Miller Hall Museum of Geology Queen's University Department of Geology W.G. Miller Miller Hall Museum of Geology

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Willet Green Miller PDF Print E-mail

By his own admission, Willet Green Miller had “never seen compact rock in place anywhere in (his) native county” as a youngster growing up in Norfolk County on the shores of Lake Erie in southern Ontario. 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 at the University of Toronto in addition to his specialization in chemistry.

After graduation in 1890, Miller embarked on a distinguished 35 year career in geology. Early in his career, he taught at the newly founded School of Mining and Agriculture at Queen’s University for 9 years beginning in 1893. During this period his work developing the corundum industry of southeastern Ontario showcased his considerable abilities in both field geology and mineral economics. The breadth of his interests and curiosity was also demonstrated in an 1896 paper detailing the use of the newly discovered “Roentgen Rays” (X-rays) to distinguish different gemstone based on their opacity to the rays. Although X-ray diffraction would not be discovered for another 16 years, this paper marked the first documented use of X-rays applied to the study of minerals.

The defining moments of Miller’s career came after he was appointed the first Provincial Geologist of Ontario, a position he held from 1902 until his death in 1925. Miller guided the development of the valuable silver deposits of Long Lake, Ontario, which he renamed “Cobalt” in recognition of the minerals found there. Subsequently, his knowledge of northern Ontario geology guided the development of the gold fields of Porcupine, Kirkland Lake, and other important mining areas discovered during the early exploration of northern Ontario.

While at Queen’s University, Miller was reportedly often heard to remark that he hoped the day would come when a building could be built at the foot of Division Street to house the departments of geology and mineralogy, and a museum. There, he reasoned, “it could easily be found by the mining men so active directly to the north of the city” in the late 1890’s. In 1931 Miller Hall was opened at that location, and today houses the Department of Geological Sciences and Geological Engineering, and the Miller Museum of Geology.

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