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Massey Medal 'a considerable honour' for Orillia man

Derek Ford, driven by 'the thrill of adventure,' recognized by Royal Canadian Geographical Society for influential career as geologist
2019-11-29 Derek Ford Massey Medal
Geologist Derek Ford, an Orillia resident, has been awarded the Massey Medal by the Royal Canadian Geographical Society. Nathan Taylor/OrilliaMatters

An Orillia man’s long career as a geologist has been recognized with a prestigious award.

Derek Ford was recently presented with the Massey Medal, awarded by the Royal Canadian Geographical Society. The medal recognizes “outstanding career achievement in the exploration, development or description of the geography of Canada.”

Ford’s work has mostly focused on karst, a feature formed when soluble rocks, such as limestone, dissolve. He has written multiple theses on the subject and his research has taken him as far north as Baffin Island and as close to home as the Carden Alvar.

“I’ve seen a great deal of Canada,” Ford said recently from his home office, sitting at a desk next to a shelf packed with books on karst.

Ford’s work helped lead not only to the creation of the Nahanni National Park Reserve in the Northwest Territories, but also to its eventual expansion. He has also been a consultant for the UNESCO World Heritage program.

“I was the person you involved if you had caves or karsts at your site,” he said.

His work and expertise have been celebrated, but so have the former McMaster University professor’s students. Ford’s first PhD student was Michael Goodchild, known for his work on geographic information science. Another student, Xue Guofu, went on to become chief of geological engineering for the Three Gorges Dam in China.

It was his students who determined the likely cause of the deadly E. coli outbreak in Walkerton in 2000.

All of these accomplishments might not have been possible had Ford not emigrated to Canada. After completing his undergraduate degree at Oxford University, a job offer brought him and his wife, Margaret, to Canada in 1959. He taught in McMaster’s geography department before being cross-appointed to the geology department.

When asked where his interest in geology came from, Ford said, “The thrill of adventure.”

When studying caves, “I got hooked,” he said. “I was really fascinated.”

Receiving the Massey Medal “is a considerable honour,” he said.

“I’m quite chuffed. It elevates your status among your peers, but I’m old now and I don’t give a damn about that anymore,” he said with a laugh. “It’s nice to have it.”


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Nathan Taylor

About the Author: Nathan Taylor

Nathan Taylor is the desk editor for Village Media's central Ontario news desk in Simcoe County and Newmarket.
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