Memories of Geology at Acadia - 1945-1949

Acadia geology graduate Bruce V. Sanford (BSc '49) was one of 57 Canadians appointed to the Order of Canada by Governor General Michaëlle Jean in December, 2009.  Originally from Princedale, Nova Scotia, he worked in the summers after his third and fourth years as a field party assistant for the Geological Survey of Canada.  After graduation, he joined the GSC on a permanent basis, and spent his career working for the GSC and Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. in Ottawa, taking samples, making maps and compiling the geological history of southwestern Ontario.  And after he retired from his survey work, Sanford obtained a PhD in geology at the University of Ottawa.  At our request, Dr. Sanford wrote the following reminisces about his years in Geology at Acadia.

            I arrived at Acadia in the fall of 1945 after having served in the Canadian Army. I initially enrolled in Engineering, but I soon realized that was not what I wanted to do for a living for the rest of my life, so I changed courses and geology looked like a far more interesting alternative, and I have never once regretted that decision. 

I believe there were eight courses offered by the Dept. at that time, and I registered for them all. As I recall four of these were taught in the classroom with labs and the other half were project assignments that were generally literature searches covering such topics as stratigraphy, sedimentalogy, etc. with submission of term papers.  There were two full time professors on staff at that time, and a third lecturer was taken on for the 1948-1949 academic year. I don't know how long he stayed on in the Dept. as I graduated in the spring of 1949.

            Merle Bancroft was the Head of the Dept. and I believe his classroom lectures were confined to the first year Introduction to Geology. I also believe that he was responsible for the other four courses referred to above as project assignments. Bancroft was a lovable man; he was humorous, and he filled his classroom with students each and every year, and everyone got an A for their efforts. All of the other courses offered by the department were never attended by more than a half-dozen students as I recall.

            Harcourt Cameron was the other fulltime professor. I can remember only two courses that he was responsible for, one in Mineralogy and the other Igneous and Metamorphic Petrology, both of which were quite well taught. Cameron was quite a different personality from Bancroft, and never allowed himself to be "one of the boys" so to speak. However, he did me one very kind deed during my third year that helped to change my life forever. I answered a GSC poster on the bulletin board asking for applications to work in the field for the 1948 season. Much to my surprise I got accepted and given notice I would be working in southern Cape Breton Island with L. J. Weeks as party chief. When Cameron heard where I would be working, he told me he had at one time done an assignment for the GSC in the same region and still had all the rock samples he had collected in the field. He offered to lay them out for me to study and I memorized the rock types from the labels that he had put on them in the field. I accumulated an enormous amount of mileage with L. J. Weeks from that kind gesture and secured for myself an invitation to work for the GSC the following summer; and later that fall of 1949 was given an invitation to go to Ottawa to work for the winter - which turned into a 40-year career for me at the GSC.

            The laboratory sessions for Cameron's courses were quite another matter. There was too little instruction for students to learn how to use a petrographic microscope or any of the other equipment in the laboratory. There were two petrographic microscopes; both were ancient to the extreme, and only one was barely functional. Although there were few students who required the use of a microscope, I well remember having to go into the lab early in the morning or late at night when the usable microscope was not in use to examine thin sections. In the latter regard the department did not have a technician to prepare thin sections, or any other support staff.

            In the 1948/49 academic year, a newly retired professor from the University of Pennsylvania had chosen to settle in Wolfville, and was pressed into service by the Geology Department to teach a course in Physiography. He taught a great course using U.S.G.S. topographic maps to illustrate glacial history and regional tectonics. I cannot remember his name, but it might be available in the university records.

            In conclusion, I would say that the three principal items largely missing from the geology curriculum during my years there were lectures pertaining to stratigraphy, paleontology and sedimentology. Fortunately for me I was able to have the benefit of those subjects during my first two or three years at the GSC. These were taught as night classes by senior GSC personnel at Carleton College (later known as Carleton University).

            I realize the above is a bare bones account of the Acadia Geology Department but I am depending on my memory looking back more than 60 years, and I cannot recall all of the details of that interval of time.

Bruce V. Sanford

February 15, 2010