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    George Mellis Douglas

    Encyclopedia Arctica 15: Biographies

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    (Alyce Finnie)


            George Mellis Douglas (1875 - 1963 ), engineer and explorer, was born

    in Halifax, Nova Scotia, on December 9, the son of Campbell Mellis Douglas,

    V.C., M.D., Col. R.A.M.S., and Eleanor Ann (Burmester) Douglas. He was

    educated at the Grove School, Lakefield, Ontario, Trinity College School,

    at Port Hope, Ontario, at Toronto University from 1892-93, and at Ruther–

    ford College, Newcastle on Tyne, from 1894 to 1897, during which time he

    was also apprenticed as engineer with the Armstrong and Hawthorn Leslie

    Works. He went to sea as a marine engineer from 1897 to 1900, and then

    began a career in Mexico and Arizona as an engineer and later consulting

    engineer which lasted until 1940.

            This engineering career in the southwest was interrupted by the first

    of Douglas' northern mineral explorations, his 1911-1912 journey to Great

    Bear Lake to investigate the copper deposits of the Coppermine area. In

    1771 Samuel Hearne attempted to find the "copper mines" reported long before

    by the Indians. Hearne was unsuccess f ul in his attempts, though his Indian

    guides pointed out to him the "jumble of rocks" containing the deposits.

    In 1820 Sir John Franklin was instructed to observe the mineral occurrences

    of the Coppermine Mountains and Dr. John Richardson, a member of the party

    who possessed some geological knowledge, described the character of the

    formation, but its extent was not determined. In 1836 Thomas Simpson reported

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    EA-Biog. Finnie: George Mellis Douglas

    finding copper in the Copper Mountains and at Bathurst Inlet, and similar

    reports were made by David Hanbury in 1903.

            The next and most serious attempt to investigate these copper deposits

    was made by the Douglas expedition in 1911, sponsored by Dr. James Douglas

    of Arizona, and headed by George M. Douglas, his cousin. The party included

    Lionel Douglas, brother of George, and Dr. August Sandberg, a geologist.

            They traveled by means of the Hudson's Bay Company's transport as far

    as Fort Norman, then tracked up the Great Bear River to Great Bear Lake in

    their York boat. They sailed across the lake to the northeast corner where

    the Dease River flows into Great Bear Lake. Douglas and Sandberg canoed up

    the Dease River to Dismal Lakes and thence by the Kendall River to the Copper–

    mine. Investigations were made around the Coppermine Mountains during this

    first season, before they returned to winter at their base on the Dease River.

            The next spring they returned to the Coppermine to continue their

    investigations and found the extent of the mineralized area to be much greater

    than had been supposed, the width of the belt being about sixteen miles. The

    information brought back was considered important enough to continue more

    extensive prospecting, but the first World War and its effect on the copper

    industry discouraged further work in that region.

            In 1928, accompanied by Carl Lausen, a geologist, Douglas made a summer

    journey with two canoes along the southeast shores of Great Slave Lake, on a

    copper investigation for the United Verde Copper Company.

            In 1932 he made some coal investigations on the western shore of Great

    Bear Lake, and in 1935 returned north to undertake mineral explorations around

    Athabaska Lake and the country between it and Great Slave Lake; and on Great

    Bear Lake. He continued his mineral explorations in 1938 with examinations

    of the Snare River and the country between Great Slave Lake and Talston Lake,

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    EA-Biog. Finnie: George Mellis Douglas

    including Nonacho Lake.

            Douglas has been a true pioneer and explorer in the sense that he

    opened up new vistas for mineral investigations by others, who, following

    in his tracks, discovered important mineral deposits.

            He is the author of Lands Forlorn (G.P. Putnam's Sons, New York, 1914),

    the story of his 1911-1912 expedition to the Coppermine River. For the

    Canadian Mining and Metallurgical Bulletin , February 1929, he wrote an

    account of his 1928 trip, "A Summer Journey along the Southeast Shores of

    Great Slave Lake," and an article for the Engineering and Mining Journal Press ,

    July 19, 1924, "Copper Deposits of Arctic Canada."

            Unpublished are detailed journals of all of his northern journeys,

    illustrated with excellent photographs from his large personal collection.

            Douglas is a member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers,

    the American Institute of Mining and Metallurgical Engineers, the Canadian

    Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, the Explorer's Club, New York, and the

    Arts and Letters Club, Toronto. He is a Fellow of the American Geographical

    Society and of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.


    Alyce Finnie

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