Source: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Brock, Reginald Walter, geologist, university professor, office holder, army officer, and university administrator; b. 10 Jan. 1874 in Perth, Ont., son of the Reverend Thomas Brock, a Methodist minister, and Marian Jenkins; m. 28 Nov. 1900 Mildred Gertrude Britton in Kingston, Ont., and they had five sons; d. 30 July 1935 at Alta Lake, B.C.
A minister’s child, Reginald Brock moved with his family from town to town in southwestern Ontario as his father accepted different charges. After Thomas’s death in 1886 the family settled in Ottawa, and Brock graduated from the Ottawa Collegiate Institute in 1890. He entered the University of Toronto that year, became known for his prowess in hockey, and obtained a summer appointment as a field assistant to Robert Bell*, chief geologist of the Geological Survey of Canada (GSC).
Bell was one of Canada’s most distinguished geological explorers, and his continued patronage over subsequent summers greatly encouraged Brock, whose initial work was more that of a camp manager than of a scientist-in-training. For instance, in 1893 his duties included tending a vegetable garden at Spanish Mills (near Spanish) on the northern shore of Lake Huron. Nonetheless, he quickly developed an interest in geology under the guidance of Bell and another geologist who profoundly influenced him, Willet Green Miller. Back in Toronto Brock experienced a setback when he had to leave university after two years because of an illness that weakened his eyesight and made extensive reading impossible. By 1893 he was working as a reporter for the Evening Star (Toronto). When Miller obtained a teaching position at the new School of Mining and Agriculture affiliated with Queen’s College in Kingston, he encouraged Brock to transfer there and pursue laboratory courses in chemistry and mineralogy so that he could complete his degree and “graduate without reading.”
After he entered Queen’s in January 1894 Brock flourished, touring with the varsity hockey team (which Principal George Monro Grant* half suspected was what had really attracted him) and developing scientific skills under Miller’s guidance. He graduated in May 1895 with an ma in geology and medals in mineralogy and chemistry, and immediately set out for advanced training in microscopic petrography with Karl Heinrich Ferdinand Rosenbusch at the Rupert Charles University of Heidelberg in Germany. The following year he returned to serve on the staff at the School of Mining, where he performed assays and taught prospectors. In addition, he and Miller experimented with the rays discovered by Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen, later known as X-rays. In January 1897 he described himself as “the hardest worked man about the institution.”
Brock’s career moved another step forward with his permanent appointment to the Geological Survey of Canada that year. Until 1907 he conducted fieldwork in the mining districts of Boundary Creek, Rossland, Lardeau, and west Kootenay in the southern and southeastern interior of British Columbia. At the request of the federal government he and Richard George McConnell investigated the cataclysmic Turtle Mountain landslide of 1903 at Frank (Alta), which killed 70 people. His familiarity with the needs of miners and engineers bolstered his reputation among them as an eminently practical geologist in a profession that was often seen as too preoccupied with purely scientific matters.
In 1900 Brock had married Mildred Britton, a daughter of a Kingston Liberal mp and future judge, Byron Moffatt Britton, and a granddaughter of politician Luther Hamilton Holton*. The couple travelled to Heidelberg, where Brock intended to resume his studies and earn a doctorate before returning to the field. However, he failed to obtain the necessary leave of absence from Bell, who had become the acting director of the GSC early in 1901, and in order to retain his post he was obliged to return to Canada without the diploma. After Miller left Queen’s in 1902 to become chief geologist of the province of Ontario, Brock requested permission to assume Miller’s professorial duties while continuing as a GSC employee in the summers, explaining that teaching was the best way of “polishing up and crystallizing” his scientific knowledge. Brock taught at Queen’s until 1906, but at the expense of his relationship with Bell, who in 1905 refused to grant him any further winter leave on the grounds that he had also taken time off from the GSC to work privately for Rossland mine owners.
