets with the title Summary Report. On first inspection the holdings seem to be organized in a complex and confusing manner, especially if one expects to find a journal format with volume and issue numbers. Confusion may be avoided if two important points are kept in mind. First, the GSC publications were offered in part or as a whole. Second, regardless of the title of the report, almost any early GSC publication will fit into one of the following three categories:

  1. A slim paper-covered document containing only the director’s annual report (called the “Summary Report”). In principal, a Summary Report was published every year and described the work done by the field geologists during the previous summer. Some libraries have placed several consecutive years of Summary Reports into a single bound volume.
  2. A field officer’s final report which describes observations collected over a period that included several summers or contains material gathered during a very long field session.
  3. A thick annual report that opens with the director’s annual or “Summary Report”. This is followed by all of the field officer’s final reports completed that year. For some years the number of final reports was sufficiently large that two or more volumes were required in order to publish all of the material.[8]

Searching for Information in the GSC Reports

The early surveyor’s reports published by the GSC are fascinating to read and they are filled with surprises for readers interested in geography, history, and archeology. The surprise may be a single sentence such as:

Many of the old French dykes have been replaced by more modern ones, which cross the brooks at their mouths instead of turning up along them. [9]

Furthermore one may find paragraphs with detailed information on a topic that has more to do with history than geology. The reading of a GSC report should be regarded as an act of exploration. Whatever useful information a reader finds buried in a report is likely to be completely unexpected. Dr Sherman Bleakney aptly expressed the importance of the early GSC reports in this way:

I have great faith in those old surveyors because they seem to be very keen observers of natural phenomena and included lots of information in their reports. They should be brought to the attention of the current scientific community, and archaeologists in particular. [10]

It is relatively easy to locate the above quoted sentence on old French dykes, and other interesting topics in reports written by Hugh Fletcher and others who conducted their field work in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. These authors used margin notes for each major idea in a paragraph. Scanning these margin notes allows the reader to find topics of interest. The adjacent paragraph can then be read for details. The margin note for the above French dyke quote [9] was “Dykeland”. Unfortunately not all GSC reports have margin notes and locating material of interest is more time consuming.

Scanning the first sentence of each paragraph is a useful technique to use when an author does not use margin notes. This is illustrated in two GSC reports dating from the early 1890’s. In these two documents the geologist Robert Chalmers presents what are perhaps some of the earliest published observations indicating that the salt marshes at the head of the Bay of Fundy are sinking, a process called subsidence. In one of his reports he states that

Observations on the subsidence of the land around the head of the Bay of Fundy in the Recent Period were continued and additional facts obtained. At the public wharf at Edgett’s Landing, Albert county, in the mouth of the Petitcodiac River, stumps of trees in situ occur thirty-eight feet below the highest neap tides, or nineteen feet below mean tide level. They are firmly rooted in what must have been upland soil. This fact taken in connection with evidence of recent subsidence at Aulac, Intercolonial Railway, and at Fort Lawrence dock, Chignecto Marine Railway, recorded in former reports, leave no doubt that sinking of the land has taken place here since the last upheaval in post-glacial times. [11]

The subsidence reports by Robert Chalmers represent an exciting find for researchers who have read the material on rising sea levels due to land subsidence recorded in Dr Sherman Bleakney’s book Sods, Soil, and Spades: The Acadians at Grad Pre and Their Dykeland Legacy. In Sods, Soil, and Spades, Prof. Bleakney has a 1951 photograph showing tree stumps on the edge of the Grad Pre salt marsh that were exposed when erosion removed marsh deposits that once covered these approximately 3,500 year old hemlock and pine stumps. [12]

The first step in a search for useful GSC reports is to find a government or university library that has a collection of the early publications. Researchers living in Halifax are fortunate because the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources library at 1701 Hollis Street, 3rd floor, has a collection of these documents. An extensive collection of GSC publications can be found at the Earth Sciences Information Centre, Natural Resources Canada, 601 Booth, Ottawa, ONTARIO.

UPDATE: These reports and associated maps are available online. Go to GeoScan Basic Search and enter “Geological Survey of Canada, Annual Report vol. 16” (or other volumes).

Once a library has been located one must use an organized approach to search the holdings. This organized approach can be divided into two phases.

