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Ann Phyllis Sabina Stenson, BSc Maj Geology

Updated: Nov 2, 2023

(born 28 January 1930 in Lemberg, SK; died 29 September 2015)

Anne Phyllis Sabina Stenson

([digital image]

While we learn about the Leading Ladies of today, it is also important to remember the Leading Ladies of our past: the women who defied gender roles and blazed the trail leaving behind impressive legacies for us to remember and strive to uphold.

One exceptional Canadian geologist is instrumental in cataloguing the X-ray diffraction spectra, and their representative specimens, for hundreds of minerals at the Geological Survey of Canada (from 1952 to 2015). This catalogue is used by researchers around the world and her mineralogy work inspired the public to go mineral and rock-hunting using 17 different field guides based on roadside geology covering 14 regions throughout Canada. Ann is accredited with discovering 9 of the 10 new minerals, through research at the Francon Quarry, including Weloganite, Dresserite, Hydrodresserite, Strontiodresserite, Sabinaite, Franconite, Doyleite, Hochelagaite, Montroyalite and Voggite. She was the recipient of numerous awards including The International Centre for Diffraction Data (ICDD) McMurdie Award in 2016 recognizing her distinguished work contributing to the Powder Diffraction FileTM, and, in particular, the Minerals Subfile (posthumously); nominated for the same award in 2002; the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Medal in 1977 for her actions in the scientific community; Lifetime Membership and the Leonard G. Berry Medal in 1994 from the Mineralogical Association of Canada; and the Elsa László Horváth Prize” award from the Club de Minéralogie de Montréal in 2009 for her mineralogical contributions in Canada. She is also the name sake for the Ann Sabina Award presented annually by the Central Canadian Federation of Mineralogical Societies. She is one of the founding members of the Ottawa Valley Mineral Association and the Canadian Gemmological Association; a fellow of the International Centre for Diffraction Data, the Canadian Gemmological Association as well as the Gemmological Association of Great Britain; a long-standing Treasurer for the Mineral Association of Canada for 28 years; and a contributor to the International Centre for Diffraction Data’s Minerals Task Group for several decades.

Ms. Ann Phyllis Sabina earned her Bachelor’s degree in geology at the University of Manitoba in 1952 and shortly after graduating she began work at the Geological Survey of Canada in Ottawa where she worked until the late 1990s. Ann continued to work daily in the field of mineralogy until August of 2015 at the distinguished age of 85. Ann’s work also involved education where she taught gemmology at Carlton University in Ottawa and prepared students for the Canadian Gemmological Association fellowship examinations. Her first publication was a catalogue of 650 X-ray diffraction patterns and specimen mounts (Sabina & Traill, 1960). In 1962, Ann began her most memorable work: Rock and Minerals for the Collector series GSC Paper 63-18 which covered a road-side field guide from Sudbury to Winnipeg. She then produced three more volumes covering Rock and Mineral Collecting in Canada that included from Western Canada to Eastern Provinces and all the Territories inspiring many Canadian nationals to go rock, mineral, and fossil hunting. Like a ‘rock star’, Anne was often flooded with people lining up to get her autograph on their copies of Rocks and Minerals for the Collectors at local Gem and Mineral shows in Ontario and Quebec making her the unofficial Geological Survey of Canada ambassador for rock and mineral collecting communities across Canada. Although Anne is no longer with us, and we can’t put our interview answers into her words, we are able to piece together her story based on historical references: The Canadian Encyclopedia, Geological Survey of Canada and In Memoriam.

How did you decide on pursuing degree in geoscience? Did you know about geoscience before you entered university?

[We aren’t entirely sure why Anne chose to study geology at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg in the late 1940’s to early 1950’s shortly after completing high school. It’s possible her love of exploring and systematically exploring the outdoors inspired her curiosity in rocks and minerals.]

How did you land your first position? (Through networking, applying to an ad, etc)

Ms. Sabina joined the Geological Survey of Canada shortly after graduating from the University of Manitoba for a clerical-type position cataloguing X-ray diffraction patterns at the Victoria Memorial Museum (now the Canadian Museum of Nature) in Ottawa, Ontario.

Can you briefly describe your career progression and how it has been handled in your company?

From 1952 to her semi-retirement in 1975, Ann worked at the GSC. Her big break came in July of 1966, while working on the Ontario to Lac St. Jean Quebec guidebook (GSC Paper 67-51). Her visit to the Francon quarry in Montreal wasn’t very welcoming as she was refused access due to ‘security and insurance reasons’, so she paid a young man working in the quarry 5 dollars to bring her samples (average hourly wage for a labourer in Quebec at the time was $2.26 per hour). Ann’s ingenuity and perseverance paid off as she identified 9 out of the 10 new mineral specimens at the quarry, although the local news at the time did not appropriately credit her with the discovery.

Ann’s most memorable work included the very popular series “Rocks and Minerals for the Collector” that includes 15 volumes, revised and expanded many times, available in both French and English, published over her 63-year-long career. Over two decades, Ms. Sabina made significant contributions to this series and subsequent, as well as, associated series from her extensive field work which involved documenting minerals in hundreds of localities throughout all of Canada. She was one of the primary contributors to the GSC’s Mineral Powder Diffraction File Data Book (sets 1-50) and taught gemmology, for a period of time, at Carlton University in Ottawa. According to two sources, the GSC and the MAC, Ann P. Sabina was the co-founder of the Canadian Gemmological Association. She was also a fellow in the Canadian Gemmological Association, a fellow with the British Gemmological Association and was involved in preparing students for the Canadian Gemmological Association fellowship exam.

