Keepers of the cliffs

Don Reid (close-up)
Don Reid (1922–2016), Keeper of the Cliffs. We mourn the death of Don Reid. His fossils form the very foundation of the Institute’s collection and his passion was infectious. He will be greatly missed, especially by the staff who shared many cups of coffee and chats with him, and always looked forward to seeing his new fossil finds.
Mi'kmaq Engraving
Contemporary wood-cut engraving of a Mi’kmaq person, from Dawson’s Acadian Geology
Artwork - rug hooking
The Joggins Fossil Cliffs have inspired resident artists with their wild beauty.

Long before the beginnings of the science of geology, the Mi’kmaq First Nations people named this place. The earliest record of their place name appears on a 1735 map as Grand Nyjagon. The name has been interpreted since as Chegoggin, “place of the fishing weirs,” or Chegoggins, “the great encampment.” The name eventually became construed as The Joggins, and later, in the time of the earliest geological visitors, to The South Joggins.

Ever since the first geologists visited the cliffs, Joggins residents have been working alongside them:

  • In the 1840s, William Logan was accompanied in his survey by a Mi’kmaq guide who taught him to live off the land and to savour such delicacies as porcupine.
  • Coal miners and officials from the Mines accompanied Lyell and Dawson, including the day in 1852 when they made their famous discovery of the hollow tree fauna.
  • In the late 1890s, Dawson employed coal miners to scale the cliffs in excavating fossil trees. During his years as Principal of McGill University, Dawson worked with area resident P.W. McNaughton, who is credited with discovery in 1893 of the single most productive tetrapod-bearing tree.
  • In the 1950s–1970s, Harry Burke operated the former Fundy Museum in Joggins, which was routinely visited by paleontologist Donald Baird of Princeton and later Yale.
  • In the 1980s, former Joggins coal miner Donald Reid operated a private fossil centre. His collection has served as the most important census of the biodiversity of the site. Reid’s altruistic collaboration with the scientists earned from them the title Keeper of the Cliffs.
  • This strong sense of community stewardship has inspired younger generations, some of whom have made significant paleontological discoveries in their own right at this magnificent archive of earth history.

The cliffs and their fossil heritage touch deeply the lives of the people who live in this former coal mining community. The cliffs inform their art and very sense of being.

Published: 2016-05-02