Lethbridge College Receives Rare Soil Collection From Federal Government

The soil monoliths on display at Lethbridge College. Photo credit to Lethbridge College

It's believed federal and provincial soil surveyors created the collection over a number of years back in the 1950's and 60's.

A decades-old collection that helps identify a wide variety of soil types from across western Canada now resides at Lethbridge College.

Agriculture and Agri Food Canada (AAFC) has donated 110 soil monoliths (vertical cross-sections of soil about one-metre long that show soil from a variety of regions in its natural state) to the college. The collection had previously been located at AAFC’s Lethbridge Research and Development Centre.

Lethbridge College instructors had frequently taken students on field trips to the research centre to study the collection, and both college and Agriculture and Agri Food Canada scientists agreed that the monoliths were best served by being on campus. The collection has been appraised by Lethbridge College at $240,908, but those closest to it say it is worth much more than that as a teaching tool.

“This is an invaluable resource that allows our instructors to showcase their expertise and allows our students to learn using a tool not available at most other post-secondary institutions,” says Dr. Paula Burns, Lethbridge College President and CEO. “It was a long process to complete this transfer and it wouldn’t have happened without the passion and dedication of both our faculty members and scientists at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada who believed in the college as a home for this collection.”

The history of the collection is something of a mystery. It’s believed that federal and provincial soil surveyors likely created the collection over a number of years in the 1950s and 1960s, but there is little historical documentation about the collection. The soil samples are largely from southern Alberta, but also include soils from elsewhere in Alberta, Saskatchewan, B.C. and the Yukon Territory.

The collection contains eight out of the 10 Orders of soil identified in the current Canadian System of Soil Classification, making it a valuable teaching resource. Because the monoliths are used for educational and not research purposes, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada scientists saw the value in transferring the collection to the college. As a Crown asset, the collection required the approval of the federal Minister of Agriculture, Lawrence McAulay. 

The collection, which was officially unveiled on Tuesday morning, is now located in custom-made display cabinets on the third floor of the college’s Cousins Building, just outside of the soils lab. Instructors have already used it as a resource during classes and it stands as an example of an innovative and interesting way to teach students.

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