2011 J. Norman Emerson Silver Medal

Dr. Paul F. Karrow


As a specialist in Quaternary geology and paleoecology, Paul Karrow has always held a very broad view of his field, one which very much includes an interest in human prehistory and the contributions that his efforts might offer to the field of archaeology. These efforts have not been restricted to research, however. In 1959, while living in Toronto, Paul joined the newly formed Ontario Archaeological Society (OAS), and was twice elected to the position of Vice-President, in 1961 and 1962, respectively. In 1962 he was also appointed chair of the society’s publications committee, and in that role he successfully petitioned the Ontario government for on-going financial support to establish the peer-reviewed journal Ontario Archaeology. In OAS Special Publication No. 9, “The Presidents Remember: Forty Years of the Ontario Archaeological Society” (1990), Paul recalls doing the paste-ups for the first issue of Ontario Archaeology in his hotel room while doing geological fieldwork in Guelph. This coming January will mark the 50th anniversary of Paul’s election as President of the OAS in 1963, and although a move to Waterloo and new academic responsibilities eventually curtailed his executive involvement, he has maintained his membership and interest in the OAS up to the present. His interest in human history is not restricted to the archaeological record, however, as he has been on the Board of Directors of the Waterloo Historical Society since 1989, serving as the society’s president from 2000 to 2002.

In 1963 Paul joined the engineering faculty of the University of Waterloo where he was instrumental in setting up the Department of Earth Sciences in 1965, serving as its founding chair until 1970. He attained the rank of full professor in 1969, and he was awarded the distinction of Distinguished Professor Emeritus in 2001. Paul has continued to teach and pursue an active program of research, including field investigations, since his official retirement in 1999.

Over the course of his academic career, Paul Karrow has distinguished himself as a pre-eminent international scholar of Quaternary science. He has been elected to fellowships by the Geological Society of America and the Geological Association of Canada, and, amongst all his other accolades, in 1995 he was awarded the Canadian Quaternary Association’s most meritorious honour, the W.A. Johnston medal for professional excellence in Quaternary research.

One does not acquire the professional stature that Paul Karrow has achieved without a substantial body of significant research to show for one’s efforts, and this is where Paul’s extraordinary contributions to knowledge are most evident. Although he has conducted research and published on Quaternary topics throughout North America, the main focus of his studies has been the Quaternary geology and paleoecology of the Great Lakes region. As one reviews the more than 260 books, book chapters, monographs, peer-reviewed articles, maps, and conference papers that he has produced or co-authored, it is hard to imagine pursuing any significant paleoecological research in the Great Lakes basin which would not owe an intellectual debt to his work.

From 1967 until his retirement in 1999, Paul Karrow organized an informal Quaternary discussion group at the University of Waterloo, hosting guest speakers from all aspects of Quaternary science, including archaeology. In 1987, he was instrumental in developing this interdisciplinary network into a more formal organization, the Quaternary Sciences Institute (QSI). The very first publication of QSI was a short monograph, co-authored by Paul Karrow along with UW colleagues and QSI members Dr. Barry Warner (Earth Sciences) and Dr. Chris Ellis (Anthropology) along with Region of Waterloo archaeologist John MacDonald, which detailed the geological and archaeological history of the Regional Municipality of Waterloo. In 1990, QSI hosted the first joint meeting of the American and Canadian Quaternary Associations, and in 1991 QSI organized a symposium entitled “Great Lakes Archaeology and Paleoecology: Exploring Interdisciplinary Initiatives for the Nineties.” Paul Karrow contributed single- and co-authored papers to both of these conferences, including revised versions for the 1994 peer-reviewed published proceedings of the latter symposium. In 1999, forty years after Paul first joined the Ontario Archaeological Society, QSI hosted the annual OAS symposium at the University of Waterloo.

Paul’s contributions to the 1991 QSI symposium were not the first of his publications specifically addressing the archaeological implications of paleoecological data. In 1986 he contributed a paper, co-authored with Dr. Barry Warner, to the first Smith Symposium, an interdisciplinary conference which examined the early results from the excavation of the Hiscock site in western New York. In 2001, Dr. Karrow was invited back as a session discussant for the second Smith Symposium, and his commentary was published in the 2003 proceedings of that conference. In the interval between these events, he co-authored with Barry Warner the lead-off paleoecology paper in the OAS London Chapter’s 1990 seminal volume, The Archaeology of Southern Ontario to A.D. 1650, edited by Chris Ellis and Neal Ferris. More recently, he has assisted in the investigation and been a co-author on two conference papers dealing with the geo-archaeology of the Peace Bridge site, and he contributed a chapter to the 2004 Archaeological Survey of Canada Mercury Series volume The Late Palaeo-Indian Great Lakes: Geological and Archaeological Investigations of Late Pleistocene and Early Holocene Environments, edited by Lawrence Jackson and Andrew Hinschelwood.

