Derald Smith studying Late Cretaceous deposits in the Alberta Badlands.
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History of the ICFS

In the fall of 1977 the first meeting in what would become the ICFS series was held in Calgary. The chair of the first symposium, Andrew Miall, provided us with his memories of the origin of the meeting.

Genesis of the Symposium

Andrew Miall

I became interested in fluvial sedimentology as an undergraduate in London, and part of the attraction to work toward my Ph.D. at the University of Ottawa was the project suggested for me. This was to work on the Devonian Peel Sound Formation on Somerset and Prince of Wales islands in Arctic Canada, a unit known from preliminary mapping by the Geological Survey of Canada to consist of syntectonic alluvial fan conglomerates passing laterally away from the faulted uplift through coastal-plain clastics and out on to the carbonate platform of the Arctic craton. This project involved two field seasons, 1966 and 1967, and was completed in 1969. Later, as a Research Scientist with the Geological Survey of Canada in Calgary I worked on other, Cretaceous and Eocene-Paleocene fluvial units in Banks Island in the western Arctic, and in 1976 returned to the Peel Sound Formation as part of a mapping project. There, on Somerset Island, I met and worked with Martin Gibling, another graduate student at Ottawa, and we eventually published a joint paper on the Peel Sound in 1978.

In the meantime I had met Norm Smith, who came to Calgary in 1975 to give a Canadian Society of Petroleum Geologists noon lunch talk on braided streams, focusing on his recent work on the Platte River of Nebraska. Shortly afterwards my wife, Charlene, and I visited Norm in the field in Yoho Park, where he was working with Fran Hein on a modern gravel river. All of this provided data and ideas for the review of braided rivers that I published in 1977. And at about this time I met and was very impressed by a young scientist from the USGS in Denver, who visited the GSC office in Calgary to talk about his latest work on diagenesis, which had culminated in a special symposium that he had proposed and organised. When I reported this to Charlene, she said “Why don’t you do the same thing yourself?” and so the idea for the fluvial symposium was borne.

Organising the Symposium

My first move was to consult Norm, who immediately agreed that it was a good idea, and he introduced me to Derald Smith at the Geography Department at the University of Calgary, whom I had not yet met. The three of us put together the list of scientists whom we should invite, and where we might go on a field trip. Derald agreed to be responsible for working with the conference office of the university on housing and registration, and arranging the practical details of the use of the auditorium and food services. At one of these meetings it was suggested that we invite as a keynote speaker Luna Leopold, a very senior and distinguished scientist at the USGS, who had done much of the then standard work on fluvial geomorphology and hydraulics, and another obvious invitee was John Allen, who was at that time at the peak of his extraordinarily productive period of work on fluvial sedimentology and the classification and origins of bedforms. To our surprise, both these individuals accepted our invitation, and this was probably partly why so many of the other active workers in the field eventually signed on.

A large point bar at Police Point Park on the South Saskatchewan River
Andrew Miall (left) and Norm Smith (right) presenting at the Fluvial Lecture Series in 1977.

The CSPG enthusiastically supported the symposium proposal and agreed to endorse it. We worked with successive Presidents Bill Ayrton and Jack McMillan. At one point it was suggested that the petroleum geology community in Calgary might find the symposium too academic for their taste, and why didn’t we arrange for some of the speakers dealing with more general topics to provide lectures downtown. Thus the “Fluvial Lecture Series” was borne, a one-day event which we held at the Calgary Inn (now rebranded as the Westin). John Collinson, who had contributed the chapter on fluvial sedimentology to Harold Reading’s new sedimentology textbook, and Roger Walker, who had been working with graduate student Doug Cant on the South Saskatchewan River, were among the speakers. Jim Dixon, a colleague at the GSC, took care of the practicalities of the meeting.

A large point bar at Police Point Park on the South Saskatchewan River
A photo of the presenters at the Fluvial Lecture Series remarkable for the fact that every geologist is wearing a jacket and tie. From left to right - Ram Saxena, John Allen, Roger Walker, Andrew Miall, John Horne, David Hobday, John Collinson, Jim Dixon, Norm Smith.

The symposium was far more successful than we had anticipated. Being the first of its kind on this topic obviously made the difference. About 180 scientists attended, and a large number contributed to the post-conference publication, which became the “Green Book”, Memoir Five of the CSPG.

A large point bar at Police Point Park on the South Saskatchewan River
Front cover of the Program and Abstracts volume of the first symposium (now conference). The CSPG was a primary sponsor of the first meeting, and are again playing a central role in this 40th anniversary meeting.
A large point bar at Police Point Park on the South Saskatchewan River
Annoucement for the Fluvial Lecture Series that ran in the CSPG Reservoir.