Footprints Stepping Back in Time

Footprints are particularly haunting records of ancient life. Perhaps this is because we are so familiar with our own footprints, made as we step barefoot along a warm sandy beach. Footprints are records of movement and our interaction with the landscape. Frozen in time for millions of years, fossilized footprints stand as records of lives lived in the ancient geological past.

Carboniferous-trackway
Fossil trackway discovered by Eldon and Elaine George in the Parrsboro Formation.

Along the shores of the Bay of Fundy, the world’s highest tides peel back the rock layers to expose the 300 million year old footprints made by diverse sprawling animals. These animals walked along the waters edge, scrambled up the muddy banks to feast on huge dragonflies the size of a crow. Elsewhere along the Fundy Shore can be found the 200 million year old footprints of Canada’s oldest dinosaurs. Three toes of small theropod dinosaurs, searching for their next meal, each step recorded in the soft mud now turned to stone.

Today the staff at the Fundy Geological Museum began the next phase of documenting the fossil collection of Eldon George, housed in the Parrsboro Rock and Mineral Shop. Eldon has discovered hundreds of fossil footprints during his seventy year career. These fossils are  important because many of them are from the Parrsboro Formation, the Carboniferous aged rocks that are found along the shores of the Bay of Fundy from Advocate Harbour, to Five Islands and Economy, Nova Scotia.

Fossil Footprints in Parrsboro

Eldon methodically collected many fossils, but he was particularly interested in the 300 million year old footprint named Hylopus. The delicate toes of this ancient semi-terrestrial animal had often pressed forcefully into the soft pliable mud. The mud turned to stone over millions of years, and the some of these important fossils preserve delicate features and show the texture of the pads of the foot.

Carboniferous Footprint - Parrsboro Formation
Fossil footprint discovered by Eldon George in the rocks from the Parrsboro Formation.

The fossil footprints are captivating – no question. The footprints found in the rocks of the Parrsboro Formation also played a role in the history of evolutionary science,  and the original description of Hylopus in the early 1800’s. The full details of the story are discussed in a paper published in 1978 by William Sargeant and David Mossman.

Sir William Dawson conveyed this story in 1845. Sometime around 1840, Dr. Harding in Windsor Nova Scotia, was inspecting some sandstone cargo that had been shipped by boat from Parrsboro,  which is just a short distance across the Bay.  Dr. Harding noticed distinct footprints in the slaps, with four toes and a delicate trace of a fifth digit. The specimens were kept at Kings College in Windsor (now University of Kings College in Halifax), where Dawson saw the specimen. Dawson then visited Parrsboro to inspect the site where the slabs had been quarried, and from that visit concluded the Parrsboro rocks were of  Carboniferous age. Dawson also noted that similar footprints had been found by Dr. Abraham Gesner, who had been a physician in Parrsboro.

Science has benefited from the fossils preserved along the Parrsboro Shore. Eldon continued the search and has discovered hundreds of high quality fossil footprints. These are important, particularly because the footprints being found in the Parrsboro Formation. Like pages in a book, different layers tell different parts of the history of evolution. Some layers have different footprints, suggesting differences in environment or evidence of evolutionary change.

By examining these ancient footprints, we literally step back in time to examine a world that was very different. All the continents were pushed together, into a large supercontinent called Pangaea (one world). The world’s atmosphere was very rich in oxygen, as trees began to evolve and invade the landscape. Insects became giants within this oxygen-rich world, and animals scrambled across the ground snapping at the flying prey.

Take time – and look at your own footprints the next time you are on vacation and walking along the beach. Consider what the world will be like in the future, and what might be learned from the steps you take walking along the shore if your footprints were preserved as fossils.

 

Eldon’s Travels to Gem Shows

After opening the Parrsboro Rock and Mineral Shop in 1948, Eldon visited many gem and mineral shows in Northeastern and Southwestern United States. He would purchase specimens to sell in his rock shop, but also sell processed agate or other minerals. During his travels he met many people at the gem shows and built strong friendships. In some cases he returned to the same show 4-5 times. Through these interactions with the gem and mineral show community Eldon promoted awareness and interest in Nova Scotia’s mineral sites and geotourism.

 

Bancroft Gemboree 1964-65

One of the first international gem shows Eldon attended was in Bancroft, Ontario. The Bancroft Gemboree was started in 1964. In 1961 Carl Bosiak purchased the Princess Sodalite Mine near Bancroft to mine and sell sodalite to the gem and mineral show market (1, 2).  The Gemboree was developed in Bancroft to promote the mineral richness of the area, which is now recognized as “the mineral capital of Canada”. The Gemboree remains a major tourist attraction promoted by the Ontario Highlands area.

