Ralph Leslie Rutherford (1894-1952)

A man who put his heart into his work

Ralph RutherfordRalph Leslie Rutherford was born in Ontario, but came to Edmonton with his family when he was 13 and graduated from Victoria High School. His university years were interrupted by service in World War I as a gunner, but he completed his BSc in and MSc in Geology at the U of A after the war. He obtained his PhD from the University of Wisconsin in 1923 and returned to Edmonton to join the Department of Geology. He also married that year and later had two sons.

A dedicated and demanding professor, Rutherford believed that students learn best by working with actual specimens, not by looking at pictures in textbooks. He reorganized, categorized and identified the existing specimens in the mineralogy collection so they could be used as a teaching resource. He also expanded the collection, incorporating samples from his own research and those gathered by students and colleagues in the field.

Rutherford’s personal passion was a keen interest in the subsurface geology in Alberta. His extensive field research in the foothills, from the Bow River to the Peace River, laid the groundwork for later exploration and development of petroleum and natural gas deposits. His report on the water resources and geology of parts of the Peace River and Grande Prairie Districts was significant in opening the north.

Dr. Rutherford taught Geology at the university for 30 years. As one of the foremost petroleum geologists in the province, his expertise was in great demand in the industry. He was also active in numerous professional and scientific societies.  Although he suffered from heart disease, he never complained and continued to work hard until his death. He died at his home in Edmonton only hours after leaving his students in the mineralogy laboratory.