George V. Douglas

George V. Douglas

George Vibert Douglas was a war hero, geologist, Dalhousie University professor and participant in one of Shackleton’s Antarctic expeditions.

Douglas was born in Montreal on July 2, 1892, and educated in British private schools.

In the First World War, he fought as a captain with the British Army, serving with the 17th Northumberland Fusiliers from 1915 to 1919 in Flanders and France. He was wounded on June 27, 1916. Douglas was awarded the Military Cross, a medal for exemplary gallantry.

He graduated from McGill University with undergraduate and master’s science degrees in 1920 and 1921, respectively. He then spent 1921-22 on famed explorer Ernest Shackleton’s last Antarctic expedition working as a geologist. (Shackleton passed away in its early stages but the expedition carried on afterwards.) He then spent a year at Cambridge University working on the materials he had collected during the expedition.

In 1923, Douglas began a Ph.D. at Harvard, where he also lectured in geology, but he abandoned his studies to become Chief Geologist at mining company Rio Tinto in 1926.

Douglas came to Nova Scotia in 1932 when he was hired to run Dalhousie University’s geology department. He served as Head of Geology from 1932 to 1957 and was, in fact, the sole professor in the department for many years. He was an active member of the Dalhousie community, helping to establish both the Dalhousie Art Gallery and a university student employment centre to assist students seeking work in mining and related fields. He led Dalhousie expeditions to Labrador in 1946 and 1947 and served as the Government of Nova Scotia’s Provincial Geologist.

Douglas was frequently consulted by Nova Scotia’s mining industry and the provincial government, and there are many memos and reports written by him in government files. For example, he was involved in the Banook Mining Company in 1934-35 which led to him being embroiled in a months-long, heated debate over how the company should be run (

Douglas’ friends and colleagues often described him as a character and a towering figure.

L. C. Graton of Harvard wrote a letter of recommendation for Douglas which said, “It would be hard to find a man more charged with dynamic energy, constructive ideas, absolutely loyalty and concentrated sunshine.”

Author P. B. Waite, who wrote a book about Dalhousie, described Douglas as “a big, vibrant bear of a man, noisy, open-hearted and energetic…Douglas stirred up the campus, one student recalled his first lecture in Geology I in 1932; Douglas could be heard coming, clumping down the hall in his walking boots, starting to lecture as he came through the door. He liked to throw open a window, fall or winter. He smoked a gnarled pipe, loaded with a Canadian tobacco called ‘Old Chum,’ which he lit with long Eddy matches that were carried in a long waterproof cylinder. He was a character, knew it, and revelled in it. He was also a one-man department, giving eight separate courses. He was a good lecturer, if his science was occasionally rusty, the students liked him for his forthrightness and generosity, his ebullient air of imperturbable cheerfulness.”

In his history of Dalhousie’s geology department, G. C. Milligan wrote: “In 1947, when the then Princess Elizabeth was married the wedding service was broadcast by radio, and Douglas's children wanted to stay home from school to hear it. GVD thought this reasonable, so he phoned the secretary of the Halifax School Board to suggest that, because the wedding of our future queen did not occur every day, it was an historic event justifying a half holiday for school children. The secretary claimed he did not have the authority to authorize such a thing. Over the next hour Douglas phoned, in succession, the Chairman of the School Board, the Mayor, the Minister of Education, the Premier, and the Lieutenant-Governor. The latter agreed that he had the authority and that it was a good idea. Two hours later the local radio stations were carrying the announcement of a half-holiday for the schools of the province.”

N. R. Goodman, who Douglas hired to teach in Dal’s geology department, offered this anecdote to illustrate Douglas’ force of will: “Many memories of GVD come to mind from our close contact during the 1946 Dalhousie Labrador expedition. He never saved himself. The day we were to climb and formally name Mount Dalhousie he had hurt his back but insisted on making the 3000-foot climb. Step after tortuous step Clint Milligan and I watched him fight his way to the top.”

Douglas once offered the following advice about investing in the mining sector: “Only invest in a mine, and especially a prospect, what you can afford to lose or would be willing to stake on a horse race.” The advice is still sound today!

Douglas was married to Olga Margaret Chrichton, with whom he had four children. He retired from Dalhousie in 1957 and passed away on October 8, 1958.