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THORSTEINSSON, Dr. Raymond O.C., PH.D., F.R.S.C.

January 21, 1921 – April 23, 2012

Dr. Raymond Thorsteinsson of Calgary, AB passed away at the Foothills Hospital on Monday, April 23, 2012 at the age of 91 years.

Raymond grew up on a farm in the Mountain School District near Wynyard, SK. He received a Ph. D from the University of Kansas in 1955. He went on to become one of Canada’s most honoured geologists. He served his entire professional career with the Geological Survey of Canada. Starting out as a field assistant during the early 1950’s, he commenced geological studies in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. At the time this region was one of the least understood geological regions in the world. Initially, his field work was accomplished by dog team, canoe and by foot. Later he pioneered the use of small fixed-wing aircraft, equipped with oversize tires, which could be landed virtually anywhere on the Arctic Islands. This advance resulted in a rapid increase in the geological knowledge and understanding of the Canadian Arctic. His field of specialization included stratigraphy, structural geology and palaeontology. He was a distinguished lecturer and published numerous memoirs, papers and geological maps. Raymond prepared the first detailed geological maps of more than 200,000 square miles in the Arctic Islands. He retrieved many records and artifacts from early Arctic explorers. At the time of his official retirement in 1992 he had completed 39 field seasons mostly in the high Arctic. At the time of his death, he was working on a publication on extinct ostracoderm fishes. He was still making trips to his office as research scientist Emeritus. His many achievements were recognized throughout his professional career. The Founder’s Medal, Royal Geographical Society London, was one his most treasured awards which he shared with academic associate and dear friend, Dr. E.T. (Tim) Tozer. Raymond became an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1989. Raymond enjoyed game bird hunting, particularly with family members and colleagues. He had a love for nature and agriculture. He owned and lovingly restored a Caterpillar tractor that he had acquired at Resolute Bay, N.W.T. Proud of his Icelandic heritage he was one of the founding members of the Leif Eiriksson Icelandic Club of Calgary and in 2001 was awarded an honorary life membership for his dedication over the years.

Ray is survived by his wife Phyllis; son Erik (Mary) Thorsteinsson; daughter Anna (Jason) Dagnall; sisters Thelma (Norman) Lissel, Thora Moir and numerous nieces and nephews.

He was predeceased by his wife Jean in 1998 (after 54 years of marriage), parents Peter and Elizabeth; sister Lillian Thorlacius and brother Stan.

Our many thanks to the staff at the Foothills Hospital Special Services, Unit 46, for their care, comfort and compassion. Raymond’s family would also like to express a heartfelt thank you to everyone for your kind thoughts, prayers, emails, phone calls, flowers and food during this time.

A Celebration of Life will be held at McINNIS & HOLLOWAY’S Crowfoot Chapel (82 Crowfoot Circle N.W. Calgary, AB), on Monday May 7, 2012 at 2:00p.m. Condolences may be forwarded through

If friends so desire, memorial tributes may be made directly to the Parkinson’s Society of Southern Alberta, #102, 5636 Burbank Crescent S.E., Calgary, AB T2H 1Z6 Telephone: (403) 243-9901,

In living memory of Raymond Thorsteinsson, a tree will be planted at Fish Creek Provincial Park by McINNIS & HOLLOWAY FUNERAL HOMES, Crowfoot Chapel, 82 CROWFOOT CIRCLE N.W. Telephone: (403) 241 0044

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Condolence Messages

  1. Don Shanks :

    All GSC geologists were impressive to me and Ray was a giant among them. I worked on the remote weather stations in the High Arctic which would see visits from GSC, including Ray. But, the GSC folks went beyond our modest camps to go where no one had before. From personal conversations with Ray, I know he was quite proud to pioneer the use of small aircraft with balloon tires that took him and others to most places that helicopters could go but faster and at far less cost. His interest in his work and the Arctic was there to the end. Many will miss him!

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  2. Wendie Elviss :

    I worked in the Pubications Department of the Geological Survey when it opened in 1967, and can remember the numerous publications that came under the name of Dr. Thorsteinsson that lined the shelves. It was impressive. I always liked to see him come into the office because he always had a smile.

