Fonds consists of the articles, reports and official correspondence of Robert Bell covering his career with the Geological Survey of Canada, 1857-1908. Also Bell's extensive personal correspondence and subject files plus the Bell Family papers. The subject files include extensive documentation on mining in Canada and Indian legends. Fonds also consists of photographs documenting the personal and professional life of Bell, including views of various expeditions to the Northwest Territories, northern Ontario, northern Quebec, Labrador, Manitoba, Alberta and British Columbia; shots of flora and fauna; assorted rivers and waterways; and portraits of family, friends, Indians and Inuits. The fonds includes paintings by Olga Bell, M. Festa and B. Muhk; drawings by Henry Farmer, Margaret, Olga and Robert Bell; watercolours by Olga Bell; and prints by Robert Bell and Theordore Heinrich. Subjects include: family members; flora and fauna; and Sir William Dawson. Fonds also consists of maps of Canada and the United States and plans of Canadian bridges relating to the career of Robert Bell, geologist with the Geological Survey of Canada..
Bell, Robert, 1841-1917: Robert Bell was born in Toronto, June 3, 1841. He was educated at Prescott County schools, McGill University (Faculty of Arts, 1858-61; Faculty of Medicine, 1869-78), and the University of Edinburgh (1864). Because his father, the Rev. Andrew Bell of Perth, Ontario, was a leading amateur geologist and a close friend of Sir William Logan, founder of the Geological Survey of Canada (GSC), Robert Bell developed an early interest in natural history, and especially in geology.
In 1857, at the age of 15, Bell joined the summer field staff of the GSC, the start of over fifty years of fieldwork that would continue throughout his career, even after his retirement from the GSC in 1908.
During the period 1863-67 when Bell was a professor of Chemistry and Natural History at Queen's University, he still pursued his geological interests by working for the GSC during the summers and by investigating privately owned mineral properties. Throughout his life he was involved in a variety of private business interests, including speculation and several partnerships in mining enterprises in Nova Scotia, Ontario and Newfoundland, and extensive land holdings in Manitoba.
By 1868, having experienced some difficulties at Queen's, Bell had moved into full-time employment in the GSC. As a pioneer Canadian geologist, he explored and surveyed much of Canada east of the Rocky Mountains. On two Hudson Bay expeditions (S.S. Neptune, 1884; S.S. Alert, 1885), he served as geologist, naturalist and medical officer. Although his GSC career was sometimes surrounded with public controversy and personal frustration, he steadily advanced, being appointed an Assistant Director in 1877, Chief Geologist in 1890, and Acting Director in 1901. His great disappointment was that his position as GSC director was never made permanent. After he was superannuated in 1908, Bell devoted much of his time to private mineral explorations and his Manitoba farm lands.
Bell's personal interests extended beyond geology to history, native customs and folklore, archaeology, geography, forestry and conservation, as well as colonization and farming. Besides writing over two hundred published reports and pamphlets, he wrote numerous speeches and articles which reflected his various interests. Bell was an active participant in many professional associations such as the American Institute of Mining Engineers, the Canadian Mining Institute, the Canadian and American Forestry Associations, the Geology Society of London, the Royal Society (London), and the Royal Society of Canada. His scientific and academic distinctions included, honorary degrees from Queen's, the American Geographical Society Medal and the Patron's or King's Gold Medal (Royal Geographical Society of London).
In 1873 Bell married Agnes Smith (1854-1927) of Scotland. They had four children: Edith Margaret (Daisy), Alice, Donald and Olga. In spite of their many separations caused by Bell's fieldwork and Mrs. Bell's frequent voyages home to Scotland, they were a close and devoted family. Bell died at his farm in Rathwell, Manitoba, June 18, 1917.