North America’s first member of the UNESCO Global Geopark Network, Stonehammer UNESCO Global Geopark is grounded on a billion years of geology, and on the people who have experienced this geology. The Stonehammer logo recognizes some of the many geological features of the park and the connection between people and geology. The central symbol is the trilobite, in honour of one of our best-known fossils. Trilobites are extinct crab-like animals that lived on the ocean bottom starting in the Cambrian Period, about 530 million years ago. Steinhammer Club members George Matthew and Fred Hartt, and their colleague Loring Bailey found the first Cambrian age trilobites in Canada in the park in 1863. In the 1880s George’s young son Will Matthew found one of the world’s largest trilobites in the rocks of Saint John.
Stonehammer Geopark is about geology, but it is also about people, society and culture. Our lives are shaped by geology. Where we live, the landscape, the crops we grow, natural hazards, water resources, climate, what we mine, and the energy we use are all linked to geology.
Since the days of Gesner and the Steinhammer Club, the rock hammer (or stone hammer) is still the basic tool of a geologist.
The Exploration of Stonehammer Geopark
Geological exploration in New Brunswick began with the appointment of Dr. Abraham Gesner as provincial geologist from 1838 to 1842. Gesner produced five reports outlining the basic geology of New Brunswick, including the Stonehammer Geopark area. In 1842 Gesner opened a museum in Saint John to exhibit his collections. Gesner’s Museum was the first of its kind in British North America. The original catalog listed almost 1600 geological specimens. Unfortunately income from the museum was not enough to solve Gesner’s financial problems and in 1843 his collections passed to his creditors who in turn donated them to the Saint John Mechanics’ Institute. Gesner’s legacy of a unique museum collection did influence the next generation of geologists to grow up in Saint John.
In 1857 a group of young men in Saint John, with a common interest in geology, formed the Steinhammer Club. The members of the club explored the complex geology and fossils around Saint John. Using Sir Charles Lyell’s classic books about geology and Gesner’s reports as guides, they set about exploring and documenting the local geology in detail. Their work began to unravel some of the complex geology near Saint John and along the southern coast of New Brunswick. George Matthew was the most active geologist in the club.
In 1860 Charles Frederic Hartt joined the club. A graduate of Acadia College in Nova Scotia, he moved to Saint John to teach in a young ladies’ high school run by his father. During his first summer in Saint John, Hartt began collecting fossils in west Saint John, known then as Lancaster, at a spot near Seaside Park. The locality known as ‘Fern Ledges’ became Hartt’s main work with the club. Between 1860 and 1863 Hartt and his friends quarried the shale to find plant fossils and insect remains that attracted attention from geologists worldwide. At the time the rocks were thought to be Devonian age, making them the oldest known insects in the world. Hartt published his report about ‘Fern Ledges’ fossils in Sir William Dawson’s second edition of Acadian Geology in 1868. With Dawson’s help, Matthew and Hartt helped start a Natural History Society in Saint John. Later Marie Stopes solved the puzzle of the age of the rocks.
In 1861 Loring Woart Bailey came to New Brunswick and soon became involved in expanding the activities of Matthew and Hartt. Bailey was appointed to Kings College, Fredericton as Professor of Chemistry and Natural History. Bailey had graduated from Harvard University in 1859 where he was a student of the famous Swiss palaeontologist and Quaternary geologist Louis Agassiz, professor of Zoology and Geology. Bailey soon met Matthew and Hartt and the three began working together on geology and mineralogy. In 1863 the three men collaborated in their first field expedition.
They explored the area we now call Stonehammer Geopark. Their most important discovery came at their first stop just east of Saint John. Cambrian fossils, later studied by Hartt, became the first known Cambrian trilobite fossils in Canada. Their studies produced half a dozen papers, maps and contributions to major works through the 1860s.
Matthew and Hartt helped found the Natural History Society of New Brunswick. Its first acquisition in 1863 was the purchase of Hartt’s ‘Fern Ledges’ fossils for its museum. Hartt used the money to attend Harvard as a student of Professor Agassiz. Hartt returned to Saint John for several summers to continue work with Bailey and Matthew, but his connection with New Brunswick faded as he went on to work at Cornell University and led expeditions to Brazil in later years.
After Canadian Confederation in 1867 the Geological Survey of Canada began exploring New Brunswick. Sir William Logan, the Survey’s founder, hired Bailey and Matthew to continue the study of the southern part of the province. Matthew, who worked as a government customs agent, was temporarily transferred to the Geological Survey of Canada at various times. Although Matthew never became a full-time geologist, he published more than 200 papers and continued to work on contract to the Survey until 1901. For many years Matthew acted as the Cambrian palaeontology expert for the Geological Survey of Canada. Therefore it is no surprise that Saint John drew the attention of one of the best-known Cambrian paleontologists in North America. Charles Doolittle Walcott (of Burgess Shale fame) visited Saint John in 1877-78. Here Walcott had his first field experience with the early Cambrian fossils Matthew was describing. among his many papers Matthew’s work had provided recognition of strange ‘small shelly fossils’ in the Lower Cambrian and he believed they should warrant a new period of geologic time. He wrote some of the earliest descriptions of these fossils. Walcott visited Saint John again in 1899, to study these Lower Cambrian fossils. They had kept up a 20-year correspondence. In the end Walcott disagreed with Matthew’s interpretation of Cambrian geology and eventually prevailed in his dismissal of an early part of the Cambrian. Some of the basic concepts formulated by Matthew have only recently received recognition.
The Natural History Society studied all aspects of natural science and developed large collections in geology, zoology and botany. Specimens from Gesner’s Museum and the Matthew and Hartt collections are in the geology holdings of the New Brunswick Museum. The early influence of the Steinhammer Club is seen in the corporate seal of the Society, adopted in 1884. It displayed a trilobite of the Cambrian Period from Saint John, found by Hartt. On either side were fossil plants from the Carboniferous Period at ‘Fern Ledges’ in Saint John.
Later two reports on the geology of Saint John were published. The first in 1937 was prepared by a.o. Hayes and B.F. Howell of Princeton University and titled, Geology of Saint John, New Brunswick published by the Geological Society of america. The second published in 1938, Geology of Saint John Region, New Brunswick as Geological Survey Memoir 216 was by F.J. alcock, a geologist with the Geological Survey of Canada. These two reports finished the work of Matthew, Bailey and Hartt and laid the foundation for the understanding of the local geology. Geologists from the University of New Brunswick, and provincial and federal geological surveys have done much work in the sixty years since alcock, Hayes and Howell produced their reports.