Alice Payne 1959

Alice PayneA trail~blazer for women in the Canadian mining industry.

“When I was young, I just wanted to go out and find a mine and carry a canoe through the bush. Now I want all the young women in the world to consider geology as a career – to go after non-traditional things and not be scared off.”

A warm Alberta Chinook brought a special person to Havergal in 1955. Alice arrived  knowing she was going to be a geologist. Although born in Edmonton, it was her summers in Yellowknife, accompanying her prospector father into the bush, that fuelled her dream. She went everywhere with him, hiking, canoeing, into mining camps and down mines. Although people tried to discourage her, suggesting a geologist’s life was not for a girl, Alice came east believing she could accomplish anything she desired if she worked hard. Gender had not been an issue when she was with her father and her family’s decision to send her to Havergal would continue to build her self confidence and give her the math and science skills to pursue any career.

However, when Alice enrolled in geology at university, she encountered roadblocks. Field trips, the core of geologic exploration, were not open to women. It was the 1960s and women were discouraged from pursuing professional careers, especially in the resource sector. Determined to succeed Alice found chaperones to accompany her on field trips and eventually completed an MSc. She later moved from hard rock geology to the rapidly developing petroleum industry. Gulf Oil hired her in 1979 and over the next two decades they promoted her to several supervisory positions, a rare accomplishment for a women in the oil patch.

With Gulf’s support, Alice took an active role in the Canadian Society of Petroleum Geologists. She was elected president in 1992, the first women to hold this position since the organization’s founding in 1927. Alice also served on many Boards and Councils dedicated to the study, advancement and enjoyment of science. A gifted and entertaining speaker, she used public lectures to promote science and geology as rewarding careers for women. In her book, Quin Kola, published in 2000, Alice helped Canadians appreciate the importance of resource development in their country’s history through the delightful story of her father’s search for gold.

Numerous awards and honours recognize Alice’s professional achievements and her significant role in encouraging young women to pursue careers in non-traditional fields.

An Order of Canada, an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Calgary and honorary membership in the Canadian Society of Petroleum Geologists are a few examples. Alice’s story is known to countless university students through a book, included on several reading lists, which chronicles Canadian women’s history in the 20th century. Tina Crossfield, who wrote the chapter on Alice, calls her “one of the most interesting and dynamic women of our time”. The class of 1959 recognized this many years ago and we are so proud and happy that Alice has been honoured with the Havergal Old Girls Life Achievement Award.

Written by Kathleen Bourke Bell 1959 and Christine Coutts Clement 1959