For me recounting the journey that led up to becoming a geologist is as important as the details of the rewarding career that resulted. It all began when I was about 8 years old when my grandfather returned from an Arizona vacation with a small boxed mineral collection. The mineral collection and his stories of the desert southwest created an early fascination with science and nature and in particular the lure of the desert southwest (this had a lot to do with the future to come as we will see later). Growing up near Windsor, Ontario, a flat land of glacial till and outwash, there were limited opportunities to actually find rocks of any kind on the surface. Fortunately, my family took annual vacations to places like northern Ontario and the Appalachian mountains of the eastern United States where highway road cuts offered opportunities to see and touch rocks of all types. These trips further solidified my interest in rocks, minerals and fossils; however early interests in chemistry, biology and engineering were being fueled by Christmas and birthday gifts consisting of chemistry sets, microscope kits, erector sets and the like. Early interests in reading ranged from Hardy Boys mysteries to outdoor adventures but one of the books that I fondly remember was a Walt Whitman classic set in the early 1960’s about a young boy visiting relatives in the Grand Canyon region on his summer vacation. A highlight of the book was the time the boy spent with an elderly relative prospecting for uranium with a Geiger counter in what I presume was the area on the north rim of the Grand Canyon.
By the time I was ready for high school I knew that a life behind a desk doing accounting or something similar was not for me and I entered into a program that focused on science and technology. These studies only served to en-hance my interest in science but with a focus on chemistry, biology and physics and nothing related to geology as it was not a course option. In my final year of high school a guidance councilor convinced me to apply to a pharmacy program at the University of Toronto. Knowing that it was very difficult to get accepted into this program I also applied to get into general science programs at U of T and several other schools. Sure enough the pharmacy thing did not work out and I ended up at the University of Windsor in a first year program studying biology, physics, chemistry and geology. The rest is history. After a few months of introductory geology lectures by one of the most inspiring professors I have ever had, I decided that I wanted to major in geology.
Following graduation in 1977 with a BSc. in geology, I began the search for employment to utilize what little I really knew about actually being a geologist. It was not until the following year in the spring of 1978 that I landed my first job with Essex Minerals (a Canadian arm of US Steel) to go to the Northwest Territories, first to log and sample core on a greenstone gold project west of Hudson Bay and later to prospect for uranium north of Baker Lake (not unlike in the book mentioned above but in a little harsher environment and with a spectrometer and an EM16 VLF unit instead of a Geiger counter). The summer was a great experience, adding to my desire to become an exploration geologist. With the 24 hours of daylight available, the field days were long but there was also plenty of time to take advantage of other activities like fishing which helped ease the boredom in the off hours. As exciting as some adventures are, after 5 months of swatting mosquitoes, cursing at relentless black flies, a summer high temp of about 60 degrees and being jilted by my girlfriend in a two week old letter, I decided it was time to come home (I think I had contracted what in those days was called “bush fever”).
On my return home following this first exposure to exploration geology, I seriously wondered if spending 5 months a year in a tent in some remote location was what I hoped to be doing in 15 to 20 years time. For-tunately, my mother reminded me that I had dual citizenship and perhaps there were more civilized opportunities in the United States. With that in mind, I purchased an airline ticket that took me to Houston, Tucson and Denver. With minimal experience and no MS degree the opportunities were limited in Houston’s oil and gas industry. The copper industry in AZ was in the dumps but Denver had plenty of opportunities and I decided to move to there. In a short time I landed a job with Freeport Exploration working in Montana and Idaho in the summer months and Denver in the winter. Living in motels and apartments and dining on expense account while in the field sure seemed better than the bug infested camps of the great north. In the fall of 1980 after two years with Freeport I decided to return to school to complete an MS at Colorado State under Tommy Thompson.
Following graduate school new opportunities continued to unfold with companies like St. Joe Minerals, Atlas Precious Metals, Pathfinder Exploration and ultimately with Barrick Gold Exploration as a Senior Exploration Geologist in 1996. Assignments with the various companies took me to places like Lead, SD; Durango, CO; Spokane, WA; Eureka, NV and finally Elko, NV which has been home for the past 19 years. While with Barrick, I have been fortunate to have held positions of increasing responsibility leading to my current role as Vice President Exploration – North America, a position I have held since 2007. The 17 years with Barrick have gone by very quickly and have provided the opportunity to work with a great team of geologists and support groups, all of whom play a critical role in successful exploration programs. With the consistent support of Barrick these programs have enabled me to participate in the discovery and delineation of numerous gold deposits in Nevada and have afforded the opportunity to work on many projects throughout North America. Unfortunately recent years have found me spending more time behind a desk than in the field.
My involvement in GSN began in 1987 while attending a pre-meeting field trip and then the first big symposium in Reno. At the time I was working for Atlas and based in Durango, CO. The following year I transferred to Eureka, NV and I have been a member of GSN ever since. Although never having served as an officer of GSN, in recent years I have tried to ensure that Barrick has provided financial support for the Symposiums and field trips and provided access to the mine sites for the many field trips through the years.
As I reflect back on the thirty odd years of industry experience and the years and events leading up to becoming a geologist, I realize that things have come full circle. My love for nature and science persists. My fascination with Arizona and the southwest United States continues and my wife Kathy and I have a vacation retreat in Sedona which serves as a base camp to explore the forests and desert landscapes I dreamed about as a child growing up in Ontario. Most importantly as with my grandfather, every time I find one of those boxed mineral collections during our rock shop and antique store perusing, I buy them as a gifts for my grandchildren hoping it will kindle a flame leading to a lifelong appreciation of nature and perhaps a career in geology.
John Winton Erwin*
Erin L. Hart
Greg T. Hill
Joseph Kizis, Jr
Brooke J Miller
Justin and Ajeet Milliard
Mia (Cowgill) O'Neal
Shea Clark Smith
Roger C Steininger