Monday, 8 May 2017




I recently spent a week in my home province of Nova Scotia before heading back to Ontario for my upcoming internship. While I was home, I decided to pay a visit to the Joggins Fossil Cliffs, as I hadn’t been there for years. I figure I might as well introduce our largely Ontario-based blog readership to a Nova Scotia museum experience!

Heading to the Joggins Fossil Cliffs. Photo courtesy of Sadie MacDonald
The Joggins Fossil Cliffs were designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008. Joggins is located on the Bay of Fundy, which features the highest tides in the world and has been named a natural wonder of North America. The erosion of the cliffside at Joggins caused by the tides exposes a rich geological history, considered to be the world’s “most complete fossil record” of the Carboniferous Period, or Coal Age. These conditions inspired influential nineteenth-century naturalists such as Charles Lyell and William Dawson to make revolutionary geological and evolutionary discoveries. Even today, scientists continue to research the unique geology of Joggins. Modern visitors can visit the beach and see the cliffs for themselves, and learn about Carboniferous Period geology and the recent history of Joggins at the onsite museum. This combination of nature and interpretation is a reminder of the diversity of museum experiences that Canada has to offer.

I will admit that I know little about geology. In true arts student fashion, my university science education was limited to a year of introductory biology, a semester of psychology, and an aborted ecology class (from which I promptly fled at the first sign of mathematical statistics). However, I found the geological presence at Joggins fascinating to learn about. In addition to what can be seen on the cliff face itself, the indoor centre contains exceptional specimens of Carboniferous flora and fauna collected at the site, such as fossilized lycopsid trees and the preserved footprints of two-metre long millipedes.

Fossilized trees discovered at Joggins. Photo courtesy of Sadie MacDonald
My family and I arrived at the Joggins Fossil Centre on a cold, cloudy weekday afternoon and were the only visitors present at the museum when we arrived. Unfortunately, we came at high tide, making a venture along the beach impossible. Luckily, lead interpreter Dana Brown was at the centre that day, and kindly went out of his way to take us to see the cliffs. As we headed down, the sun briefly broke through the fog as if for our benefit.

Looking down the beach steps at high tide. Photo courtesy of Sadie MacDonald
The Joggins cliffs reveal layers of geological history from the Coal Age. Dana pointed out for us a fossilized tree sticking out of the cliffside. From where we stood, we could also see the remains of the underwater mine that once existed at Joggins.

The cliffs at Joggins. If you look to the upper left of the large rock sticking out halfway up the photo, you can see an exposed fossilized tree. Photo courtesy of Sadie MacDonald
Dana was a fantastic guide. Besides showing us the cliffs, he took us through the museum as well. He brought out a preserved horseshoe crab to show us, and also gave me as a museum studies student many helpful tips on interpretation! Furthermore, in addition to explaining the geology and fossil record of Joggins, Dana told us about the mining history of the town from a personalized, local perspective. We learned about the danger of underwater mines like that at Joggins, and how the mine presented particular terrors such as the collapse of massive fossilized trees situated above tunnels, the exposed ends of which workers referred to as “kettle bottoms.”

Interpreter Dana Brown explaining the features of a lycopsid tree fossil. Photo courtesy of Sadie MacDonald
Like other small Nova Scotia mining towns, Joggins fell on hard times in the twentieth century after the mine closed. As Dana told us, many young miners moved out west in search of work, while older ex-miners struggled without support. It is a familiar story, as poverty and westward exodus are still realities for many Nova Scotians today. The present Joggins community is small, and at first glance looks unlikely to hold significant global heritage. Dana told us that for decades, many inhabitants of the town were unaware of this history themselves. Now Joggins is finally getting the recognition it deserves.

If you are ever in the region of Cumberland County and the Bay of Fundy, pay the Joggins Fossil Cliffs a visit. Be sure to check the time of the tides so that you can explore the beach to its full potential. However, please don’t take any fossils for yourself if you find any! Leave them at Joggins so that researchers and interpreters can continue to educate visitors on evolution and geology. As with the rest of Nova Scotia in general, there are many stories to be found within these rocks, and Joggins and its people are well-equipped to tell them.

High tide at the Joggins Fossil Cliffs. Photo courtesy of Sadie MacDonald

No comments:

Post a Comment