The Kitsilano Beach Fossil Forest

Kitsilano is an area to the south of downtown Vancouver that is well known for its spectacular sandy beaches and relaxed lifestyle. But what many people do not know is that this area has some interesting geology and exquisitely preserved plant fossils, all contained in the sediments along the shoreline.

The SGDS Workshop project has been established to map sections of interest, from the cliffs right to the low water mark, to try and discern individual strata and its related fossil content. The young Geologists who are volunteering on this project are getting a valuable opportunity to brush up on their mapping skills as well as learn more about palaeoenvironments and survey techniques. The end goal of the project is to present a base map to the Earth Science Department at the University of British Columbia that can be used in their Advance Sedimentology courses in the future. We also hope to bring further clarity and understanding to these fossil beds too, which have been poorly studied in recent times, despite their proximity to a major urban center.

Geology of the Fossil Forest

The sediments that lay on the foreshore along Kitsilano Beach are thought to be from the Upper Eocene / Early Oligocene in age (38 to 28 million years old), although opinion varies on the exact age. They form part of the ‘Kitsilano Formation’, a stack of sand, silt and mudstones that are associated with a lowland estuarine / deltaic type environment, with meandering channels and ponds of still water. The area would have formed a basin, surrounded by mountains that were drained by rivers into this area. It seems that there are no indications of any marine incursions in the sediment pile, and so the area is assumed to have remained stable for some time.

Plant fossils are common in these beds and are often well preserved. The most common are broadleaved deciduous species such as beech, oak, chestnut and hazel, although several coniferous species are known including redwoods (Sequoia), larch, pine and spruce. The deciduous trees like low, moist landscapes which fit with the basin model. The coniferous species likely lived on the surrounding hills where the ground was somewhat drier and their remains transported by rivers into the depositional basin.

There are also regular signs of burning in the fossils – indicating some kind of forest fire events that must have occurred with some frequency. No animal fossils are known, which is highly unusual given the apparent productivity of the environment and the state of preservation of delicate leaves.

The last major work on this location was done in 1969 by William S. Hopkins Jr., in his paper titled “Palynology of the Eocene Kitsilano Formation, southwest British Columbia”.

We hope that by using modern techniques and having a systematic approach to the data collection in the field that the formation can be understood in more detail, as well as potentially making some discoveries along the way!