    Please accept my sympathy in the loss of such a wonderful and talented individual

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  3. Frank Brunton :

    My sincere condolences in hearing of Ray’s passing. He remains a real inspiration to me both during years when I was an undergrad and grad student mapping in Arctic Archipelago (Cambrian, Silurian, and Carboniferous strata on Ellesmere, Cornwallis and Devon islands), where he cut his teeth in early career. He shared his regional knowledge readily and was always encouraging. Ray’s commitment and curiosity makes him one of the truly great Canadian Scientists; and his career sets a great standard for how field-based geoscience should take place. He will be missed and remembered with admiration and fondness. Take care, Frank Brunton

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  4. Ray was an inspiration to those of us who worked at the Geological Survey of Canada in Calgary, and his work will remain so for many generations of geologists to come. My condolences to his family.

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  5. Bryan Rutley :

    Thorsteinsson was always one of the names I found hard to spell while filling out requisitions, etc. Ray himself was an affable, courteous and professional man with a wonderful sense of humour. As the photographer who took the office portrait of Ray used in this obituary, you can see for yourself Ray had an easy smile. During my 35 years at GSC, Calgary we had many photographic sessions together and I looked forward to and enjoyed every one. Ray was one of the “Rock Stars” of geology in this country. May God Bless his soul. I’ll miss you Ray.

    May I extend my most sincere condolences to Ray’s family and friends.

    Bryan Rutley

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  6. Dr. Denis A. St-Onge,O.C. :

    I first met Ray in 1960 as we were both travelling to Resolute for geological research further north. We became good friends from then on. I also met his mom on the farm near Wynyard when she told me some his early youth. Ray was one of the finest person I ever met and am deeply saddened by his passage. My very sincere condolences to family.

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  7. Dr Alain BLIECK :

    My most sincere condolences to Ray’s family. Even if I met Ray only once in 1987, I remember having had a quite excellent time working with him in Calgary. He will be missing the palaeontological community.
    A. Blieck

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  8. Jerry Kobalenko :

    Ray was a legend, not just for his geological work, but for his contributions to travel and history in the High Arctic. A wonderful man.

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  9. Christopher Harrison :

    It was with profound sadness that I heard last week that Ray Thorsteinsson had died.

    Over the course of nearly forty years, Ray has been a friend, a colleague, a mentor and from the beginning something of a role model and hero. It began for me when I was an undergrad at the University of Toronto in the early 1970s. Close by just off campus was the Hugh Anson Cartwright bookstore which specialized in Arctic and Canadiana topics. From here some of my treasured possessions became the GSC maps, memoirs and bulletins of the great Arctic explorers and scientists; Bob Christie, Hans Trettin, Tim Tozer and especially Ray Thorsteinsson. When I joined the survey in Calgary it was my great good fortune to be able to work with Ray and all the others. I look back with special fondness to the late 1980s and early 1990s when Ray was an active member of our field parties, and subsequently was coauthor of maps and papers that resulted from our work on Bathurst and central Ellesmere islands.

    I was interested to hear in the Globe and Mail obituary that Ray was working on his ostracoderm publication right up to the end. I was priviledged at one point not many years ago to be shown some of the material from his collection. Especially remarkable were his three dimensional fish and graptolite fossils. I am confident that Ray’s work on these remarkable world-class specimens will eventually be published the way he long intended.

    To Ray’s family, you have my sincere sympathy. To Ray himself, may you rest in peace.

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  10. Freya Kristjanson :

    What an extraordinary man Raymond was – he had a life of adventure, and made great contributions to Canada. I am sorry for your loss.
    Freya Kristjanson

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  11. Brian MacLean :

    My sincere sympathy goes out to Ray’s family. I was a member of a field party led by Ray on Cornwallis Island throughout the summer of 1951 during which we travelled by freighter canoe to examine the geology of eastern and southern parts of the island. And I’m glad to have had the chance to see Ray again at Resolute and in Calgary several times since then.

    Ray loved the Canadian Arctic and had a vast knowledge of it from his work there over many decades. Ray truly was the Godfather of Canadian Arctic geology.

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  12. Gerry Reinson :

    As a young geologist I met Dr Ray in the Arctic in the mid-1970’s. I’ll never forget this icon as a humble, generous, yet extremely noble individual. Just meeting him and talking, however briefly and periodically over the years, has left a lasting impression on me. He always asked me how I was doing! What a wonderful human being. My heartfelt thoughts to the family.
    Gerry Reinson.

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