Paul Karrow has been doing geo-archaeology since long before that term came into existence. Moreover, as his long-time Earth Sciences department colleague, Alan Morgan, has noted, Paul has always gone out of his way to solicit input from, and interact with, the widest possible array of Quaternary scientists whenever the opportunity allowed. Clearly, in the current milieu of scientific specialization, he is one of those increasingly rare scientists who has always endeavoured to keep an eye on the “big picture.” Writing about his early involvement in the field of archaeology, Paul has stated: “Although I was an amateur archaeologist, I was a professional scientist. I was dismayed and saddened by the then-present gulf between the amateur and professional archaeologist, with competition present instead of cooperation” (OAS Special Publication No. 9, 1990). It is clear from this statement, and from the example of his career, that Paul has always viewed intellectual boundariesundefinedwhether within or between academic disciplinesundefinedas counterproductive to the larger scientific enterprise. Indeed, he is very fond of quoting the popular aphorism, “Don’t mistake the edge of your rut for the horizon.”

In conclusion, I trust you will join me in extending heartfelt appreciation for the extraordinary contribution that Dr. Paul Karrow has made to the OAS and the archaeology and paleoecology of the Great Lakes area, his leadership in promoting interdisciplinary Quaternary science, and his record of service to the professional and avocational archaeology communities and beyond, as we bestow upon him the highest honour of the Ontario Archaeological Society, the J. Norman Emerson Silver Medal.

Dr. Robert MacDonald

Response to award of the J. Norman Emerson Silver Medal

This is an occasion for thanks. First of all, thanks to the Ontario Archaeological Society and certain of its members who acted to create this occasion. I thank you very much. I have to say, as I have passed through my living days, the reasons for thanks continue to accumulate. My parents raised me to enjoy and appreciate nature, and to enjoy the fruits of education. My wife, Beth, chose to give up her professional career to stay at home and raise four marvelous children and also to create an attractive and comfortable home in which to live. I am also grateful to the medical profession that cared for me in numerous hospitalizations and patched me up so I could get back on my horse and continue my ride.

After shopping around a bit, I chose to specialize in Quaternary geology. That reinforced my generalist nature and I have enjoyed its breadth and the many opportunities to interact with specialists in other fields, including archeology. Some of my fellow geologists feel I am overspecialized, having specialized in only the last two million years of Earth history. But just as it is relatively short, it is so broad. I regard any field of science that considers in any way its historical context, and more should, fair game for interaction with Quaternary geology. I thank Nelson Gadd, and his associates Jaan Terasmae and Frances Wagner for introducing me to the richness of Quaternary studies.

Quaternary geology embraces history up to the present, and forms a platform for considering the future. In southern Ontario, thoroughly glaciated as it was, our physical substrate is glacial deposits. The story of ice retreat explains our landforms. An important part of that story is the evolution of the Great Lakes through their complex glacial and postglacial events, including Lake Iroquois, Lake Algonquin, and the Nipissing phase. Therein lies the interaction with human history and archeology.

The people who created this occasion will not know that the location for this event is particularly appropriate. It was the birthplace where my wife grew up and I regret she is unable to attend because of illness. Five years of my childhood were spent in Amherstburg, not far south of Windsor, and is the site of Fort Malden. I remember the fort as ruins, before their restoration as a tourist attraction, because its earthworks created the only hill in town suitable for winter sleighriding. Much of Essex county is former lake bottom and is described as “flat”.

It may be of interest to some to know that the Ontario Geological Survey in now engaged in the publication of the final report by Tom Morris on the Quaternary geology of Essex County. As the plans for a new bridge are carried out in the near future, it can be anticipated that a rich treasure of archeological record will be encountered as it is another “crossing place” in the Great Lakes chain, as has so well been documented at Sarnia and Fort Erie. There is much to look forward to. Have fun!

And finally, I’d like to mention our youngest son Tom, who couldn’t be here, has returned to school for his Master’s degree in studies archeology-related, and a grandson, Stuart, who is here, is in second year Anthropology at the University of Waterloo, so the archeology link will continue.

Thank you all.

Paul Karrow



Photo courtesy of Rudy Fecteau

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