Alice Evelyn Wilson, MBE, FRSC (August 26, 1881 – April 15, 1964), was Canada’s first female geologist. As a trailblazer in a male-dominated profession, she faced many challenges, but her scientific studies of the rocks and fossils of the Ottawa region between 1913 and 1963 remain a respected source of knowledge.
Wilson’s life growing up in Cobourg, Ontario, was filled with canoeing and camping trips with her father and brothers, during which her interest in fossils sparked. Her family also encouraged scholarly thought and the pursuit of scientific knowledge – giving Wilson a strong foundation for her desire to become a geologist.
Wilson’s academic career began in 1901 at the Victoria University in Cobourg, studying subjects she was not passionate about: modern language and history. She did not finish her last year of studies due to ill health. Once well, she was hired by the Mineralogy Division of the University of Toronto Museum, thus beginning her career in geology. She later completed her degree and, in 1909, was hired into a permanent position as a museum technician at the Geological Survey of Canada(GSC), which was headquartered at the Victoria Memorial Museum in [null Ottawa].
A person of steely determination, Wilson persisted through seven years of being denied time off to pursue a higher degree in geology. Eventually, the Canadian Federation of University Women awarded her a scholarship so that she could continue graduate studies at the University of Chicago. She graduated in 1929 with a doctorate in geology.
At the GSC, Wilson could not participate in fieldwork that required living in camps with men in remote regions. This was unthinkable for the times. Instead, Wilson created her own niche, and did fieldwork at local sites in the Ottawa area. For the next fifty years she studied this area on foot, by bicycle and eventually by car. The GSC published the results of her fieldwork in 1946 and her Geology of the St. Lawrence Lowland, Ontario and Quebec was the first major geological publication about the area. In addition to a comprehensive discussion of its geology, Wilson covered the area’s economic resources, including building stone, sand, gravel and drinking water.
Wilson became a respected member of the GSC and mentor to many young geologists. She retired at the age of 65, as was required by law, however, she kept her office at the GSC and continued her work until her death in 1964. From 1948 until 1958 Wilson was a Lecturer in Paleontology at Carleton College (later Carleton University). Carleton recognized Wilson both as a geologist and as an inspiring teacher with an honorary degree in 1960.
Wilson was also an excellent communicator and worked to bring geology to a broader public. She wrote a children’s book, The Earth Beneath our Feet, aimed at encouraging broader knowledge and interest in the science she was so passionate about.
(From Wikipedia, March 2018)