Two Mining Pioneers

Posted by Daniel on May 20, 2010

Chuck Davis writes:

I’ve been working on the centennial history of the Association for Mineral Exploration British Columbia (AME BC), what used to be called the B.C. and Yukon Chamber of Mines. AME will be 100 in 2012.

In the early stages of my research, I’ve come across two fascinating men who were presidents of the Chamber in its formative years. One was Dr. Reginald Brock (at left), who was succeeded by Dr. J.M. Turnbull (at right).

Turnbull was called in quickly when Brock —his term as president of the Chamber barely begun—was asked to join the British Army. It was 1915, World War One was in its second year, and Brock’s expertise in geology was needed in Palestine. He was 41 years old at the time, one of Canada's leading geologists. He’d graduated from Queens with an MA in geology, and from 1907 to 1914 was Director of the Geological Survey of Canada. He’d been named Dean of Applied Science but the war took him away before he could begin his duties.

And why Palestine? It seems the Germans had a monopoly on potash, and the British wanted to find out if the Dead Sea could be a source. Brock did his studies—where temperatures can reach 45 Celsius in the shade—and reported that the Sea contained vast amounts of potassium chloride (potash) with reserves estimated at 2,000 million metric tonnes! A later survey (1922) put the value of the Sea’s contents at £8,000 million. To this day, millions of tonnes are extracted annually from its waters.

Brock’s successor as president of the Chamber of Mines was 38-year-old John Turnbull who was well known in the mining fraternity. A graduate of McGill, ‘Jake’ Turnbull would begin his tenure in 1915 as the head of UBC’s Mining Department (the second faculty member the university hired), and would hold that post for thirty years.

An astonishing fact about him: in 1979 he paid his last visit to UBC and gave a lecture about the mining industry in BC at the turn of the century. He was 101 years old at the time.