Phase one is the realization that a researcher is simply looking for reports describing surveys that were carried out in specific and relatively small regions of a particular province or territory of Canada. One must, therefore, define the general area of Canada for which historical and archeological data is being sought. A general region might be as large as the Upper Bay of Fundy. In this case GSC reports involving any of the Nova Scotia counties of Cumberland, Colchester, Hantz, and Kings or the New Brunswick counties of Westmorland and Albert would be of interest.

Defining a general region of Nova Scotia is important because most of the early GSC reports have a table of contents that list survey activities that took place in specific regions of Canada. The table of contents for the director’s “Summary Report” would, for example, contain statements similar to the following:

Report on a portion of Cumberland County, Nova Scotia, Hugh Fletcher…….Page 143
Southern part of Kings and Eastern part of Lunenburg Counties, Nova Scotia, E. Rodolphe Fairbault” …….Page 150”. [13]

Each field officer’s report has a title that provides detailed information about the location of the region of Canada where the Survey was conducted. For example: the Table of Contents for the Annual Report, ( New Series), Volume V, Part II, ( 1890-91), 1893, contains the title; “Report P. On Geological Surveys and Explorations in the Counties of Pictou and Colchester, Nova Scotia , by Hugh Fletcher”.

Phase Two: the shelf space occupied by a library’s GSC holdings is small and not every report contains material relevant to one’s research. Therefore it is not an unreasonable task to pull each report from the shelf and to examine the table of contents. When an article or section dealing with one’s region of Nova Scotia is located the researcher can then quickly skim the section for pertinent material.

A Cumberland County Site Identified in the GSC Records: A borehole at Pettigrew Settlement

Fieldwork sometimes involved drilling a narrow shaft, called a borehole, deep into the bedrock. A metal casing, six inches in diameter, was driven into the hole during the drilling process. Because this thick walled casing protruded a foot or more above the ground one can still locate boreholes that were drilled during the early years of the Survey.

Several boreholes exist in western Cumberland County and folklore surrounds one that is located at Pettigrew Settlement on the Boars Back Road. It is mentioned that years ago someone drilled a well and all that they got for their efforts was salt water. The someone turns out to be the GSC geologist Hugh Fletcher!

The Summary Report for the calendar year 1903 contains a brief description of Mr. Fletcher’s survey work in Cumberland County. Page 162 of the report states that a borehole was begun “ on the west side of River Hebert, a mile below the outlet of Fullerton lake”. The drilling continued during the following summer of 1904 and the Summary Report for 1904 contains the following account.

“ No change was observed in the material cut in the bore-hole north of Fullerton lake to 2,330 ft. but a seam of coal, said to be nine feet thick, is stated to have been cut at 2,350 feet. A pumping examined on December 23, 1904, yielded chocolate coloured, fine sand mixed with red clay. Progress was very slow because of the large quantity of water in the hole below the six-inch casing put in to a depth of 815 feet. This water is salt”. [14]

The borehole is shown on Faribault-Fletcher multi-coloured map for this part of the county (Fig. 3). Even today salty water continually seeps from the casing and forms a small marshy pond. When snow is on the ground one can see the tracks of animals that come to the pond for the salt. Fig.4 is a photograph showing this borehole in January 2006 with fresh snow on the ground. The casing is now bent because it was struck recently by heavy farm machinery.

Fig.3: Borehole at Pettigrew Settlement. Taken from the 1905 Faribault-Fletcher Southhampton Sheet No.82. Reproduced with the permission of the Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada, 2006 and Courtesy of Natural Resources Canada, Geological Survey of Canada.

Fig. 4: Borehole on the Harry Thompson Property Located on the Boars Back Road. (Photograph by Kerr Canning: January 2006)

A paragraph in Morris Zaslow’s book Reading the Rocks mentions the borehole at Pettigrew Settlement. [15] This paragraph is part of a narrative on the importance to the mining industry of the geological work done in Nova Scotia by E. R. Faribault and Hugh Fletcher.

Maps Found in GSC Reports

Most issues of the Report of Progress and the Annual Report ( New Series) contain a large variety of interesting and beautiful maps. Fig.5 shows an example:

Fig. 5: A Scott Barlow and Walter McOuat Map of the Spring Hill Coal Field. (Taken from the Report of Progress for 1873-74, Page 160.). Reproduced with the permission of the Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada, 2006 and Courtesy of Natural Resources Canada, Geological Survey of Canada.

