Induction of Dr. John A. Allan into the University of Alberta Curator Hall of Fame

Speech by Dr. Martin Sharp at the University of Alberta Museums Celebration, for the induction of Dr. John A. Allan into the University of Alberta Curator Hall of Fame, March 20, 2012

2012 marks the 100th Anniversary of the first appointment in the Geosciences at the University of Alberta.

The appointee was John Andrew Allan, and he was tasked by Henry Marshall Tory to initiate teaching in Geology and found a Department. He was, of course, successful, and this year, what is now the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences is marking its Centennial and has become one of the largest and most successful departments of its type in North America.

The induction of John Allan into the Curator Hall of Fame is an important part of the department’s Centennial celebration.

John Allan began his work at the University of Alberta on September 1, 1912. He made it one of his highest priorities the build a collection of rocks, minerals, and fossils – and he worked tirelessly at this over a period of decades. He collected specimens himself, and he obtained more from other institutions across North America including the Smithsonian, Harvard, and his Alma Maters, McGill and MIT. He also purchased specimens from dealers and solicited contributions from Mining Companies across the continent.

In addition, Allan worked closely with noted collectors like Walter Frederick Ferrier, who he successfully nominated as the 1st Honorary D.Sc. from the University of Alberta in 1915, and George Fryer Sternberg, who collected and prepared dinosaur fossils from central Alberta in the 1920s and 1930s. Many of these notable specimens are still on display today.

Initially, the collections Allan created were used to support and enliven undergraduate teaching, but in 1935 they were opened for public display. This remains the case today, and the collections are seen by thousands of visiting school children every year – often their first exposure to the Geosciences – and they are a focal point for activities on Science Sunday. Related to hiss interests in public education, Allan was one of the first to lobby for the establishment of a Provincial Museum in Alberta, for the creation of Dinosaur Provincial Park, and for legislative protection for fossil resources.

Allan was a true visionary who saw the importance of the Geosciences for the Province of Alberta and its people. He was swift to recognize the value of collections for educating students and public alike and for building interest in this area of Science. He built a legacy that is of continuing importance today, and it is truly fitting that, 100 years after his arrival on campus, he should be inducted into the Curator Hall of Fame.