Bancroft Gemboree, August 1964.
Bancroft Gemboree, August 1964. (Archives of Ontario, RG 65-35-1, 8-H-1964)
Eldon likely visited the Bancroft Gemboree in August 1965. He was impressed by the excitement and quality of minerals. He recognized the potential for a gem and mineral show to attract attention and visitors to the Parrsboro area. Eldon phoned Carl for advice on setting up a show in Nova Scotia.  Carl thought the third weekend of August would be a good time to hold the Nova Scotia event.  Eldon worked with Marilyn Smith and Kirwin Davidson to launch the first Parrsboro Rockhound Roundup in August 1966.  Elaine helped to send out invitations to the first Rockhound Roundup, and many dealers from the Bancroft Show attended the first Parrsboro Event.

Eldon phoned Carl for advice on setting up a show in Nova Scotia.  Carl thought the third weekend of August would be a good time to hold the Nova Scotia event.

The Parrsboro event is now called the Nova Scotia Gem and Mineral Show and has been held on the third weekend of August since it started in 1966.  It remains one of the largest festivals in the region, attracting more than 3000 people during the weekend events.

Maine

By examining the map of  sites Eldon visited, you can see the routes that he and Elaine would take on their road trips south.  They made several trips to the gem and mineral shows in Maine. The Bangor Gem and Mineral Show and Waterville Gem Show were relatively close to Nova Scotia. Eldon’s presence at these shows further increased regional interest in Nova Scotia’s minerals and coastal geology sites.

Arizona and Mexico

The largest gem and mineral show in North America is held in Tuscon, Arizona. Eldon has attended that show several times. He has also attended the Quartzite Gem Show and Bisbee Gem Shows, buying material for his rock shop and selling Nova Scotia minerals.

Eldon George visits Arizona

A Geology Ambassador

During his many trips to the United States Eldon built relationships with mineral dealers and collectors. His enthusiasm and displays increased awareness of Nova Scotia’s mineral and coastal geology that were already well known among the gem and mineral community.  By promoting the region’s mineral resources, Eldon encouraged geotourism to Nova Scotia. In 1988, Eldon was recognized as a National Tourism Ambassador by the Government of Canada, and he has also received the Nova Scotia Tourism Ambassador Award several times.

Through his work in organizing and promoting the Nova Scotia Gem and Mineral Show (Rockhound Roundup) Eldon established an event that continues to attract visitors from across North America.  In 2015, Eldon opened the 50th Annual Gem and Mineral Show while flanked by local government representatives.  Eldon’s travels and participation in gem and mineral shows across North America have had a lasting impact that continues to draw attention to Nova Scotia mineral and geological resources.

 

References

1 – Quebec  Chronicle-Telegraph, November 10, 1962, pg. 17.
2 – “North of 7… and Proud of it”, 2003,  pg 34.

Eldon George Hand Print

After 65 years of dedicated work and effort, Eldon George stands in his Museum of fossils and is surrounded by cabinets of curiosity. The walls are covered with photographs, paintings, and models of ancient dinosaurs that roamed this area millions of years ago. The Museum is filled to the brim with thousands of fossil footprints of dinosaurs and ancient amphibians.

Eldon has brought me into the Museum to show me something special. As he begins to look through some boxes under the display cases, I examine some of the footprints he has on display.

Eldon has found many important fossil footprints. His earliest fossil discovery was a footprint of a large Carboniferous amphibian, the short and rounded toes recorded in the rock for 300 million years. At the age of nine, Eldon thought he’d found a dinosaur footprint. He was hooked. Eldon’s passion for geology grew from this early curiosity and inspiration of finding fossils on the shoreline near his home.

Parrsboro Smallest Dinosaur Footprint

He has gained the most attention and public interest for finding “the world’s smallest dinosaur footprints“. Everyone who has visited his Museum has seen this incredible slab of sandstone covered with the small tracks. The most popular souvenir sold in the Rock Shop was the medallion with a single small footprint from this specimen. When Tom Forrestall asked what specimen he wanted to be holding in his portrait, Eldon did not hesitate and said “the smallest footprint”.

Tom Forrestall Portrait of Eldon George

In Eldon’s Museum there are cases filled with dinosaur footprints. These are ancient traces of animals that walked along the Parrsboro Shore over 200 million years ago. Dinosaurs were walking across soft sandy mud. With each step the weight of their body pushed the foot into the soft ground. As the foot lifted from the mud it left a perfect trace of the dinosaur’s foot, sometimes recording the fine surface texture of the skin.

Eldon finds what he is looking for and places it on the display case that is filled with dinosaur footprints; a ceramic hand print he made from Bay of Fundy clay.

Eldon George Hand Print

Seeing his hand print resting on the case of his most significant fossil footprints it is clear Eldon has made a significant contribution. A lifetime of exploring the Parrsboro Shore, Eldon has uncovered many significant fossils. His hand print, pressed into Bay of Fundy clay, is a delicate record of a single life lived in the vastness of geological time, and a powerful statement of his passion and creativity.

Hand prints are some of the first images humans recorded on the paleolithic caves of Europe. These human hand prints reach through time to stand as a record for future generations, we were here. Eldon has created a record of his hand print in clay, placing his own mark to be positioned among the fossil footprints he has has discovered.

There are so many stories to come from Eldon’s Museum. Follow us on Facebook to get the latest updates. Please share your memories or stories, or help support the project with a donation.