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.
Most of Hornby's soils are sandy or gravelly, but some deep black loams occur on the northwestern part of the island. Many of the sands at the southern end have loam-textured topsoils.
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.
Podzols are infertile acidic soils that have a white or grey subsurface layer resembling ash. If you look below you'll see that the minerals have been leached into a lower dark-coloured layer. We typically find them under temperate coniferous woodland.
All of the island's soils on Hornby are strongly acidic. The exception are those which have developed on the shoreline where alkaline shells from shell middens have penetrated the soils.
And it is to the shore that many are drawn — locals, tourists, geologists and palaeontologists 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.
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. Foraminifera are members of a phylum or class of amoeboid protists characterized by streaming granular ectoplasm for catching food. Forams have lovely shells that look amazing under a microscope and are hugely useful as wee biostratigraphic markers.
The more resistive Geoffrey Formation is made up of thick-bedded sandstone and conglomerate. It is highly channelized, and some sandstone has exposed parallel and ripple laminations. The Spray Formation 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.