Geology

As Fundy’s giant tides erode the towering sea cliffs and wash the shores, many interesting rocks, fossils, zeolites and semi-precious stone are revealed. With its fascinating geology dating back hundreds of millions of years, the Bay of Fundy is paradise for geologists.

Southwest Head, Grand Manan
Southwest Head, Grand Manan

While combing the beaches at low tides, a trained eye will easily spot such finds as fossils and zeolites. Other discoveries may include amethyst, agate, calcite, coal, copper and jasper and, depending on which section of the Bay of Fundy being explored, one may also discover 200 million year old basalt formations or 350 million year old Carboniferous rock or rocks from the Pre-Cambrian or Devonian periods. These treasures are replenished annually as Fundy’s giant tides beat against and erode the cliffs that line the Bay.

Top 10 Geological Attractions

Here is what Ken Adams, Director/Curator of the Fundy Geological Museum in Parrsboro, NS, lists as the top ten geological attractions specific to the Bay of Fundy region:

Hopewell Rocks at Low Tide
Hopewell Rocks at Low Tide
  1. Grand Manan: Jurassic lava flows
  2. Hopewell Rocks: Tides, Erosion, Glaciation
  3. Joggins: World-class Carboniferous section, Coal age fossils, World’s oldest reptile fossils
  4. Cape Chignecto Provincial Park: Plate tectonics, Formation and break up of Pangaea, Glaciation
  5. Parrsboro Region: Coal age trackways, Triassic-Jurassic volcanics, Sand dunes, Lake beads, Dinosaurs, Glaciation
  6. Springhill: Coal mines
  7. Five Islands Provincial Park / Economy: Walk the sea floor, Triassic/Jurassic boundary marks a major extinction event, Archosaurs
  8. Noel Shore / Burntcoat Head: Site of the highest recorded tides, Triassic archosaurs
  9. Windsor / Blue Beach: Open pit gypsum mines, Lower Carboniferous marine invertebrates
  10. Blomidon / North Mountain: Basalt, Amethyst, Agate, Dinosaur and archosaur footprints and traces

Ken also recommends checking out the geological highways maps produced by the Atlantic Geoscience Society for an extended list of regional geological highlights.

“The diversity of geology along the Bay of Fundy could stand on its owns as a ‘must see’. The cross section of geological time exposed by the tides highlights the formation and subsequent break up of Pangaea, and the evolution of the Bay, over the last 400 million years, into the structure we know today. Examples of a wide variety of geological and paleontological processes can be found along Fundy shores. Continental drift and plate tectonics, igneous intrusions and volcanic eruptions, changing climates, ancient environments, the development of the plant and animal life, the world’s oldest reptiles and Canada’s earliest dinosaurs, the list goes on…” - Ken Adams, Director/Curator, Fundy Geological Museum, Parrsboro, Nova Scotia, 2006.

