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Dawson, George Mercer (1849-1901)

George Dawson.
Library and Archives Canada 48487

George Mercer Dawson, born on August 1, 1849, in Pictou, Nova Scotia, was the son of Sir John William Dawson, a prominent academic and scientist who became principal of McGill University in 1855. George spent a year at McGill before going to the Royal School of Mines, in London, where he studied under Professors Huxley and Ramsay. He is known for his work in British Columbia and the Yukon, but his chief reputation was made following his appointment in 1873 as geologist and botanist to Her Majesty’s North American Boundary Commission. During the boundary survey he collected specimens and made extensive notes on the geology and natural history of land along the international border. His findings were published in 1875 in the Report on the Geology and Resources of the Region in the Vicinity of the 49th Parallel from the Lake of the Woods to the Rocky Mountains. During his work with the Commission he discovered dinosaur bones on the southern flank of the Cypress Hills and mapped the Tertiary lignites (coal) noted by James Hector during the Palliser Survey of the 1850s. He also made notes on the occurrence of locusts in the southern Prairies in the years 1874 and 1875, publishing his observations in the Canadian Naturalist.

In 1875 Dawson was hired as paleontologist and chief geologist to the Geological Survey of Canada; he became assistant director of the Survey in 1883, and was made director in 1895. He worked throughout western Canada, including a survey in 1883 (assisted by J.B. Tyrrell) of the area between Maple Creek and the Milk River. He was taken ill in his Ottawa office on February 28, 1901, and died two days later on March 2.

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