Donald R. Reid (1922-2016)

Keeper of the Cliffs

It all started with a little boy with rocks in his pockets. Donald Reid was born near the cliffs that shaped his life and fueled his passion. With no formal training in paleontology, he gathered an amazing collection of fossils, which are now the heart of the Joggins Fossil Centre.

Donald (Don) Reid was born to a coal mining family at Joggins, Nova Scotia, on May 29, 1922, overlooking the fossil cliffs that he would one day help to make world famous. Forced to leave school at a young age to take his place in the mines after his father was injured, Don’s quest for learning never diminished over his 94 years. After the closure of the last mine in Joggins, Don worked at the Nappan Experimental Farm where he earned the deep respect of the chief Research Scientist. All this time, Don lived at Joggins, and whenever possible, walked the cliffs in search of fossils that he carefully collected and lovingly cared for. In 1989, his family supported his dream of opening a modest fossil centre on his property where anyone could come to share the experience of Don’s discoveries. Four years later, that same family support led to the opening on Main Street of the Joggins Fossil Centre. Over the next 18 years, visitors from more than 44 countries and virtually every province, territory and state in North America came through his doors to be introduced to the geological wonder of Joggins. As the significance of his collection grew and gained in reputation, he was visited by the world’s leading researchers in paleontology. Field trips of international geoscience conferences routinely came to his centre and he joined them on their explorations of the cliffs. Many students who worked with Don at the Centre during their summers were inspired by him and went on to become geologists in their own right.

Throughout these years, Don’s fossil centre and tours were the only presence to greet the world’s visitors and to guide them along their journey of discovery at one of the world’s great fossil sites: he was Nova Scotia’s Ambassador. Soon, Don became known as the "Keeper of the Cliffs," a term that he accepted with deep pride.

His collection, 70 years in the making, is an unrivalled census of the biodiversity of the Coal Age, exceeding even that of Sir William Dawson’s in the nineteenth century. Included in that census is the most complete ‘catalogue’ of fossil footprints of the amphibians and reptiles (tetrapods) of the Coal Age, and unique discoveries including a rare relative of the dragonflies. In 2015, paleontologists announced that the largest known footprints of a Coal Age tetrapod would be named in his honour. The rich record of biodiversity represented in his collection was central to the nomination of the Joggins Fossil Cliffs as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008. As a new centre in support of the UNESCO nomination was being developed, Don made the selfless act of bequeathing his collection that he had cared for and grown for more than seven decades, to the new Joggins Fossil Centre, so that they could be enjoyed by all who visit this unique Nova Scotian and world-famous site for years to come.

The deep respect in which he is held by the geoscience community led the Atlantic Geoscience Society to amend their award of Distinguished Service to include those rare individuals who have made a lasting contribution to the geological understanding of our region regardless of official education. Don Reid was awarded the honour in 2013.

On October 12, 2016, Don was invested into the Order of Nova Scotia with the support of family and his strong ties within the geology community. On November 17, 2016, this quiet humble man who spent his life sharing the wonders of his beloved fossil cliffs passed away peacefully to be remembered by many.



Donald Reid's former home ~ This is private property. Please do not trespass.