Eastern Canada’s Himalayas

Why might the Himalayan mountains be featured in a geology museum in Kingston? At the Miller Museum of Geology at 36 Union Street, you’ll learn about an ancient mountain range in eastern Canada that was once the same scale as the current Himalayas. The Grenville Mountains were formed a billion years ago but were eroded down over a few hundred million years. They were located in parts of Labrador, Quebec, Ontario and New York state. Looking at the displays, I learned that the Thousand Islands are remnants of this ancient mountain range.

Miller Museum of Geology. Map by Alan Baird

I was first introduced to geology as a young girl when my mother was taking a geology course at Queen’s University. After a course field trip, she took my brother and me to the same sites north of Kingston. One outing was to the site where a meteor hit the Earth more than 500 million years ago. It created a crater, known as the Holleford Crater, that is 2.35 km wide. The crater itself is not exposed at the surface, but there is a slight depression in the land. Once the museum is allowed to re-open, you’ll be able to see a display board about the crater and then perhaps do your own field trip. Watch the museum’s website for information about re-opening.

The Miller Museum is a great spot to take your family. Kids will enjoy the dinosaur area where they’ll get a sense of just how large the dinosaurs were. They’ll also want to hang out in the fossil play area where they can pick up a whisk to brush the sand away and find the hidden dinosaur fossils.

Credit: Helen Cutts

If you’re interested in fossils, you’ll want to take a few steps beyond the children’s area and learn about a world famous fossil site in Canada. Until I visited the museum I didn’t know about Mistaken Point in Newfoundland. It’s a 17-km stretch of cliffs about 140 km south of St. John’s with fossils that demonstrate a turning point in the Earth’s history. These are the world’s oldest fossils of large, biologically complex organisms. They were soft-bodied creatures that lived on the deep-sea floor.  Before their emergence 580-560 million years ago, evolution was dominated by micro-organisms for more than three billion years.

Credit: Barrett & MacKay Photography. Copyright: © Mistaken Point Ambassadors Inc

Mistaken Point became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2016. Dr. Guy Narbonne, a Queen’s professor in the Department of Geological Sciences and Geological Engineering, was the Chief Scientist for the nomination of Mistaken Point as a World Heritage Site. More than 10,000 fossil impressions, ranging from a few centimetres to nearly 2 metres in length, are visible for supervised viewing along the coastline. With the gradual, natural erosion of the coast, more fossils will be revealed over time. You can learn more by going to the UNESCO website.

Credit: Mike Wert

You’ll find the museum in Miller Hall, at the corner of Union and Division Streets, and interestingly enough, both the name and the location have a history. The Miller Museum of Geology was named for professor emeritus Dr. W.G. Miller, who taught in the School of Mining and Agriculture between 1893 and 1902. He often said that Queen’s University should have a geology museum and that it should be located right at the end of Division Street. That way, geologists working north of Kingston would simply need to head into town along Division Street to find it.

Credit for cover photo: visit1000islands.com

Helen Cutts, KAM Visitor in Residence, Writer

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