David Proudfoot

The Dave Proudfoot award is given to the best student presentation at each CANQUA biennial meeting. The award commemorates a Canadian Quaternarist who passed away in the prime of his life after an outstanding student and professional career.

Dave Proudfoot grew up in Ottawa and attended Carleton University as an undergraduate, discovering the joys of geology, and recognizing how his love of the outdoors could be translated into a profession. His graduate student career was protracted, and spent at the University of Alberta.

His Ph.D research was based on the superb Medicine Hat exposures, and with support from the Alberta Research Council this work was extended into the Lethbridge area. His final thesis represents a fraction of the work he completed in the area, but unfortunately the main results were never published; Dave’s reluctance to commit himself to paper was well-known, and much of his influence was through presentations, field trips to his thesis area, and informal communication. Perhaps because of this, the innovation apparent in his research has not been adequately recognized. His project started as a “conventional” stratigraphical study, trying to extend the established stratigraphy at Medicine Hat using boreholes and geophysics. It became apparent to him that the exposures were complex sedimentologically, and that different techniques were required. In the late 1970s, few were applying rigorous sedimentological techniques to glacigenic sediments, and Dave was in the forefront of a group whose detailed description, understanding of modern analogues, and careful interpretation using facies models revolutionized the manner in which we interpret glacial sediments. Dave was one of the first to recognize the nature of glacier dynamics through the interpretations of various faceis found in glacial sediments. It became apparent to him that a variety of associated facies that had previously been interpreted as presenting different glacial events, could be deposited by the same glacier. His detailed, comprehensive study using modern analogs resulted in a major revision of the Quaternary stratigraphy of southeastern Alberta

He was an innovator in other ways also- he was one of the first to use standard rock climbing techniques to examine inaccessible parts of the sections. Several Medicine Hat residents got the surprise of their lives when a ski-goggled climber would emerge over the cliff edge carrying a large pack (the ski goggles were essential to protect the eyes from the constant winds and dust). The tills in Medicine Hat were rock hard, making conventional clast-fabric analysis impossible. Dave developed a micro-fabric method using impregnated thin sections to provide greater information than that visible to the naked eye. He had a strong interest in statistical techniques, and the application of computers to geological problems.

His influence on his fellow graduate students was great. As the senior of many Nat Rutter supervised students in the mid 1970s through to mid 1980s, his ideas were influential and the work of many now-prominent researchers benefited from visits to Medicine Hat with Dave, and the always lively discussion in the bar or over coffee. He let a land-mark field trip to Medicine Hat for the INQUA commission on glacial deposits in the early 80s, where he was able to benefit from the advice of international researchers.

Dave left Edmonton in 1985 to take up a post-doctoral position with the GSC, and shortly afterwards accepted a position as a project geologist with the Newfoundland Geological Survey. By 1987 he was senior geologist in terrain sciences, and applying his knowledge to mapping on the Northern Peninsula, and in the Baie d’Espoir area. He was still innovating- his insistence on collecting mapping data digitally gave the Survey a huge lead in the current push towards digital data delivery.

After five years in Newfoundland, Dave and his wife Rochelle left to travel, and to investigate opportunities for running an adventure travel business in Baja California. However Dave quickly returned to geology, and soon established himself as a highly regarded consultant in British Columbia, based out of his home on Denman Island. For the next few years Dave applied his knowledge of Quaternary geology towards terrain mapping issues in the forest industry. Besides working on numerous projects, Dave taught field courses in this growing field to assist new and upcoming consultants in this specialized field. Sadly, he contracted cancer and after a short illness passed away in 1998. His wife Rochelle continues to live at their home on the island.

His Ph.D. supervisor Nat Rutter said of Dave during his acceptance speech for the Johnston Medal,

“Dave was everything one would want in a graduate student – smart, keen, congenial, possessing unlimited energy and the ability to carry out a research project with little supervision. In the late seventies and early eighties, a great deal of progress was being made in till genesis, largely brought about by the INQUA Commission led by Alexis Dreimanis. This excited Dave, who decided to re-examine the well-known Medicine Hat sections where Archie Stalker had developed a glacial stratigraphy, based mainly on field observations. Dave’s idea was to examine till facies and properties in order to decipher the mode of deposition and determine whether till units were deposited by the same glacial event or not. Dave’s careful, detailed, innovative work remains a milestone and a legacy to this approach to till genesis (‘A Study of Quaternary Sediments, S.E. Alberta’, Ph.D. Thesis, University of Alberta). We’ll miss Dave very much.”