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Alice Virginia Payne

Dr. Alice Virginia Payne, born in Edmonton, Alberta, was the eldest of three children. She spent much of her childhood with her father in Yellowknife where he worked, prospecting for minerals and supervising gold mines. Dr. Payne was fascinated by geology and wanted to pursue it, however, her mother, a nurse, believed that women should work in female fields and sent her to a school for girls in Toronto called Havergal College. Despite this, Dr. Payne followed her passion upon graduation and earned a bachelor and master of science in the field of Geology from the University of Alberta. This field attracted few women and she was the only female in her graduating class.

Payne’s main influence was her father, Thomas Payne who was the prospector, and partial owner, of Ryan Gold Mines in Yellowknife. He often took his daughter on field trips and encouraged her interest in mining geology.

The trips with her father, ended up being the only field experience Payne got for many years as she was not permitted to participate in geological fieldwork and permission to go underground was even more difficult to obtain. In the 1960s, women in the field of geology were often confined to working as lab-technicians and barred from being practicing geologists. In a science based on field experience, lacking practical knowledge can end a career before it even begins. In 1962, Dr. Payne started her career at the Geological Survey of Canada but was limited to lab work. This encouraged her to complete her master’s degree but this did not yield the opportunities she hoped it would.

In the late 1960s, more freedom was given to women working in geology and Payne managed to gain field experience by undertaking short-term projects and often worked for the University of Alberta.

In 1979, she finally made her big break when she was hired by Gulf Canada Resources in Calgary as an exploration geologist. With her specialization in hardrock mining, Payne changed the way we search for oil and gas. She was soon promoted to supervisor which is a rare accomplishment for a woman in this field. She also completed work as a business planner and a liabilities manager for Gulf Canada Resources before retiring in 1995 and founding her own company, Artic Enterprises Limited.

Dr. Alice Payne is also a member of many societies and institutes including the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, the Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum, and the Geological Association of Canada. In 1992, she was the first woman to be named president of the Canadian Society of Petroleum Geologists and was a member of the Premier’s Council for Science and Technology in Alberta for four years.

Dr. Payne also published a book named Quin Kola: Tom Payne’s Search for Gold, in 2000. The book tells the story of her father’s adventures and his career which culminated with the finding of gold near Yellowknife.



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