Harold "Hank" Williams

Harold "Hank" Williams


1934 - 2010

Harold “Hank” Williams was a premier Canadian field geologist known worldwide for his keen ability to glean critical relationships from the rock record and compile these data into meaningful regional syntheses; he packaged these talents with both an unforgettable personality and notable musical talent. He was a leading expert on the geology of the Appalachian mountain system.

Hank was born in St. John’s, Newfoundland (1934), where he grew up in its rough and tumble Southside Hills section. He received his BSc (1956) and MSc (1958) at Memorial University of Newfoundland and proceeded to earn his PhD (1961) from the University of Toronto. He joined the Geological Survey of Canada (1961) and built a strong reputation for field geology and regional synthesis.


It was during his tenure at the survey that he penned one of his most influential scientific papers, The Appalachians in northeastern Newfoundland: A two-sided symmetrical system, which appeared in the American Journal of Science in 1964. In this paper, he described evidence for an early ocean; his description influenced one of his former mentors and fellow ‘Pioneer of Appalachian Geology’, J. Tuzo Wilson to subsequently pose the question “Did the Atlantic Ocean close and then re-open?” in the title of a Nature article in 1966 – an entirely novel idea at the time.


In 1968 Hank accompanied Ward Neale to the small geology department at his alma mater, Memorial University. While helping Ward forge a world-class geology department, Hank proceeded to create an impressive scientific career, accumulating numerous awards and accolades. At the relatively young age of 38 he was named a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 1972. He was the first to receive both the Past President’s Medal (1976) and the Logan Medal (1988) from the Geological Association of Canada. He was the first recipient of the Douglas Medal from the Canadian Society of Petroleum Geologists in 1981. He was the first geoscientist to be awarded an Izaak Walton Killam Memorial Scholarship (1976 to 1979) and the first scientist to hold it for four years. In 1984, he was named university research professor, one of the first two at Memorial University; he was also named the James Chair Professor at Saint Francis Xavier University, Nova Scotia, Canada, in 1989. Finally, he held the position of Alexander Murray professor from 1990 to 1995.


His most recognized contribution to Appalachian geology is his 1978 Tectonic Lithofacies of the Appalachian Orogen, a colorful, 11’ long landmark map that was the first to bring into focus all of the first order attributes of this classic mountain belt.  It is truly difficult to miss when unfurled on any wall, or in at least one reported case, a bedroom ceiling.


As a scientist of global renown, he is recognized best by the geological community for his acute observational abilities, his unique insights in synthesizing regional geology, and for his reserved, mischievous, and compassionate personality. As well, he was known to a much broader social spectrum for his down to earth wit, common sense, and ability to play multiple stringed instruments and the tin whistle.

Head of Border Trail Between US and Canada

Maine Chapter of the International Appalachian Trail • 27 Blake Street * Presque Isle, ME 04769