An internationally renowned earth scientist, J. Tuzo Wilson made significant contributions to the understanding of the dynamic earth, particularly in the fields of geology and geophysics.
While most famous for advancing the theory of plate tectonics, Wilson was also a practical scientist — he was one of the first geologists to use remote sensing and geophysics as an aid to understanding geological processes. Furthermore, during the early stages of his career, he delineated the provinces of the Canadian Shield. Each of these contributions has had an impact on mineral exploration and mine development in Canada and, arguably, around the world.
Wilson was born in 1908, the son of a Scottish engineer who was a civil servant in charge of civil aviation. He graduated in geology and geophysics from the universities of Toronto (B.A., Sc.D.) and Princeton (Ph.D.). While at school, he also obtained a private pilot’s licence.
His interest in flying proved timely when he was an assistant geologist working for the Geological Survey of Canada in the late 1930s. He was one of the first geologists to use the newly developing technology of air photography. He used air photographs as a supplement for the reconnaissance mapping of expansive regions within the Canadian Shield. As a result of his experience and understanding, he became one of five members of a committee in 1950 that published the first tectonic map of Canada.
In 1946, following his service in World War II with the Canadian Amy Engineers, as a 2nd Lieutenant to Colonel, Wilson was appointed professor of geophysics at the University of Toronto. It was during his 28 years at the university that his most significant contributions to plate tectonic theory were made. He explained mantle plumes forming hotspot volcanoes, the existence and nature of ocean floor transform faults, the growth and shrinkage of ocean basin, the closing and re-opening of ocean basins and revised his theories of mountain building.
Wilson was also a skilled administrator, encouraging academic excellence and the pursuit of knowledge by others. From 1967 to 1974, he was the first principal of Erindale College, now known as the Mississauga Campus of the University of Toronto. Following his retirement from the University of Toronto in 1974, he became Director General of the Ontario Science Centre, until 1985, where he continued to pursue his passion of popularizing science. He was Chancellor of York University from 1983 to 1986.
Wilson co-authored six books and published extensively and was the recipient of many honours and awards. During World War II, he was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire and received the American Legion of Merit. In 1974, he was appointed a Companion of the Order of Canada. In total, he was awarded 15 honorary degrees from Canadian and US universities.
A scientist, academic, educator and mentor, J. Tuzo Wilson had an impact on the mining industry and its people at home and abroad. His research has led others to think and understand in ways that will benefit the industry in the years.