Looking at the countryside, the geological sage saw more than soil and granite, more than batholiths and schist. Willet Green Miller “read the secrets of the rocks and opened the portal for the outpouring of their wonderful riches.” Joining Queen’s College as professor of geology and petrography in 1893, Miller was later appointed Ontario’s first Provincial Geologist. Earth science wasn’t just a job for Miller, it was his life blood.
When Miller arrived in Kingston at age 27, he was already immersed in geology. Born in Norfolk County in 1866, he was raised on the northern shores of Lake Erie. Receiving a good education, Miller attended high school at Port Rowan, then enrolled in Natural Science at University of Toronto. His initial aim was chemistry.
By graduation in 1890, Miller’s interests had expanded to earth science. “Luckily, the influence of his father, who was interested in all aspects of nature including trees, flowers and rocks, would inspire him to take geology and mineralogy courses,” said Miller Museum of Geology at Queen’s University. The student’s passion was sparked. He wanted to learn more.
Attending Harvard, Miller next look courses at University of Chicago. He completed his studies at University of Heidelberg in southwestern Germany. On return to Canada, Miller accepted a job with the Geological Survey of Canada. He was there for only a brief period when a school affiliated with Queen’s College made an enticing offer. (The college became Queen’s University in 1912.)
In 1893, the scholar moved to Kingston to take a job with the new School of Mining and Agriculture. Although the mining school initially was separate from the college, degrees were awarded to graduates through Queen’s. Prof. Miller taught geology and petrography — the classification and study of rocks, particularly microscopic examination — and was a proponent of field studies.
The young professor found public speaking very difficult. “Lecturing in front of class was an ordeal for him,” said Queen’s Encyclopedia, “and the students often remarked on the beads of sweat that would appear as soon as he began to speak.”
Persevering, Miller mastered the art of performance. He “later developed into a fluent, forceful speaker with a pleasant conversational style that never failed to interest his listeners,” according to J.E. Thomson in “Willet Green Miller: Ontario’s First Provincial Geologist,” Ontario Department of Mines, 1970. “When the School of Mining at Kingston undertook short courses for prospectors, Miller’s method of presentation made them very popular and attracted many young men to the mining industry.”
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