Canadian Consulting Engineer


January 1, 1999
By Canadian Consulting Engineer

Urban Geology of Canadian CitiesEdited by P. F. Karrow and O. L. White. Geological Association of Canada Special Paper 42, 1998.Review by Stephen C. Hollingshead, P.Eng. and John F. Gartner, P.Eng., G...

Urban Geology of Canadian Cities

Edited by P. F. Karrow and O. L. White. Geological Association of Canada Special Paper 42, 1998.

Review by Stephen C. Hollingshead, P.Eng. and John F. Gartner, P.Eng., Gartner Lee Ltd., Markham, Ontario.

This impressive, hard-cover book has two basic themes: one which you expect, and another which you don’t.


The theme that you expect is implied by the title and the cover–this is quite a comprehensive reference text on the geology, geotechnics, hydrogeology, earth resources and construction issues of 23 Canadian cities. It is well organized and easy to use (although the high gloss paper stock is annoyingly reflective in almost any light). Each article deals with one city and is written by local authorities on the subject. Local flavour shines through in almost every one–for example, the story of how Sudbury, Ontario got its name after the birthplace of the wife of the superintendent of construction for the Canadian Pacific railroad.

“Comprehensive” applies to the geographic coverage, since most of the major Canadian cities and physiographic regions are represented, but not necessarily to the depth of the information. To paraphrase one of the authors, this is a text that someone new to any of the cities would use as an an overview, but not as a detailed data source. However, many of the articles contain extensive reference lists.

The second theme of the book is not advertised by its title or cover, yet it is equally compelling. It is a not-so-subtle plea for the resurrection of urban geology data bases across the country. The preface and the introductory articles, one by J. S. Scott and one by the editors, provide an overview of efforts dating all the way back to the last century to compile centralized records of geological and geotechnical data in cities across Canada. The last major project was spearheaded by the Canadian Geological Survey in the early 1970s. Subsequent articles include a short discussion of the status of these data bases in the different cities. With a few notable exceptions, their most common fate appears to be disuse and neglect. The editors and many of the authors conclude that these centralized data bases are needed, and that someone, possibly the municipalities, must step forward and put the necessary funding and administration behind them.

While the main purpose of this book was not to tackle the data base issue in a comprehensive way, it has opened the door on a debate that should be taken up vigorously in the geoscientist community. We can’t expect that our politicians will champion the cause alone.


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