~ NORTHERN ONTARIO SUMMER, 1981 ~
Having just graduated from the University of Calgary in Geology, I headed east to Queen's University to follow my muse in structural geology to study Precambrian mountain building along the North Shore of Lake Huron, a thesis published here. I spent a summer between Espanola and Whitefish Falls here and here are a few anecdotes from 1981.
I rented a cabin by Highway 6 in the woods, from a widow whose late husband's
wind-chimes adorned the dusty road entry way, making it hard to miss. She grew up there before the road
was built, walking up weekends along the railway track to church and shopping. She has a mis-set lower leg as there was no-one to come and rescue her when she fell. My
cabin had two rooms, each 2 ft. wider that the double bed inside (one my
bedroom, the other perfect to lay out maps and air photos) and a four-feet deep
front section just enough to have a galley kitchen one side and table & bench
facing outward the other side.
... I had an economical Ford Fiesta I bombed around in, following areas of interest pinpointed from previous map. Murray and Logan from the beginnings of the Geological Survey of Canada (est. 1842) around Confederation in 1867 mapped what was then called Upper Canada. And then Ken Card from the Ontario Geological Survey was kind enough to visit me en-route to his own field work. On a later return visit in Toronto, he showed me his prized possession: a copy of an original map from Logan, in pen&ink and watercolour on paper, cut in rectangles on fabric backing, so that they could be folded and carried to the field; it's that folding that kept the panels in the dark and the map in pristine condition a century and a quarter later... I also had all the air photos I needed to find the areas I wanted to visit to build up a picture along the Murray Fault Zone along the north shore of Lake Huron.
... My ex then wife-to-be accompanied me on occasion, and assisted me in field work. She was an artist and thus loved the area and took sketches. But not being a geologist, it was super simple to have her hold the other end of the measuring tape as I measured sections. You see these ancient mountains had been eroded over 2 billion years then glaciated to very low and rounded topography, so you pretty well measured along ground the rock types and faults or folds. Also the three dominant rock types, granite/diorite, shale/schist and sandstone/quartzite were covered with, respectively, oaks, blueberries and strawberries she could easily identify as first-cut mapping. These were of course in small areas amidst what is basically pine-covered scrubland.
... Granite ridges with little undergrowth and the
shade of oak trees were perfect walking highways across the terrain. They also
formed ridges with small lakes along their block-faulted sides. One day as I was
returning to the car, I froze atop a ridge as I saw a timber wolf lapping the
lake water below me. He took one look at me with steely ice-white eyed, and went
off in a lazy lope in the opposite direction as I tried very hard not to
pee in my pants... The photo op had of course evaporated, much like
in the Arctic a few years later!
... One day I met this tiny settlement: a man, his truck, his hut and adjoining work house, at the end of a road and the beginning of a seam. It was a gabbro dyke he mined by hand Monday thru Friday. On Saturday he took the ore in his three-quarter ton truck to the local smelter and assay office, where he got his earning from estimated ore content of what he trucked in, then went shopping in the nearby town, ending at the bar that evening. Sunday was day of rest back at his cabin... and he'd been doing that for 40 years! He told me geology was real simple. Rock types ran east-west, so in the early days folk would get off the west-bound train, and strike north or in his case south until they ran across a vein they thought they could mine. Further north the greenstone belts amidst the pink granite country rock were a no-brainer he said, but here it was trickier and he did some real prospecting!
One weekend I drove south and near Whitefish Falls ran across an Indian 'pow wow'
- a local festival gathering all the neighbouring families from what I found out
to be an Ojibway tribe. A heady mix of modern trucks, trailers, barbecues and
power generators for fridge/freezer, and that of traditional garb, singing and
dancing not unlike what I saw at Banff
Indian Days a decade earlier near Calgary. They were very kind and
gregarious, and well integrated as their trucks boasted all manner of businesses
in timber, hauling, meat-dressing etc. It was quite a contrast to Plains Indians I
had met near Calgary in Reservations, and some of whom I met on rigs
as a roughneck, who were a
lot more reserved and had suffered in their isolated lives.
... Back to blueberries, the Provincial geologist told me how when he was a boy, the Sudbury Basin was a vast area with 100 ft. tall white pines as far as the eye could see. That is an oval area from a purported Precambrian meteorite impact that disturbed the relatively young crust enough to cause up-welling of deeper rocks that caused mineralization along a then-circular perimeter. Subsequent mountain-building push from the south (the one I studied) and later the southwest gave its oval map trace truncated to the southeast today. As the ore was mined along the perimeter, the stands of pines inside the basin were relentlessly felled for smelting that started off very unsophisticated. While there are complete mining operations today, in the beginning they simply alternated a layer of pine logs, a layer of ore and repeated a dozen or so times, then set on fire to smelt the ore. That not only decimate the local landscape to the point that missions to the Moon and Mars are prepared in central Sudbury basin, but the modern smelters belched acidic smoke that further devastated what was left of the vegetation... And they built taller and taller stacks over time that helped locally but spread the acid rain further and further afield! Why blueberries? Well those scrubby plants love the acid soil, and from where I stayed that summer to the southwest, they perversely grew bigger and bigger the closer you got toward the Sudbury Basin!