Natural Resources

Overview & History

A brief review of the history of the Geological Survey and an overview of it's mandate and operation.


The geology of Newfoundland and Labrador is a remarkable natural phenomenon, and an integral part of the heritage, economy and life of the Province. The rocks of Newfoundland and Labrador provide a magnificent outdoor laboratory for studying the history of our planet, as well as abundant mineral resources that have been exploited for thousands of years. The surficial geology of the Province has been shaped by periods of glaciation, the effects of which continue today. The mandate of the Geological Survey of Newfoundland and Labrador is to map the geological framework of the province; to interpret and explain its geological evolution; and to describe, interpret and explain the distribution, nature, quantity and origin of the province's mineral resources.

The Geological Survey is a division of the Mines Branch. The Survey currently has 4 sections (Regional Geology; Mineral Deposits; Terrain Sciences, Data Management and Geochemistry; Geoscience Publications and Information) and a geochemical laboratory. It is headed by the Director of the Geological Survey. The Survey offices are in the capital of Newfoundland, St. John's, at 50 Elizabeth Avenue. Each section of the Survey is administered by a section manager.

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Officially, the first geological surveys of the island of Newfoundland were begun as early as 1839 by James Beete Jukes, It was, however, in 1864 that the first systematic geological investigations began, when the Geological Survey of Newfoundland was inaugurated under the directorship of Alexander Murray (see the Newfoundland's Museum's notes). Murray and his assistant (and eventual successor), James Howley, were truly remarkable pioneering geologists whose work formed the basis for the first geological map of Newfoundland, published in 1907. After Howley's death in 1909, the Survey was temporarily disbanded. It was resurrected for a few years in 1926 under H.A. Baker, but it was not until the early thirties, under the leadership of Government Geologist A.K. Snelgrove, an ex-patriot Newfoundlander working at Princeton University, that the Geological Survey was revived and a continuous series of geological investigations commenced within the country's Department of Natural Resources (or its equivalent). After Confederation, a single Provincial geologist, sometimes with one or two assistant geologists, carried out regional investigations of specific commodities, such as silica and chromite. Very little classical geological mapping was being done due to limited funding.

This all changed in the 1970s: government sponsorship of mineral-development activities resulted in the growth of a modern geological survey. With a research and support staff of approximately fifty people, the current Geological Survey is well poised to provide the sophisticated geoscientific database that the province needs for the next decade and beyond.

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