by George J. Dance

Arthur Philemon Coleman

Arthur Philemon Coleman (2852-1939). Courtesy University of Toronto Image Bank & Wikimedia Commons.

A.P. Coleman
Born Arthur Philemon Coleman
April 4, 1852
Lachute, Quebec
Died February 26, 1939 (aged 86)
Nationality Canada
Fields Geology
Alma mater Victoria College, University of Breslau
Notable awards Murchison Medal, Flavelle Medal, Penrose Medal

Arthur Philemon Coleman FRSC (April 4, 1852 - February 26, 1939) was a Canadian geologist and explorer. He has been called "one of Canada's most beloved scientists."[1]


A.P. Coleman was born in Lachute, Quebec, the second of five children of Emmeline Maria Adams (the sister of Mary Electa Adams) and Methodist clergyman Rev. Francis Coleman. He grew up in rural eastern Ontario, spending his summers working on neighbors' farms as the family had little money.[2]

Coleman was both an excellent student, and a gifted artist. He continued to draw and paint throughout his life, sketching his trips and expeditions.[2]

Coleman began his post-secondary education at Victoria College in Coburg, majoring in geology.[2] As he later wrote: "It is my opinion, narrow and biassed, perhaps, that every man, and especially every theologian, should study geology. Every man should know where he stands. He should look out for his foundations, should know where his daily bread comes from; and for this reason should study the earth that supports him."[3] He received his Ph.D. from the University of Breslau in 1881.[2]


File:Victoria College.jpg

Coleman was appointed Professor of Natural History and Geology at Victoria College in 1882. In 1891 the College became a federated college of the University of Toronto (U of T), and Coleman moved to Toronto with it. He lived with his sister, poet Helena Coleman, in Toronto and in summer at his cottage, "Pinehurst," in the Thousand Islands.[4]

Coleman later transferred to the U of T School of Practical Science (now the Faculty of Engineering), but he maintained ties with Victoria as an "Honorary Professor."[3]

In 1901 Coleman was appointed to the U of T Department of Geology, and the same year was made Department head, a position he held until his 1922 retirement. In 1919 he was made Dean of the U of T Faculty of Arts.[3]

Coleman was involved in the founding of the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), and from 1914 to 1922 served as the first Director of its affiliate, the Royal Ontario Museum of Geology.[3]

An excellent writer and public speaker, "Coleman extended the boundaries of his fellow citizens by teaching, lecturing, writing and exhibiting."[2]


A.P. Coleman led eight explorations into the Canadian Rockies between 1884 and 1908. He reported on these both in academic journals and in his book The Canadian Rockies: New & Old Trails.[5]

In 1915 and 1916 (at 63) Coleman explored northern Labrador.[6]

After Coleman retired in 1922, he travelled the world attending professional conferences and doing field work. He assembled one of the leading collections of glacial materials in the world, which he presented to the ROM.[7]

Mountain ClimberEdit

Mount Robson (Sunset)

Coleman made four attempts to climb Mount Robson. Photo by Michael Konen. Licensed under Creative Commons, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

In 1884, on his first trip to the Rockies, Coleman climbed Castle Mountain, one of the first significant climbs in Canada.[8]

Coleman, who had begun climbing mountains in the 1880s in the Alps, and his brother Lucius were pioneers in the sport of mountain climbing in Canada through the next decades.[5] Both brothers were charter members of the Alpine Club of Canada, founded in 1906 to promote both scientific exploration and recreational mountain climbing in the Rockies. A.P. Coleman was the second president of the club, serving from 1910 to 1914.[9]

In 1907 Coleman organized a team to climb Mount Robson, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies. The climb was unsuccessful, so a second expedition was organized in 1908. The 1908 expedition made three attempts to climb the mountain, all unsuccessful.[10]

After Mount Coleman was named in his honor, Coleman began making plans to climb it in the summer of 1939, when he would have been 87. However, he died that February.[10]


A mountain, a glacier and a lake, all located near the Saskatchewan River valley in Alberta, have been named in Coleman's honour.[10]

Coleman was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 1900 and served as its President in 1921. In 1902, he was elected President of the Royal Canadian Institute and in 1910, he was made a Fellow of the Royal Society (of London, England). In 1915, he was President of the Geological Society of America. In 1929, he was appointed Honorary Vice-President of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society.

He was awarded the Murchison Medal of the Geological Society of London in 1910, and the Royal Society of Canada's Flavelle Medal in 1928. In 1936 he was awarded the Penrose Medal.


  • Reports on the Economic Geology of Ontario (1903)
  • The Canadian Rockies: New and old trails. London: T.F. Unwin, 1911.
  • Glaciers of the Rockies & Selkirks. Ottawa: Department of the Interior, ominion Parks Branch, 1921.
  • Northeastern Part of Labrador, and New Quebec. Ottawa: Thomas Mulvey, 1921.
  • Ice Ages: Recent and ancient. New York: Macmillan, 1926.
  • Elementary Geology (1922) (co-author).
  • The Last Million Years: A history of the Pleistocene in North America (with George F. Kay). Toronto: University of Toronto Press 1941.

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy WorldCat.[11]


  1. "A.P. Coleman: Home," A.P. Coleman Exhibition,, Web, June 21, 2011.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 "A.P. Coleman: Introduction," A.P. Coleman Exhibition,, Web, June 21, 2011.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 A.P. Coleman: The Professor," A.P. Coleman Exhibition,, Web, June 21, 2011.
  4. "Helena Coleman (1860-1953): Biographical Sketch," Victoria University Library,, Web, June 12, 2011.
  5. 5.0 5.1 " A.P.Coleman: Rockies Exploration," A.P. Coleman Exhibition,, Web, June 21, 2011.
  6. "A.P. Coleman: Labrador 1915 and 1916," A.P. Coleman Exhibition,, Web, June 21, 2011.
  7. "A.P. Coleman: Citizen of the World," A.P. Coleman Exhibition,, Web, June 21, 2011.
  8. "A.P. Coleman: Castle Mountain," A.P. Coleman Exhibition,, Web, June 21, 2011.
  9. "Alpine Club of Canada," A.P. Coleman Exhibition,, Web, June 21, 2011.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 "A.P. Coleman: Mt. Robson,"A.P. Coleman Exhibition,, Web, June 21, 2011.
  11. Search results = au:A P Coleman, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, Dec. 24, 2015.

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