In 1846, the 49th parallel was agreed upon as the continuation of the Canada-U.S. border west from Lake of the Woods to the Pacific Ocean. Little was known, however, by people of European origin about these western lands and their resource potential. The British North America Boundary Commission was created to fill in the gaps by carrying out a survey of the boundary area from 1872-1876.
In 1873, George Dawson accepted a position with the Commission. Born and schooled in Pictou, Nova Scotia, he had excelled at geological studies at McGill and at England's Royal School of Mines, London. His appointment was as geologist and botanist, and Dawson, then 24 years of age, was responsible for reporting on the boundary attributes for an 800-mile prairie section between the Ontario border and British Columbia.
His report, published in 1875, shows why many consider him to be the finest natural scientist of his time. In its 379 pages, Dawson (back row, third from right) records everything from glacial geomorphology to lignite resources, with an assessment of the suitability of the region for settlement. That same year, he began his stellar career with the Geological Survey of Canada.
Dawson, G.M., 1875: Report on the Geology and Resources of the Region in the Vicinity of the Forty-Ninth Parallel, From the Lake of the Woods to the Rocky Mountains; Montreal, Dawson Brothers, 379 p. + plates, maps and cross-sections.
Jenkins, Phil, 2007: Beneath My Feet - The Memoirs of George Mercer Dawson; McClelland & Stewart Ltd., Toronto, 350 p.
Winslow-Spragge, Lois, 1993: No Ordinary Man: George Mercer Dawson 1849-1901: Natural Heritage/National History Inc., Toronto, Ontario, not paginated.