The GSC chose various methods for publishing the interim and final reports written by the field officers and the annual report by the director of the GSC. The goal was to provide mining companies, geologists, and prospectors with the option to purchase all or part of the material compiled each year. These communities then had convenient and affordable access to the valuable resource material in these reports, material that is still being consulted. Geological communities, however, are not the only groups able to derive benefit from reading the early GSC reports. The reports also contain a wealth of information for disciplines such as geography, history and archeology.


I am very grateful for the help provided by Tracy Lenfesty, the librarian at the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources, 1701 Hollis Street, Halifax; and Melissa Kane, the Librarian at the Earth Sciences Information Centre in Ottawa. These two very patient librarians devoted a considerable amount of time searching for the information and material requested in my many email questions. A third librarian from McGill University, my wife, made it possible for me to access the GSC publications and reference material housed in the Schulich Library of Science and Engineering.

I am also very grateful for the map and photograph material provided by Martin Legault , an Information Services consultant at the Earth Sciences Information Centre in Ottawa. Martin made it possible for me look through a large collection of early GSC negatives.


1. GSC, Summary Report for the calendar year 1918,(1919), p 11A.

2. GSC, Annual Report, (New Series),Volume XIV, (1905), p 211A.
The Annual Report, ( New Series), published in 1905, contains reports that were completed during the winter of 1901-02. Each report has a letter designation and Volume XIV contains reports A, B, F, H, J, M, O, and S. Report A is the Summary Report for the calendar year 1901 and Hugh Fletcher’s observation on the “Remains of the villages of the Micmac Indians” is found on page 211 of Report A. The Summary Report for the calendar year 1901 was published under separate cover in 1902.

3. Morris Zaslow , Reading the Rocks: The Story of the Geological Survey of Canada 1842‑1972, the Macmillan Company of Canada, Ottawa, (1975), p 541-542.

4. GSC, Summary Report for the calendar year 1892, (1893), p 35,

5. GSC, Annual Report (New Series), Volume V, Part II, ( 1890-91) Part P, “Report of the Geological Surveys and Explorations in the Counties of Pictou and Colchester, Nova Scotia , by Hugh Fletcher”, (1893), p 4P.

6. GSC, Memoir No. 20-E: Gold Fields of Nova Scotia by Wyatt Malcolm, (1912).
A note at the beginning of Memoir 140 states that the Memoir is a compilation of data gathered buy geologists such as E. R. Faribault.

7. GSC Memoir 140, Physiography of Nova Scotia by J. W. Goldthwait, (F. A. Acland, Ottawa, 1924), p159-160.

8. GSC, Annual Report, (New Series), Volume V, Part II, (1890-91) Part P, “Report of the Geological Surveys and Explorations in the Counties of Pictou and Colchester, Nova Scotia , by Hugh Fletcher”, (1893).
This Annual Report, ( New Series), published in 1893, contains reports that were completed during the winter of 1890-91. Each report has a letter designation and Volume V, Part II contains reports P, Q, R, S, and SS. Hugh Fletcher’s report is labeled Part P and it describes the work done by Mr. Fletcher during the summers of 1887 to 1891 in the counties of Pictou, Colchester, Hantz, and Cumberland. It appears that Mr. Fletcher’s report was first published under separate cover in 1892.

9. Ibid., p.168 P.

10. Private communiqué from Sherman Bleakney to Kerr Canning

11. GSC, Summary Report for the calendar year 1892, p 36, 1893

12. J. Sherman Bleakney, Sods, Soil, and Spades: The Acadians at Grand Pri and Their Dykeland Legacy, (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2004)

In Chapter Seven, 300 Years of Rising Sea Levels, Prof. Bleakney provides observations on the effects that rising sea levels have had on the Grand Pri Acadian dykes. The burial of mature forests is discussed in Chapter Three, Tidal Aspects and Effects, as well as in section 9.2 of Chapter Nine. Page 128 of Chapter Nine contains the 1951 photograph of the 3,500 that exposed by erosion.

13. GSC, Summary Report for the calendar year 1908, (1909), p viii.

14. GSC, Summary Report for the calendar year 1904, (1905), p 296.

15. Morris Zaslow, Reading the Rocks: The Story of the Geological Survey of Canada1842‑1972, the Macmillan Company of Canada, Ottawa, (1975), p 232.