Saturday, 8 February 2020


Hornby is a delightful island off the east coast of Vancouver Island, just east of Denman Island. Texada and Lasqueti lie just to the west of Hornby. It is home to about 1,000 residents made up of artists, retirees and those wanting to enjoy the quiet, rural, community-oriented lifestyle.

Hornby Island is formed from sediments of the upper Nanaimo Group which are also widely exposed on adjacent Denman Island and the southern Gulf Islands. Peter Mustard, a geologist from the Geologic Survey of Canada, did considerable work on the geology of the island. It has a total stratigraphic thickness of 1350 m of upper Nanaimo Group marine sandstone, conglomerate and shale.

These are partially exposed in the Campanian to the lower Maastrichtian outcrops at Collishaw Point on the northwest side of Hornby Island. Four formations underlie the island from oldest to youngest, and from west to east: the Northumberland, Geoffrey, Spray and Gabriola.

During the upper Cretaceous, between ~90 to 65 Ma, sediments derived from the Coast Belt to the east and the Cascades to the southeast poured seaward to the west and northwest into what was the large ancestral Georgia Basin. This major forearc basin was situated between Vancouver Island and the mainland of British Columbia.

The island's soils have developed from marine deposits of variable texture, except for the higher elevations and steeper slopes where weathered clastic sedimentary rock provides the parent material. Most of Hornby's soils are sandy or gravelly, but some deep black loams occur in the northwestern part and many of the sands at the southern end have loam-textured topsoils.

Collishaw Point, known locally as Boulder Point, Hornby Island
Podzols are common and the bleached sand grains associated with their eluvial (A2, Ae or E) horizons lend a salt-and-pepper appearance to many forest trails. In most cases, though, the E is not very thick and may, in fact, be discontinuous. For this reason, the soils were mostly classified as Brown Podzolic in a soil survey published in 1959.

All of the island's soils are strongly acidic in their natural state except for those which have developed on shoreline shell middens.

And it is to the shore that many are drawn — locals, tourists, geologists and paleontologists alike. Hornby is a wonderful place to explore. The island is beautiful in its own right and the fossils from here often keep some of their original shell or nacre which makes them quite fetching.

The Nanaimo Group as a whole represents largely coarse-grained units deposited in deep-sea fan systems. In this environment, deeper channels continuously cut through successive shale and sandstone bodies. The channels funnelled density currents into the basin, while also building levee deposits. Turbidity currents travelled down the channels, and also overtopped the levees spilling across backslope areas. The sequential sediment formations, from significantly coarse-grained sandstones and conglomerates to fine silts and shale units of the Nanaimo Group, are considered to be partly due to eustacy, but more significantly related to relative sea-level changes induced by regional tectonics in an active forearc setting.

The Northumberland Formation consists of a massive, dark-grey mudstone which is locally interlaminated and interbedded with siltstone and fine-grained sandstone.

There are abundant calcium carbonate concretions, parallel and current ripple laminations, clastic dikes and folded layers due to slumping. In the Gulf Islands to the south, this formation has been found to contain abundant and diverse foraminifera indicating marine paleodepths of 150-1200 m.

The more resistive Geoffrey Formation consists of thick-bedded sandstone and conglomerate. It is highly channelized, and some sandstone has exposed parallel and ripple laminations. The Spray Fm exposed on the east end of the island is a massive olive-grey mudstone with interlaminations of sandstone.

Furthest to the east, the youngest exposures on Hornby Island are from the Gabriola Formation, which outcrops on the eastern peninsula. This is again a thick-bedded and channelized sequence of conglomerates and massive sandstone with minor mudstone interbeds. South, in the Gulf Islands, this formation has contained ammonites, gastropods and pelecypods. Paleowater-depth from foraminiferal assemblages has been set at 200 m.

Katnick, D.C. and P.S. Mustard (2001): Geology of Denman and Hornby Islands, British Columbia (NTS 92F/7E, 10); British Columbia Geological Survey Branch, Geoscience Map 2001-3.

England, T.D.J. and R. N. Hiscott (1991): Upper Nanaimo Group and younger strata, outer Gulf Islands, southwestern British Columbia: in Current Research, Part E; Geological Survey of Canada, Paper 91-1E, p. 117-125.