Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
April 2005

L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia


Sir John William Dawson


Dawson, Sir John William (1820-1899), educationist and naturalist, was born at Pictou, Nova Scotia, on October 13, 1820, the son of James Dawson. He was educated at Pictou Academy and the University of Edinburgh. In 1846 and in 1852 he was associated with Sir Charles Lyell in investigating the geology and mineralogy of the maritime provinces. In 1850 he was appointed superintendent of education for Nova Scotia ; and in 1855 he became principal of McGill University. This post he occupied until his retirement in 1893. He was a voluminous writer; and, apart from a large number of papers contributed to scientific periodicals and learned societies, he published a Handbook of the geography and natural history of Nova Scotia (Pictou and Edinburgh, 1848), Scientific, agriculture in Nova Scotia (Halifax, 1852), Aacdian geology (Edinburgh, 1855). Archaia (Montreal, 1857), Agriculture for schools (Montreal, 1864), Handbook of Canadian zoology (Montreal, 1871), The story of the earth and man (London, 1872), Nature and the Bible (New York, 1875), Life's dawn on earth (London, 1875), The origin of the world (London and New York, 1878), Fossil men (London, 1880), The chain of life in geological time (London, 1881), The geological history of plants (London, and New York, 1888), Modern science in Bible lands (London and New York, 1888), Handbook of Canadian geology (Montreal, 1889), Modern ideas of evolution (London, 1890), Some salient points in the history of the earth (London and New York, 1893), The ice age in Canada (Montreal, 1894), The meeting-place of geology and history (Montreal, 1894), Peter Redpath (Montreal, 1894), Eden lost and won (London, 1895), Science the ally of religion (Montreal, 1896), Relics of primeval life (London, 1897), and Testimony of the Holy Scriptures respecting urine and drink (Montreal, 1898). He died at Montreal on November 19, 1899.


In 1847 he married Margaret, daughter of G. Mercer, Edinburgh, Scotland ; and had by her three sons and two daughters. In 1881 he was created a C.M.G., and in 1884 a knight bachelor. In 1882 he was the first president of the Royal Society of Canada; and he was an LL.D. (Edin.), a D.C.L. (Lennoxville), and a D.L. (Columbia). In 1892 he was president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and in 1886 of the British Association.


See R. Dawson (ed.), Fifty years of work in Canada, autobiography (London , 1901) ; H. M. Ami, Sir John William Dawson (American Geologist, July, 1900), with bibliography; and F. D. Adams, Sir William Dawson (Journal of Geology, November, 1899).


© 2005 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College