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Fort Hope Fossil Finders

Wednesday September 3, 2014
Fossil found in Fort Hope along the shore of Eabamet Lake.

The next time you are out and about enjoying the sunshine before fall arrives, take a few minutes to look at the ground.

Look at the clay, sand or gravel that covers the land. Look at the rocks that poke out from beneath the clay, sand or gravel. Look at the pebbles and big rocks that occur along the edges of the lakes. What you will see are pieces of Ontario’s geological history. The colourful rocks likely came from the ancient Precambrian Shield. These rocks were carried to your community by thick sheets of ice called glaciers that covered the land during the last ice age. Over time, melting ice water moved them, made them round, and dropped them along former river channels.
The larger boulders were plucked out of the ancient Precambrian Shield by the glaciers. The ice carried the boulders like a toboggan carries a bag until the ice melted and the boulders were deposited.

Glaciers carried some rocks hundreds of kilometres from their place of origin. I saw an example of that long transport this spring while visiting Eabametoong First Nation. Bill Shawinimash and Sid O’Kees had invited me to drop by for a session on their B+S radio show. While on air we were surprised by a visit from Ricky Ostamus and Judy Boyce, two Fort Hope locals. Hearing us chatting about geology, Ricky and Judy came by the radio room because they were curious about an unusual brown rock that had been found in the local area.

Ricky shared the story of an interesting rock with the radio audience. Two young fossil finders named Mirrah Atlookan and Lamarith Boyce were walking along the shore of Eabamet Lake. They saw the strange brown rock lying on the ground at the edge of the lake. They stopped and picked up the rock because it was different. They shared the rock with Ricky, who kept it in a safe place.

We looked at the mystery rock and compared it to pictures in a book and saw that the rock looked like a fossil. A fossil is the remains or outline of a prehistoric animal that is preserved in petrified form or as a mold or cast in rock. In the case of this special rock, it looked like a fossil of an ancient coral. But, for that to be true, it would mean that this fossil had traveled a long way! Coral fossils are not found in the rocks around the Fort Hope area. The closest rocks that contain this type of fossil occur to the east, from the area around Marten Falls to the James Bay and Hudson Bay coasts.

To be certain, I sent photos to a fossil expert at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. He confirmed we were correct. It was a fossil of an ancient coral that lived on the Earth in a warm ocean that covered Ontario about 400 million years ago. The coral animal died and, over millions of years, the remains turned into rock. That type of rock now lies beneath the James Bay and Hudson Bay lowlands so fossils like this are typically found east in the James Bay lowland.

You may wonder how this fossil got from James Bay to Fort Hope. The answer to this lies in the glaciers that covered all of Ontario two million years ago. The glaciers scraped over the James Bay lowland rock, plucked out the fossil, and carried it southwest. About 10,000 years ago, the glaciers melted and dropped the fossil coral into sandy material left by the glaciers. Rivers of melted glacier water likely moved the fossil to a resting place near Eabamet Lake. Over time, the waves of Eabamet Lake washed the sand away and exposed the fossil on the shore. That is where the fossil was seen by the sharp eyes of Mirrah Atlookan and Lamarith Boyce – Fort Hope fossil finders.

So, the next time you walk, drive or boat around your community on a summer evening, stop and take a look at the Ontario beneath your feet. There is an amazing story hidden in the clay, sand, gravel, rocks and even fossils that we walk on every day.

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