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Original title:  Photograph J. F. Whiteaves, Montreal, QC, 1891 Wm. Notman & Son 1891, 19th century Silver salts on paper mounted on paper 13.6 x 9.8 cm Purchase from Associated Screen News Ltd. II-95363.1 © McCord Museum Keywords:  male (26812) , Photograph (77678) , portrait (53878)

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WHITEAVES, JOSEPH FREDERICK, palaeontologist, zoologist, author, and editor; b. 26 Dec. 1835 in Oxford, England, son of Joseph Whiteaves and Sarah ——; m. first 18 June 1863 Julia Wolff in Quebec City; they divorced in 1868; m. again, and had one son and two daughters; d. 8 Aug. 1909 in Ottawa.

Joseph Frederick Whiteaves attended schools in Brighton, London, and Oxford, England. His early studies of the geology and palaeontology of the area around Oxford were acclaimed by important English geologists such as John Phillips and John Lycett. In 1861 he briefly visited Lower Canada. The following year he settled there, taking charge of the museum of the Natural History Society of Montreal and acting as the society’s recording secretary. On at least five occasions between 1867 and 1873 he conducted operations to dredge the waters of the Gulf of St Lawrence, where he discovered rare examples of marine life in both fossilized and living forms.

In 1875 Whiteaves joined the Geological Survey of Canada; the following year he succeeded Elkanah Billings* as palaeontologist. The tasks which he undertook for the survey were numerous and varied. He quite naturally assumed direction of its museum in turn, and he ended up supervising the museum’s transfer from Montreal to Ottawa when the survey moved its headquarters there in 1881. As staff palaeontologist, and later also as zoologist, he identified and described invertebrates, in both recent and fossil forms, collected from across Canada. He also studied fishes of the Devonian stratum as well as stromatoporoids, cephalopods, and land and fresh water Mollusca. Descriptions of his work figure in the annual reports and serial publications he prepared for the survey; the most famous treat the Mesozoic and Palaeozoic fossils of Canada. He also served as one of the survey’s four assistant directors – a bureaucratic arrangement that one assistant director, George Mercer Dawson, called “idiotically unworkable.” Perhaps because he tried to play too many different roles on the survey, other naturalists would complain that his work was slipshod.

Whiteaves actively promoted Canada’s nascent scientific institutions. Their primitive state during the late 19th century is revealed in his correspondence with fellow palaeontologist and collaborator John William Dawson*, principal of McGill College. While in Montreal, Whiteaves had lacked a suitable reference library and research materials; he had even entertained the notion of dredging the St Lawrence for two weeks using only “300 fathoms of cheap rope.” Many of his nearly 150 scientific papers (which presented over 450 new genera, species, and varieties) appeared in Canadian scientific periodicals, including the Canadian Naturalist (Montreal), of which he was editor from 1868 to 1874, the Canadian Record of Science (Montreal), and the Ottawa Naturalist. For these and other Canadian publications, he lamented to Dawson, it was difficult to find competent artists who could supply accurate illustrations. Whiteaves was a founding member of the Royal Society of Canada, contributed frequently to its Transactions, and served as the first secretary of the section devoted to the geological and biological sciences.

For his efforts in preparing a scientific future for Canada, he was awarded an lld by McGill University in 1900. The Geological Society of London, of which he had been a fellow since 1859, awarded him the Lyell Medal in 1907. He also actively supported the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He belonged to the Church of England.

Susan Sheets-Pyenson

A partial list of articles, books, and reports by Joseph Frederick Whiteaves can be found in RSC Trans., 1st ser., 12 (1894), proc.: 75–78; others are listed in the CIHM Reg. and the National union catalog.

ANQ-Q, CN1–117, 17 juin 1863. MUA, MG 1022. Can., Statutes, 1869, c.95. Canadian men and women of the time (Morgan; 1898). Cyclopædia of Canadian biog. (Rose and Charlesworth), vol.1. “Eminent living geologists: Joseph Frederick Whiteaves, ll.d., f.g.s., f.r.s. (Canada),” Geological Magazine (London), new ser., decade 5, 3 (1906): 433–42. Ottawa Naturalist, 23 (1909–10):118–20 (obit.). RSC Trans., 3rd ser., 4 (1910), proc.: iv-vi (obit. and photograph facing p.iv). W. A. S. Sarjeant, Geologists and the history of geology: an international bibliography from the origins to 1978 (New York, 1980). Zaslow, Reading the rocks.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Susan Sheets-Pyenson, “WHITEAVES, JOSEPH FREDERICK,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 13, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed September 25, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/whiteaves_joseph_frederick_13E.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:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/whiteaves_joseph_frederick_13E.html
Author of Article:   Susan Sheets-Pyenson
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 13
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1994
Year of revision:   1994
Access Date:   September 25, 2023