By Elizabeth Cashman
The Miller Museum of Geology is named after Willet Green Miller, a member of the Canadian Institute of Mining and metallurgy 1898-1923 and President 1908-09. Provincial Geologist for Ontario 1902-25. Learn more about him in a Kingston Whig-Standard article by Susanna McLeod here.
It is with pleasure that I am taking up the opportunity to write about one of Kingston’s finest museums, the Miller Museum of Geology. I had been to the museum before for meetings, but never with the purpose of taking it in as a visitor and to profile it for the Kingston Association of Museums. I jumped at the chance to write an article about this fascinating museum right down the street from my home and in the heart of the Queen’s University campus.
I have always loved rocks. Whenever I am out and about particularly near bodies of water, I take the time to look down and notice the surrounding rocks along the water’s edge. I have several buckets and bowls of rock collections around my house and people often ask where they came from.
I was thrilled when my step-daughter, Shanna agreed to join me on my visit. As an Educator, Shanna is always keen to learn and take on new learning experiences. Shanna had also been to the Geology museum before with some of her students last year as part of a class trip during a placement with a grade four/five class. It gave me comfort to know that neither of us was going in totally blind.
Walking along Union Street toward Miller Hall on a beautiful October day, the colours of the trees were stunning, from bold orange to mustard and firey red. Chatting intently while meandering along, students were hustling by us to get to class on time. Queen’s University campus and downtown Kingston in the fall has an intrinsic feeling of class and beauty that I treasure. The limestone seems more impressive with the backdrop of the trees; having the eager young students racing by enthusiastically to their next class makes it feel even more special.
Being aware that the main focus in the museum is on rocks, minerals and fossils, the amount of information and exhibits to interpret and absorb still are almost overwhelming. It is difficult to wrap one’s head around the span of history this museum encompasses, not just hundreds of millions, but hundreds of billions of years! This simply being too much to take in at one time, more than one visit will be needed to experience all that is available.
Rocks and Minerals, Meteorites and Crystals…
Meteorites have always fascinated me. Coming from “Outer Space” and blasting here randomly, then leaving pieces for us to examine and learn from is an extraordinary gift. The Miller Museum has three types of meteorites on display: Irons, Chondrites and Achondrites. Iron is made of nickel iron, chondrites have hit the earth the most, and achondrites are the pieces that are believed to have hit the earth and come from Mars and/or the Moon. Yes, that’s right, no need to watch movies and hear about bits and pieces from the Moon or Mars on T.V., you can actually come inches from meteorite pieces at any time at the Miller Museum. Amazing.
Moving inside from the foyer of the museum, one sees the rock, crystal and mineral displays, which are beautiful and hypnotizing. I was drawn to one that reminded me of the secret crystal palace that Superman flies to in the movies when he has to regenerate and recharge while fighting off Lex Luther and the other Villains. So cool.
Moving on to the exhibit explaining the largest formation of rocks – mountainous regions. The mountain exhibit notes that the Grenville Mountains in North America are billions of years older than the Himalayans. The exhibit states, “ The Grenville Mountain eroded roots outcrop is north of Kingston. Lakes of Ontario and Quebec show remnants of collision that made up the Grenville Mountains. Frontenac Provincial Park and the Adirondacks are equivalent to the deep roots of the Himalayans.” Having spent time camping and swimming in the many lakes north of Kingston, I know that one does get a magical feeling when soaking in the luscious offerings of the area.
As we continued to look at the various rocks and crystals, we pointed out the Synthetic Bismuth that looked like Lego, and the Halite, that tastes like salt. Next we saw the “Welcome Nugget” that was a replica of the largest gold nugget ever found.
As we ventured through time at warp speed, we walked through the exhibits that referenced life billions of years ago to life millions of years ago. On the way through, a shark tooth from 50 million years ago jumped out at me…yikes!
Inside the dinosaur area, the first exhibit is the “Albertosaurus” fossil which was found on the banks of the Red Deer River in Western Canada. Next, Mistaken Point in Newfoundland has 560-580 million year old fossils preserved which mark the beginning of complex life on earth.
As a side note, we learnt that animals become fossils by wandering onto a soft water area wherein the land has a sinkable crust layer (sea floor), the animal then gets trapped on the sea floor and after decades they become part of the land. A terrible way to go… but they are an immortalized fossil!
At this point, breaking up the visit and save enough information for another time seemed like a good idea. Upon leaving, a peachy coloured fossil on display caught my attention. It was described as a hardened fossil from 500 million years ago, “an unknown crab like animal walked and left an imprint on the wet sand” the interpretive panel reads. My parting thought as I turned to leave was “I wonder what my footprints have left behind to interpret?”
The museum welcomes pre-booked groups of up to 30 people for a variety of hands-on instructor-led programs in the museum classroom. Programs are available for K-12 school students, University and college classes, summer camps, adult and senior groups, and anyone interested in learning more about geology in a fun, educational setting. Evening programs are available for Cubs and Brownie groups as well by special arrangement.
The following programs are available but other topics can sometimes be tailored to fit specific interests on request.
- Intro to Geology
- Mineral Identification
- Earth Through Time
- Geology of Kingston
- Download the current School Programs Brochure (PDF, 937KB) for curriculum-linked programming for elementary classes
- Download the Complete List of programs (PDF, 121KB) available at the museum
Most instructor-led museum programs cost $70/group for classes of 15-30 students except for the Dinosaur program, which is $35/group for kindergarten and pre-school groups. If your group is very small, call the museum to discuss costs.
(fees for group programs)
Location: Miller Hall, Queen’s University
36 Union Street, Kingston, Ont.
(on-street parking only)
Hours: Check the website