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Science & NatureMetcalfe Geoheritage Park nears completion

Metcalfe Geoheritage Park nears completion

by Neil Carleton

Much has been accomplished in the past year at Canada’s first municipal geoheritage park.  The specimens have been relocated, the landscaping and walkway are finished, the benches are installed, and the parking lot is paved.

This week a proof copy of the site sign arrived for approval.  The brochure was finalized too.

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The full-colour interpretive sign, which includes a geological map of the region, will be mounted next to the walkway on the approach to the display specimens.  Posing with the two-thirds-size sign proof on April 28 were Metcalfe Geoheritage Park Committee members Patricia Larkin and Scott Newton.

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The colour brochure, now ready now for printing, is a guide to the 22 local specimens on permanent display.  They include sedimentary rocks of Ordovician age, about 500 million years old, as well as both igneous and metamorphic rocks of Precambrian age that the last glacier dropped off, from about 2.5 billion to about 1 billion years old.  These samples represent chapters in a remarkable geological story of colliding continents, towering mountains, oceans depths, and a landscape locked in ice.

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One section of Metcalfe Geoheritage Park is set aside for guest rocks.  This platform is for the temporary display of specimens that have been collected close to home or at distant locations by community residents and other visitors.  The stories of the first guest rocks are from the oldest known ice age on Earth, and an earlier time when there was little or no oxygen in the planet’s atmosphere and oceans.  On April 29 Metcalfe Geoheritage Committee member Calvin Murphy was on hand to position the Gowganda conglomerate and banded iron formation.

About Metcalfe Park

Metcalfe Park, at the bottom of the falls beside the Mississippi River, was named in honour of Dr. Archibald Metcalfe (1869-1962), local physician for 63 years, town councilor and Mayor (at least 7 terms), and the driving force to establish the Almonte hydro electric generating station.

The creation of a geological display at Metcalfe Park was first proposed in 2004 as the Almonte Geoheritage Project.  It developed from an April 23 presentation as part of the Almonte Lectures series.  Dr. J. Allan Donaldson, Professor Emeritus, Carleton University, and founder of Friends of Canadian Geoheritage, spoke on the topic of geoheritage.

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Almonte Gazette photo caption August 24, 2004:  Volunteers with the Almonte Geoheritage Project (from left) Neil Carleton, Dr. Allan Donaldson and Ben Cleland try with all their might to move a large rock specimen from the Metcalfe subdivision in Almonte.  The trio, along with other volunteers, are working at creating a permanent display of five large rock specimens from around Almonte in Metcalfe Park.  Future plans include a possible geoheritage walking tour of various locations through the area.

Through the efforts of Dr. Donaldson and community volunteers in Almonte, plans for a geological display evolved during subsequent meetings with municipal Council.  Other organizations soon offered their support.  With the enthusiastic endorsement of Councillors, the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists, the Mississippi Mills Chamber of Commerce, and relatives of Dr. Metcalfe, the Council of Mississippi Mills unanimously approved the proposal in 2008.   Council further approved the renaming of the site as Metcalfe Geoheritage Park.

Specimens were moved to the site and a display of large rocks was started to represent the local geodiversity.  Sedimentary rocks of Paleozoic age, about 500 million year old, included limestone rich in fossils.  The target list for metamorphic rocks of Precambrian age, about 1 billion years old, included marble and gneiss.

Metcalfe Geoheritage Park has been 12 years in the making.  Along the way were some notable milestones.

Hydro Station Discoveries

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Excellent examples of ripple marks and mudcracks were discovered in 2009 during the nearby construction of the Mississippi River Power Corp.’s 4.6 megawatt generating station.  The two sandstone specimens tell a story of shallow water conditions and sea floor exposure during the lower Ordovician period in a near-shore coastal environment.

Geoheritage Information Day

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Almonte’s first Geoheritage Information Day was well attended by families on October 3, 2009.  They brought rocks, minerals, and fossils for identification, participated in a variety of activities, and learned about plans for developing Metcalfe Geoheritage Park.

Official Opening

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The official opening of Metcalfe Geoheritage Park on October 16, 2010, included the unveiling of a new municipal sign.  Community residents, Mayor Lunney, and relatives of Dr. Metcalfe were on hand for the celebration.

Construction Casualties

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A broken block of metamorphic marble was one of the construction casualties when the site was excavated for sewer work.

In the summer of 2011, the property was under construction for the upgrade of the nearby sewage pumping station.  The large display rocks were temporarily moved aside and, alas, some were broken and damaged.  Since moving the rocks to dig up the site again was almost a certainty, due to the many buried pipes and storage tanks, the Metcalfe Geoheritage Committee proposed the relocation of the specimens to the west side of the property. The Mississippi River Power Corp., which manages the property on behalf of the Municipality of Mississippi MIlls, agreed that this would be a good location.

Planning had already been initiated by the MRPC for necessary upgrades to the whole property, and the relocation of the display specimens was included.  Other components were repairs to the shoreline retaining walls and boat launch, and paving of the parking lot.  Consultations were held with the Mississippi Valley Conservation Authority, Mississippi Mills Council, the Beautification Committee, and the Metcalfe Geoheritage Park Committee.  All agreed with the plans.


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During construction of Highway 417 at Terry Fox Drive in Kanata, bedrock specimens were selected for transport to Metcalfe Geoheritage Park in Almonte.

It was an exciting day in November 2012 when two and a half tons of sandstone arrived.  The rocks were rescued from an outcrop of the Nepean Formation in the median of Highway 417 at Kanata.  The site received provincial designation in 1970 as an Area of Natural and Scientific Interest.  When work started on the Queensway in the summer of 2008, it was identified that outcrops within the median at Terry Fox Drive would be destroyed when the two new highway lanes were added.  The rocks of early Ordovician age were the first-reported occurrence in Canada of quartz arenite containing stromatolites.

Spearheaded by Dr. Donaldson, with the support of Parks Canada and the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, a georescue operation was conducted.


Cooney Construction & Landscaping began groundwork on the west side of the property in October 2014 for the relocation of the Metcalfe Geoheritage Park specimens, and the installation of a walkway.

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The placement of specimens on concrete pads was completed in November 2014.  The larger rocks were positioned on gravel bases.

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Landscaping around the walkway was completed in June 2015.

Site Sign + Brochure + Website

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With the approval this week of the proof copy, the delivery and installation of the 72” x 43” site sign is expected later in May.

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Mississippi Mills will be hosting a web page for Metcalfe Geoheritage Park on its municipal site of outdoor venues to explore.  Postings will include:

  • glossary of geological words used on the site sign and brochure;
  • listing of geological maps for the area;
  • link to the Ottawa-Gatineau Geoscape poster;
  • links to other geosites and organizations;
  • reading suggestions;
  • history of Metcalfe Geoheritage Park;
  • contact us.

A notice will be posted on the Millstone News when the website is operational.

Metcalfe Geoheritage Park was made possible by the support of the Mississippi River Power Corp., the Municipality of Mississippi Mills, and the Canadian Geological Foundation.

The realization of the project as a community showcase was coordinated from 2004 to 2016 with the participation of volunteers, and municipal staff, as members of the initial Almonte Geoheritage Project, and later as the Almonte Geoheritage Committee and the Metcalfe Geoheritage Park Committee  –  Frank Anderson, Julie Argue, Pat Browne, Neil Carleton, Ben Cleland, Allan Donaldson, Reiner Hollbach, Patricia Larkin, Calvin Murphy, Scott Newton, and Don Wiles.

An official opening event will be scheduled for later in the year, and the community is invited.  When the date has been finalized, a notice will be posted on the Millstone News.




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