Links of Geological Interest

Fundy Trail Stonehammer Geopark
Fundy Trail Stonehammer Geopark
  • Avalon Highlands – A mix of rocks from the Pre-Cambrian and Devonian periods surrounded by sedimentary rock.  Found in the Province of Nova Scotia and defined by a 100km fault running parallel to the Bay of Fundy.
  • Basalt Headlands - Volcanic ridges overlaid on sedimentary sandstone.  Caused by the shifting of the continents in the late Triassic and early Jurassic periods, which fractured the Earth’s crust and created several volcanoes in close proximity.  The lava spilled on to sand plains and as it cooled, two basalt ridges were formed; one along the Northern edge of the Minas Basin and a second between Cape Blomidon and Digby, Nova Scotia.
  • Cape Chignecto Provincial Park – Comprised of 600-foot towering cliffs, 18 kilometers of pristine coastline, steep ravines and old-growth forests, Cape Chignecto Provincial Park is found on the Western tip of the Avalon Eco-Zone along the Bay of Fundy. Not only is the park a great place to observe the tides, as they continuously lap at the base of the cliffs, Cape Chignecto is home to some of the province’s most significant geological deep valleys, fantastic hiking trails, rare plant life, scenic views and rich cultural heritage.
  • Chignecto Ridged Plain – Carboniferous rock over 350 million years old.  Layers have been pushed into a series of folds, filled in by sandstone and stretching in to the Chignecto Bay.  The sandstone is embedded with fossils and layers of coal bands.
  • Five Islands Provincial Park – Signs throughout Five Islands Provincial Park provide visitors with information about the region’s geology and it is easy to spend the hours of low tide beach combing, clam digging and rock hounding.
  • Fundy Geological Museum – Found in Parrsboro, Nova Scotia, the Fundy Geological Museum provides visitors with a look into the ancient world of dinosaurs and the opportunity to examine mineral treasures revealed by the washing of the giant Fundy tides.
  • Fundy National Park of Canada – Found near the head of the Bay of Fundy in Alma, New Brunswick, Fundy National Park is home to two tale-telling rock formations.  While the rocks found around Owls Head are made of sandstone, the volcanic rocks at Point Wolfe tell of the shifting of the continents and are comprised of white quartz veins, swirling folds and criss-crossing fractures.
  • Grand Manan Island – Visible to even the untrained eye is a line dividing the Eastern side of the island from the Western side.  While the Eastern section of Grand Manan is comprised of pre-Acadian sedimentary rock, the Western division of the island is made of younger, Triassic volcanic rock and its basalt columns are common inclusions in photos of Grand Manan.  Many unique geological formations can be discovered on this Fundy Isle.
  • The Hopewell Rocks Ocean Tidal Exploration Site – The famous Hopewell sea stacks were formed gradually over a period spanning from a time 600 million years ago through  the Ice Age just 13,000 years old.  Of course, Mi’kmaq legend tells a different story of their creation.
  • Fossil Hunting
    Fossil Hunting
    Joggins Fossil Cliffs – Located at the head of the Bay of Fundy, these 75-foot high cliffs are exposed to constant tidal action and as Fundy’s 50-foot tides erode the cliffs, new fossils are revealed including a rich variety of flora, diverse amphibian fauna, important trackways and some of the world’s first reptiles. The Joggins Fossil Cliffs became famous in 1851 with the discovery of fossilized tree trunks found in their original positions. When these trunks were closer examined, tiny bones were noticed which turned out to be one of the most important fossil discoveries in Nova Scotia. These remains were from one of the world’s first reptiles and evidence that land animals had lived during the “Coal Age”. Today the Joggins Fossil Cliffs are recognized in a world-class paleontological site.
  • New Brunswick Museum – In the “Our Changing Earth” gallery at the New Brunswick Museum hear the geologic story of the planet Earth dating back 4.5 billion years and learn about the geologic history of the Province of New Brunswick, beginning just one billion years ago in the fifth geologic era, including many interesting geological discoveries.
  • Reversing Falls – In Saint John, New Brunswick, visit the Reversing Falls to see the place where two continents collided long ago.  There is a distinctive line showing where the collision occurred and each continent was formed by a different type of rock.

Recommended Reads

As with any topic, numerous articles have been written over the years detailing the uniqueness of Fundy’s geology. For the reading pleasure of our geologist friends, we offer a list of recommended books pertaining to the geology of the Bay.

  • Dawning of the Dinosaurs: The Story of Canada’s Oldest Dinosaurs (Harry Thurston, Nimbus Publishing 1994)
  • The Fossil Cliffs of Joggins (Laing Ferguson, Nova Scotia Museum 1988)
  • The Last Billion Years: A Geological History of the Maritime Provinces of Canada (Atlantic Geoscience Society, Nimbus Publishing 2001)
  • Tidal Life: A Natural History of the Bay of Fundy (Harry Thurston, Nimbus Publishing 1990)

9 comments received

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    Tania

    I’m planning a trip to New Brunswick soon & I wondered if it’s illegal to collect rocks, minerals and fossils there?

      Mike Postma

      Hi Tania, rocks are definitely fair game and I would assume minerals are as well (but I am not a 100% sure about that). As for collecting fossils, you need a permit in Nova Scotia, but I am not sure about New Brunswick. Try asking the folks at Stonehammer (http://www.stonehammergeopark.com) as they would know for sure and would also be able to direct you to the best sites.

    Wes

    I was wondering if there is a geologist around can tell me what a huge chunk of Amethyst is worth One big cathedral at that.( all six flat sides to one point)

    Donald smith

    Heard about a giant beaver tooth found on deer is, anybody know where? I’m from there originally& hope to go back for a visit soon.

    Kate

    Two questions:
    -what are the best beaches in NB for beachcombing…one(s) that would have the greatest success of finding amethyst ?
    -is there a good site for fossil hunting that is easily accessible and where you can keep the fossil? Thanks!

      Mike Postma

      I’m really not sure about amethyst in NB.. I know you can find it in the Parrsboro area. I’ve had great luck find sea glass on beaches along the shore of Campobello Island. I would say the Fundy Isles (Grand Manan, Campobello and Deer Island) are the best for exploring. New River Beach is a beautiful sandy beach to walk along.

      As for collecting fossils. I know you need a permit in Nova Scotia, but I am not sure about New Brunswick. I would try to contact the folks at Stonehammer (http://www.stonehammergeopark.com). They would know for sure and would also be able to direct you to the best sites.

    Angèle Le BLanc

    Can you give me an idea as to what can be found on Parlee Beach in Shediac?

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