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Joggins, Nova Scotia

Joggins is a Canadian rural community located in western Cumberland County, Nova Scotia. On July 7, 2008 a 15 km length of the coast comprising the Joggins Fossil Cliffs was officially inscribed on the World Heritage List.


The area was known to the Mi'kmaq as "Chegoggins" meaning place of the large fish weir, a named modified by French and English settlers to Joggins. Situated on the Cumberland Basin, a sub-basin of the Bay of Fundy, Joggins was a long established coal mining area. Its coal seams which are exposed along the shore of the Cumberland Basin were exploited as early as 1686 by local Acadian settlers and by the British garrison at Annapolis Royal in 1715.

The first commercial mine was set up by Major Henry Cope in 1731, but was destroyed by the Mi'kmaq in November 1732. Samuel McCully opened a mine in 1819 with much of his production being shipped by sea to Saint John, New Brunswick and other markets, but went out of business in 1821 having mined less than 600 tons.

Large scale industrialization came to Cumberland County under the General Mining Association, which held the rights to the area's coal fields. Commencing at Joggins in 1847, production increased after the construction of the Intercolonial Railway in the 1870s, followed by the 1887 opening of the Joggins Railway, a 12 mile rail line from mines at Joggins to the Intercolonial mainline at Maccan, through River Hebert.

Old coal mine working are eroding out of the sea-cliffs at Joggins. Recently dendrochronology had been employed to date the timber pit props. A late nineteenth century age has been inferred, with most props dating from the 1860s and 1870s.

Coal mining grew in such importance that the community was incorporated as a town in 1919, a status that it maintained until 1949, when the decline of local coal mines resulted in out migration and economic decline.

Coal mined at Joggins during the first decades of the 20th century primarily fed 2 electrical generating stations near Maccan, however these plants were outdated by the 1950s and the mines closed shortly after the Springhill Mining Disaster in 1958. Rail service was abandoned to the community in the early 1960s.

Joggins Fossil Cliffs

Joggins is famous for its record of fossils dating to the Pennsylvanian "Coal Age" of earth history, approximately 310 million years ago.

The dramatic coastal exposure of the Coal Age rocks, known as the Joggins Fossil Cliffs, are continually hewn and freshly exposed by the actions of the tides in the Cumberland Basin. Geologists were first attracted to this locality in the late 1820s with Abraham Gesner, Richard Brown, Thomas Jackson and Francis Alger all making important observations. A little later, a party from Williams College, Massachusetts became the first student party to study Joggins for educational reasons in 1835. However, the true fame of Joggins dates to the mid-nineteenth century and the visits in 1842 and 1852 by Charles Lyell, the founder of modern geology and author of Principles of Geology. In his Elements of Geology (1871), Lyell proclaimed the Joggins exposure of Coal Age rocks and fossils to be "the finest example in the world".

The fossil record at Joggins figures in Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species, and played a role in the Great Oxford Debate of 1860 between Bishop Wilberforce and Thomas Huxley.

Much of the early work to document the fossil record at Joggins was by Nova Scotian geologist Sir William Dawson (1820–1899), who had a close personal and working relationship with his friend and mentor Charles Lyell. Much of Dawson's collection resides at the Redpath Museum of McGill University. Other notable nineteenth century geologists who worked at Joggins include Abraham Gesner, inventor of kerosene, and William Logan, who measured the cliffs bed by bed for the Geological Survey of Canada.

In 1852 Lyell and Dawson made a celebrated discovery of tetrapod fossils entombed within an upright tree at Coal Mine Point. Subsequent investigations by Dawson led to the discovery of one of the most important fossils in the history of science, Hylonomus lyelli, which remains the earliest known reptile in the history of life, and thus the oldest known amniote, the group that includes all vertebrates that have the capacity to reproduce free of water, comprising all reptiles, the extinct dinosaurs and their kin, the birds, as well as mammals. In 2002, Hylonomus lyelli was named the provincial fossil of Nova Scotia. Trackways are preserved at the Joggins Fossil Cliffs. The tree-like lycopodiophyte Sigillaria is preserved in situ.

Recent Geologic and Paleontologic Work

There has been a surge in interest in Joggins over the past two decades. Recent geologic work has been coordinated by Martin Gibling, Professor of Sedimentology at Dalhousie University. During this interval, Gibling supervised and mentored a number of PhD students and postdocs including John Calder, Howard Falcon-Lang, Sarah Davies, and Mike Rygel. Rygel's thesis significantly advanced understanding of the site's history, stratigraphy, sedimentology and biota after a century of neglect that followed Dawson's death in 1899. Three amateur fossil collectors who have made major contributions to our knowledge of the Joggins fossil record are Don Reid, the so-called 'Keeper of the Cliffs', and more recently Matt Stimson and Brian Hebert. In 2009, palaeontologist Melissa Grey was appointed as the first scientific curator for the Joggins Fossil Cliffs.

However, recent controversy has plagued the Joggins Fossil Centre. In August 2011, the Canadian Department of Natural Resources removed one of two access points to the beach at Joggins after consulting the Joggins Fossil Centre, forcing both local residents and centre visitors to use the Fossil Centre access stairway. The original beach access was removed without public notification or input from the community. Residents expressed concern about losing public access to the beach and the safety of the stairway removal; high tides come up quickly and can easily trap beach visitors and the single access limits emergency aid to the shore. (Amherst Daily News, "Stairway to Joggins Beach Removed," August 11, 2011.)

World Heritage Site

In 2007, a 15 km length of the coast comprising the Joggins Fossil Cliffs was nominated by Canada to UNESCO as a natural World Heritage Site. It was officially inscribed on the World Heritage List in on July 7, 2008.

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