Harold Williams Geophysics


The Story

An expert in the evolution and tectonic development of mountain belts, Harold “Hank” Williams advanced the theory of colliding super-continents for the very first time in the 1970’s by helping to transform the notion of Continental Drift into the Theory of Plate Tectonics. In noting how mountain belts such as the Appalachians arise, he described the evidence for Iapetus, the predecessor of the modern Atlantic Ocean. A sampling of rocks leading to this analysis is preserved and protected in Gros Morne National Park of western Newfoundland, which has qualified for UNESCO World Heritage Site recognition under his advocacy.

Prof. Williams started in 1961 at the Geological Survey of Canada but left in 1968 and joined the faculty at Memorial University of Newfoundland, where he was the first to receive the prestigious title of University Research Professor and the first to be appointed Alexander Murray Professor. He was the first to win both the Past President’s Medal and the Logan Medal of the Geological Association of Canada. He was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada at age 38, a very rare accolade, and 15 years later was awarded the Miller Medal by its Academy of Science. First winner of the R.J.W. Douglas Medal of the Canadian Society of Petroleum Geologists, he was also the first geoscientist to be awarded an Isaac Walton Killam Memorial Scholarship and the first scientist of any kind to hold this award for four full years. He has over 250 publications to his credit and for several years in the past three decades has been the most cited Canadian geoscientist in the world.

Williams, a native of St. John’s, Newfoundland, is rigorous, but reserved, a colourful dynamic and inspirational lecturer. He is also a celebrity in both learned and less-than-learned circles as a fiddle virtuoso and as a savant and wit with a distinctively Newfoundland flavor.

Source: Current perspectives in the Appalachian Orogen. Geological Association of Canada, Special Paper 41, 1995.


The Person

March 14, 1934
St. John's, Newfoundland
St. John's Newfoundland
Reserved, rigorous, colourful, inspirational.
Other Interests
Fiddle player
Professor of Earth Sciences
Memorial University
  • BSc Memorial U., 1956
  • MSc Memorial U., 1958
  • PhD U. of Toronto, 1961
  • 1976 Isaak Walton Killam Memorial Scholarship
  • 1981 Douglas Medal, Canadian Society of Petroleum Geologists
  • 1987 Miller Medal, Royal Society of Canada
  • 1988 Logan Medal, Geological Association of Canada
Last Updated
September 16, 2015

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