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The Career of Helen Belyea...

This web site will be describing Dr. Helen Belyea's life, career and contribution to science.


(Government of Canada. "Helen Belyea". Canada's Digital Collections. Retrieved from: Google Images 12 January 2007.)

Helen Belyea


            Canadian born geologist Dr. Helen Belyea, originated out of St. John,  New Brunswick (Bodo).  Before her astounding contribution to science, Dr. Belyea served in the Second World War as a lieutenant in the navy (Science).  One would not think that the two occupations, naval lieutenant and geologist, would coincide however perhaps her occupation preceding her geological endeavors allowed Dr. Belyea the strength to presever during a time when women were repressed and  ridiculed.

Dr. Helen Belyea, although sympathetic, was never an active member of the feminist movement.  However, she became a pivotal figure in the feminist movement as the first female geologist to work with men in the field before 1971 (Canada).  Dr. Belyea practised geology during the 19th century when women were not recognized for their geologic work.  People of the 19th century thought a woman’s place was in the home and that it was extremely improper for women to be working in nature along side a male colleague who was not a relative.  Another preconceived view of a woman’s incapability in the field of geology was that women did not possess the required strength to carry samples during field studies across rough terrain (Bodo).  So, what could women contribute to geology?  Unfortunately, such preconceptions of women placed limits on women’s work in geology until the 1947 discovery of oil in Leduc, Alberta.

            During the post World War Two oil boom, the Leduc oil field was stumbled upon.  This two-hundred million barrel discovery had a profound impact on Alberta and greatly transformed Alberta’s economy and population.  Preceding the discovery of gas and oil, Alberta’s prime source of income during 1935 had been agriculture. However, after the discovery in Leduc, resource mining rose to account for 40% of Alberta’s income while agriculture fell, accounting for only 15%.  Correspondingly, Alberta’s population also transformed, growing from a population of about 800,000 in 1941, to a population of approximately 1.3 million in 1960.  Thus Alberta became the most highly populated prairie province (The Applied).

            Following the accidental discovery in Leduc, Helen Belyea was hired by the Geological Survey of Canada, which was strictly male dominated (Bodo).  Along with one other geologist, Helen worked as a technologist and monitored the oil find (Science).  Helen became the first female geologist before the 1970’s to work along side a male colleague during field research (Science).  This broke all the restraints that had previously been set against female geologists by allowing people to see that  females did in fact, possess the physical abilities necessary to contribute in geological field work.  Helen Belyea paved the way for future female geologists.

            After her work in Alberta, Helen focused her studies on the Devonian Systems of Western Canada and its relation to the adjacent sedimentary basin. She poured her heart and soul into this meticulousl research writing several academic papers on her findings and synthesis, which gained her recognition from colleagues as well as numerous prestigious awards.  Helen's findings helped the Geological Survey of Canada to map the southern Northwest Territories which resulted in the “Geological History of Western Canada”, also known as “The Atlas” (Bodo).

            Dr. Belyea retired in 1975 but continued working as a research scientist emeritus at the Institute of Sedimentary and Petroleum Geology (Bodo).  She received many honors for her work in geology such as the Barlow Memorial medal for her economic geology paper; she was elected ‘Fellow’ of the Royal Society of Canada, Officer of the Order of Canada and was an honorary member of the Canadian Society of Petroleum Geologists (Canada).



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Personal Facts

Date of Birth: February 11, 1913
Education: Bachelor's and Master's degrees in geology from Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia.  Her doctoral thesis was titled "The Geology of Musquach Ares, New Brunswick" and it earned her a Ph.D. from Northwestern University.
Family History: Loyalists French Huguenot origin
First Professional Role: A Lieutenant in the navy's WRCNS
Astrological Sign:
Other Interests: Mountaineering, skiing, walking, swimming, horseback riding. Membeer, Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra League. Assoc. Director of Calgary Zoological Society.
Date of Death: May 20, 1986

a pivotal founder for female geologists