Ultimately, however, the support of the mining industry led to Brock’s nomination at the helm of the GSC; he took over from Albert Peter Low* in December 1907. As director, he decisively overhauled the organization by expanding the staff, forming specialized divisions such as topography, photography, anthropology, and biology, and giving new attention to mining regions. In his introduction to George Albert Young’s A descriptive sketch of the geology, and economic minerals of Canada (Ottawa, 1909), produced by the GSC to meet a growing public demand for information, he proclaimed that “the mining industries of the country may be said to have only just begun.” He also oversaw the survey’s move into the newly constructed Victoria Memorial Museum in Ottawa, and co-organized the 12th International Geological Congress, held in Toronto in 1913, which reinforced Canada’s scientific reputation. On 1 Jan. 1914 he was appointed deputy minister of mines, an office he held until 30 November.
Having achieved so much and still only 40 years of age, Brock then left the federal government to become professor of geology and dean of applied sciences at the recently established University of British Columbia in Vancouver. The First World War intervened. Brock, initially an officer in the 72nd Battalion (Seaforth Highlanders), became major of the 196th (Western Universities) Infantry Battalion; he sailed for Great Britain in 1916. In England the 196th was broken up. Brock was assigned the 19th and later the 15th Reserve battalions and was stationed at the headquarters of the Canadian military camp in Seaford. There, with educator Edward Annand Corbett, he headed a college of the Khaki University of Canada. At the war’s end he was seconded for service with the British Foreign Office and the Board of Trade as a geological intelligence officer under General Edmund Henry Hynman Allenby in Palestine. He obtained his demobilization on 10 Sept. 1919.
On his return to Canada Brock took up his post as dean at the university. There he introduced the first Canadian bsc degree in nursing, advocated a broadly based engineering curriculum for geologists, and inaugurated the teaching of geography as a discipline. His travels and scientific work in the 1920s and 1930s took him to China, Fiji, and Scandinavia, and he contributed two seasons of fieldwork to the geological survey of Hong Kong. The University of Hong Kong awarded him an honorary lld in 1933. He was elected president of the Royal Society of Canada for 1935–36.
In 1922 the Brock family had moved into a grand waterfront home designed by architect Samuel Maclure* and situated near the university; the dean and his wife were among Vancouver’s leading citizens, serving in a wide range of voluntary organizations. Their sudden deaths following an airplane crash on 30 July 1935 near their summer home at Alta Lake (he was killed instantly; she died the next day en route to a hospital) made front-page news for three days. Crowds filled the streets for their funeral procession.
Brock’s life, though too short at 61 years, spanned a period of fundamental transformation in geologists’ professional identities. He began his career in the era of the heroic generalist explorer, but as survey director he required that geologists have phds and work on specialized subjects. Tall, virile, and athletic (according to an anecdote he had once wrestled a wild wolf), Brock easily played the role of the rugged outdoorsman, but ultimately his greatest geological contributions were made indoors, in government and university administrative offices.
A bibliography of Reginald Walter Brock’s publications appears in M. Y. Williams, “Memorial of Reginald Walter Brock,” Geological Soc. of America, Proc. (New York), 1935: 157–70.
AO, RG 80-5-0-278, no.6504. BCA, GR-2951, nos.1935-09-504272, 1935-09-504273. LAC, R7346-0-4; RG 150, Acc. 1992-93/166, box 1087-58. Univ. of B.C. Library, Univ. Arch. (Vancouver), Reginald Walter Brock fonds. F. D. Adams, “Obituary notices,” Geological Soc. of London, Quarterly Journal, 92 (1936): ci–civ. Can., Parl., Sessional papers, 1904 (report of the Dept. of the Interior, 1902/3). Morris Zaslow, Reading the rocks: the story of the Geological Survey of Canada, 1842–1972 (Toronto and Ottawa, 1975).
© 2017–2023 University of Toronto/Université Laval
Cite This Article
Brian C. Shipley, “BROCK, REGINALD WALTER,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 16, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 2, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/brock_reginald_walter_16E.html.
The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:
|Author of Article:||Brian C. Shipley|
|Title of Article:||BROCK, REGINALD WALTER|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 16|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||2017|
|Year of revision:||2017|
|Access Date:||June 2, 2023|