Manitoulin Island: a mecca for fabulous fossil finds

Students learn about the different fossil finds Mr. Caesar has collected. photos by Sharon Jackson

by Sharon Jackson

KAGAWONG—Students of River School, hosted by 4elements Living Arts and Manitoulin Streams, were in for a special treat this past weekend when retired history (Manitoulin Secondary School) teacher Bill Caesar shared his love and knowledge of fossils.

“Manitoulin Island,” stated Mr. Caesar, “is one the most amazing areas for fossils. It is a gold mine. I have travelled Europe and the Americas and (they have) nothing to what we have here. Hook Island (beside Benjamin Island) is loaded with fossils,” he added.

Mr. Caesar shared that, “We have what the Germans call lagerstatten: fossil deposits that are rich with varied, well-preserved fossils.”

In 1913, when the swing bridge was built, paleontologists flooded the area due to the amount of granite and limestone deposits.

Gordon’s Park in Tehkummah has some of Manitoulin’s best coral finds. The two varieties are honeycomb and chain.

“Kagawong,” he said enthusiastically, “is the heart of fossil country.” He explained that Bridal Veil Falls is the dividing line between two age groups: Silurian (395 to 430 million years) and Ordovician (430 to 500 million years).

Prior to 480 million years ago, there was no plant life—nothing but bare rock. Shallow ocean water covered the Island and what we know as the Cup and Saucer was abundant with sea shells.

“How are fossils made?” asked one of the students.

“When a creature falls down to the sea, if soft bodied, they disintegrate,” Mr. Caesar responded. However, if they have a hard shell like a crab, mud seeps into the cracks, fills the shell and everything hardens.

The stick or moss fossils—one of 5,000 species alive in the world, are thought to contain a cure for cancer.

A few years ago when a crew was working on McLean’s Mountain, Mr. Caesar asked if he could remove some of the fossils found. They said help yourself and he drove away with a 1/2-ton truck bed full of treasures.

Mr. Caesar, whose ardor for fossils is apparent, has a vast collection at his home that he shares with wife Mary. He carries tools in both his boat and vehicle just in case. Mary, who is an avid gardener, supports his passion for fossils and has some of them tucked in amongst her flowers.

Following his presentation, Mr. Caesar very generously offered each River School student to pick a fossil from one of his collections. Necklaces were made and hung from black cord, also donated by Mr. Caesar.