Due to her work in creating the very popular GSC series “Rocks and Minerals for the Collector” she became a ‘Rock Star’ and the unofficial GSC mineral ambassador at the many rock and mineral trade shows she attended over her decade’s long career. Her collection of guidebooks is listed as number 88 on The History of the Geological Survey of Canada in 175 Objects.

Excerpt from “Rocks and Minerals for the Collector”, Ann P. Sabina, 1983, Geological Survey of Canada, Miscellaneous Report 32, Kingston, Ontario to Lac St-Jean, Quebec, page 3

In more recent times - during the Pleistocene Period - great ice sheets spread southwards across the Shield and the lowlands scouring out the landscape as we know it today and leaving behind accumulations of sand, gravel and till. As the ice withdrew from the St. Lawrence Lowlands, marine waters flooded the region forming the Champlain Sea which, when it retreated, left unconsolidated deposits of clay and sand over the Palaeozoic strata. Other deposits of recent times include beach sands, stream detritus and peat bogs.

([digital image] International Centre for Diffraction Data/2016 McMurdie Award Winner,

If you had to do it again, would you?

[We think she would! Ann dove right into X-ray diffraction spectra and mineralogy, making it accessible to researchers around the world while the X-ray technology was new and brought her love of mineralogy to her fellow Canadians through her thoughtful and easy to follow guidebooks. We are very glad she did pursued mineralogy and gemology paving the way for future women to work in technical geology careers.]

What are the three best things about your job/career? What are the three worst things?

[We think the three best things about her career might have been her major contributions to the promotion of Canadian geosciences and the development of an X-ray diffraction spectra catalogue: her curiosity and perseverance in studying something ‘new’ and her love of sharing her work in an easily digestible manner. The worst things might have been the pressure from work, and her desire to produce the best product, to collect samples from mine sites but not being to physically collect rocks and minerals due to ‘security and insurance’ and maybe that a person’s ‘actions speak louder then words’.]

Do you see, in either your work space or the industry in general, the place of women becoming more main stream, about the same as when you started, or worse?

[We think that she did see the place of women becoming more mainstream in the workplace. Her actions show the power that a single person can have in science and she brought other women along with her by featuring numerous women as major contributors on her publications.]

What advice would you give young women starting a career in geoscience?

[Probably … Actions speak louder than words. We believe that it was intended not only as being wary of another person’s intentions but also staying true to yourself by ensuring what you do matches what you say – Based on February 2016 Elements Magazine Memorial for Ann Sabina written by Andy McDonald, Mineralogy Professor at Laurentian University]

Why/How is diversity important to you? Thoughts on what should be focused on or how to improve diversity within geoscience?

[We are not sure if Helen was advocate for diversity in geology, but we know her accomplishments show that she was an icon for diversity and equality in all aspects of geological technical and field research.]

Ann Sabina

([digital image] Sabinaite,


GEOSCAN. Publications and Records for Mineral powder diffraction file data book, sets 1-50. Government of Canada. search for Mineral Diffraction. Accessed 07 January 2023.

Government of Canada (2023). 88. “Rocks and Minerals for the Collector” Series 1963. Ann Sabina. The history of the Geological Survey of Canada.

ICDD (2016). ICDD Awards – McMurdie Award 2016. International Centre for Diffraction Data. Accessed 07 January 2023.

McDonald, A, 2016. “Ann Sabina”. Mineralogical Association of Canada. Accessed 07 January 2023.

Sabina, A.P. (1983). Rocks and Minerals for the Collector Series Kingston, Ontario to Lac St-Jean, Quebec. Miscellaneous Report 32. Geological Survey of Canada. Originally published in English as Paper 67-51; revised, translated and reissued 1983. Reprinted 2003. Accessed 07 January 2023.

Sabina, A.P. (2015). Articles by Ann P. Sabina: Greenstone, Mineral, Soapstone and Gemstone. The Canadian Encyclopedia. Accessed 07 January 2023.

Tarassoff, Peter; Horvath, Laszlo; Pfenninger-Horvath, Elsa. "Famous mineral localities: the Francon quarry, Montreal, Quebec." The Free Library 01 January 2006. 07 January 2023 < mineral localities: the Francon quarry, Montreal, Quebec.-a0141626741>.

About the Author:

Dr. Diana Benz has over 25 years of experience working in the mineral exploration industry searching for diamonds and metals in a range of roles: from heavy minerals lab technician to till sampler, rig geologist, project manager and business owner. She has a Bachelor of Science in General Biology, a Master of Science in Earth Sciences researching diamond indicator mineral geochemistry and a Ph.D. in Natural Resources and Environmental Studies researching geochemical multivariate statistical analysis techniques for use in interpreting biogeochemical data for mineral exploration. Diana has conducted field work in Canada (BC, NWT, YT and ON) as well as in Greenland. She has also been involved, remotely through a BC-based office, on mineral exploration projects located in South America, Africa, Eurasia, Australia and the Middle East. Currently, Diana is the owner of Takom Exploration Ltd., a small geological and environmental consulting firm focused on metal exploration in BC and the Yukon and is a ‘Prospector with a PhD’ with three metallic projects located in Central BC.

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