The story hidden in grandfather rocks [Northern Ontario First Nations] – by Andy Fyon (Onotassiniik Magazine – Summer 2013)

OnotassiniikWawatay’s Mining Quarterly, sets out to provide knowledge and information about the mining industry in northern Ontario to First Nations communities, individuals and leaders throughout the region.

Andy Fyon is the Director of the Ontario Geological Survey, Ministry of Northern Development and Mines

Do you collect rocks? Isn’t it interesting how they’re all so different? Some rocks are round, others have sharp and pointy edges, some are colourful, and others are dull.

When I was a child, I collected rocks. I wondered about the stories they had to tell. Where did they come from? How did they arrive where I was standing? Why were there so many different types of rock in that small area?

That curiosity about rocks always remained with me, so, naturally, I became a geologist – a person who seeks knowledge about the earth: “ahki nanatookiikaenge gay wininii.” I am now the leader of the Ontario Ministry of Northern Development and Mines’ Ontario Geological Survey (OGS). We seek to understand the story hidden in the Ontario rocks, soils and landforms.

What is the Ontario Geological Survey?

The geologists who work at the OGS describe Ontario’s geology. We study the rocks, the soils that cover the rocks, and the landforms made from these rocks and soils. We study the Earth resources that occur in this geological house: energy, groundwater and minerals. The OGS publishes this information as reports and maps so that all people may use that information to:

• understand the health of the environment;
• identify geological hazards that threaten the health and safety of people;
• describe geological habitats where special plants, insects and animals live;
• identify materials that are useful for construction;
• identify concentrations of minerals, energy or groundwater that can help sustain an economy, and;
• understand how the Earth may respond to climate change.

When we join this knowledge of geology with Aboriginal traditional knowledge, we have a more complete understanding of the land beneath our feet.

What is geology?

Geology is the study of the Earth, the materials that make up the Earth, the natural processes that make those materials, and the geological forces that shape the Earth into what we see today.
The Earth does not stand still. Geologists study how the Earth’s materials, structures, processes and shape change over time, and how those changes affect the animals, plants and people that live here.

Communities can use geology to address their interests, such as a local economy or the safety of their people. By understanding the geology of a region, including the materials that make up the soils or the black muck on the bottom of a lake, geologists can comment on the health of the environment or the likelihood that concentrations of energy or minerals may occur. This information can help maintain or improve the quality of life for communities.

Mapping the rock geology

The foundation of the Earth is rock. OGS geologists look at, and ask questions of, the exposed rock: How old are you? How were you formed? What history have you been through? We then use that information to create a “bedrock geology map” that shows where different types of rock occur.

Because almost all rock in Ontario is covered by muskeg or sands and gravels left behind by the glaciers, the OGS uses technology to “see” through the coverings to gather information about the rock below. One type of technology is called an airborne geophysical survey. An airplane containing special instruments flies close to the ground and records information about buried rocks. Without this information, it is impossible to create a geological map that shows the different rock types.

OGS also uses this same survey type to identify underground water and energy sources.

What does this mean to you?

Knowing where different rocks occur helps a community identify: the location of dangerous rocks; rocks that may affect the health of people; rocks that may carry metals, energy or groundwater; rocks that create special habitats for plants; and rocks that can be used for construction.

So, let’s say you are carrying out community-based land-use planning. By taking the time to understand the rock beneath your feet and joining that knowledge with traditional knowledge, you have created the perfect recipe for producing a more complete land-use plan.

In the next edition of Onotassiniik, I’ll talk about the sands and gravels that cover the rock.


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