The Burgess Shale

The Role of the Geological Survey of Canada

The Geological Survey of Canada (GSC) was established in 1842 by the Legislature of the Province of Canada (roughly the area representing the southern parts of Ontario and Quebec today) as its first scientific organization. The Survey played a critical role in evaluating Canada’s vast geological resources, and helped unify the country by demonstrating its economy could be sustained by a healthy mining industry.

During the first 60 years of its history, the Survey was actively involved in exploring and mapping the vast reaches of the country, including the new lands added when the Northwest Territories and British Columbia joined the Confederation.

The Survey originally assisted in developing mining in Canada by identifying deposits of valuable minerals, but its role also included the collection of specimens (rocks, minerals, plants, animals, artifacts, and fossils) from across the country. Parts of these collections became the heart of the Canadian Museum of Nature in 1856. The GSC retains large collections of minerals, rocks and fossils today.

The railroad project became a pressing reason for the Government to expand geological explorations in western Canada. Many of the GSC geologists brought back fossils, including some from Mount Stephen which would go on to play a key role in the later discovery of the Burgess Shale. Later generations of geologists from the GSC would go on to follow these pioneers, collecting other Burgess Shale fossils during the 20th century.