A building material used in Manitoba for nearly 200 years, from trading forts to the modern architecture of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, now enjoys international recognition on a par with Carrara marble used in ancient Rome.
Tyndall Stone – a fossil-laden limestone dating back 450 million years – has been designated a World Heritage Stone by a subcommittee of the International Union of Geological Sciences.
The cream-colored stone often has a carpet-like stain from marine organisms that lived at the bottom of a tropical sea that once covered the area, making it a popular feature in architecture.
Canada is the only source in the world for the stone and Manitoba is the only place where it is mined.
“It’s an honour. We’ve always said it’s not like other limestones. There are other limestones in Canada, but this is a unique deposit and the fossilization is really different,” Donna Gillis, fourth-generation co-owner – along with her brother Keith — of the Gillis Quarries in Garson, Man., about 15 miles northeast of Winnipeg.
“We have that as something special,” she added of the stains.
Founded in 1910 by August Gillis, the family-owned quarry is the only one in the world to mine the stone. There were a handful of others—all in Garson—but the Great Depression claimed most of them as others retired. Gillis subsequently acquired the properties.
Tyndall Stone was discovered in 1823 by Major Stephen Long of the Hudson’s Bay Company, who first noticed an exposure along the banks of the Red River near Selkirk.
The stone was first used to build the warehouse and walls of the HBC’s Lower Fort Garry in 1832 and St Andrew’s Anglican Church in 1845, both of which remain standing and in use.
But it wasn’t until 1894 that the large Garson deposit was discovered by a farmer who encountered an impenetrable layer while digging a well. The first major quarry opened in 1898 and the stone got its name because goods were shipped by rail from the nearby community of Tyndall.
The name is now a trademark of Gillis Quarries.
August Gillis first got involved in cutting the stone in a small shop in Winnipeg in 1910, before buying a Garson quarry in 1915.
The stone can now be found in buildings throughout Winnipeg – the Legislative Building, the former Hudson’s Bay Building in downtown, City Hall, the Manitoba Museum, the Winnipeg Art Gallery, the Courts of Justice, Westminster United Church, Union Station, St. Boniface Cathedral, the Civic Auditorium and much more.
It’s truly a signature of the city, said Graham Young, curator of geology and paleontology at the Manitoba Museum, who led the talk with Brian Pratt, a geology professor at the University of Saskatchewan.
“It’s great to get some recognition for Tyndall Stone on the world stage. It’s been such an important stone throughout Canada and building this country,” he said.
It is not uncommon to see people pointing to fossils in the stone on buildings or step slabs made from Tyndall. But it’s just as special for those who mine the stone, Gillis said.
“When you cut into a solid piece of rock, you don’t know what you’re going to find. It’s a mystery,” she said.
“We could hit something like, wow, this is really different, this is pretty amazing. And then there are some that we’ve seen before, but you always see them in different ways, different angles, different orientations in the stone. “
Outside of Manitoba, the stone has been used for the Canadian Parliament Buildings in Ottawa, the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Quebec, the Saskatchewan Legislative Building, the Banff Springs Hotel in Alberta, and the Empress Hotel in BC.
Abroad, it resides in Canada House in London, England, the Canadian Embassy in Berlin and private homes in Australia and Japan, according to Gillis.
“That’s one of the reasons it made it onto the World Heritage List of Stone Resources, because it’s widely used and can be used in a variety of ways,” she said, noting that she reviewed the submission before sending it to the committee. went.
Tyndall Stone is the only Canadian stone on the global list, which includes 32 stones designated as heritage resources.
“This designation recognizes dimension stones that have broad significance to humanity,” states a press release about the designation.
Young hopes the Manitoban designation also helps underline “how lucky we are to have Tyndall Stone, what an interesting material it is, and how important geology is to our daily lives.”
While the designation may not lead to a rush of new orders, it will likely pique the interest of fossil hunters, Gillis said.
“We already have more paleontologists and geology people who, if they’re on vacation often, like to come over and see if they can look around a little bit, because it’s very intriguing,” she said.
Thanks to that access, the Manitoba Museum has built up a significant collection of fossils that are used for scientific research, exhibits and programs, Young said.
“Actually, many scientific papers have been published that either deal directly with Tyndall Stone fossils or consider Tyndall Stone as an important example in understanding ancient environments.”