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The Capital Builders: Elkanah Billings, expert on the area’s rocks

Ottawa Citizen
September 4, 2017

Elkanah Billings was by turns a failed farmer, a so-so lawyer and a newspaper editor who didn’t stick around long, but he made his Ottawa mark through his hobby (and later profession) of looking at rocks.

The name “Elkanah” ran in the Billings family that had settled in Gloucester Township; it’s taken from the Bible, and belonged to the Ottawa Elkanah’s New England grandfather.

Young Elkanah attended a boarding school in Potsdam, NY, in the 1830s, then studied law in Toronto. (He had tried farming briefly along the way, in his late teens, but gave it up.) Qualified to practise law in 1844, he came home to Bytown.

The practice wasn’t a great success, so he moved to Renfrew, hoping for better luck there. Again, he had difficulties. City of Ottawa records note: “Writing to his mother in 1852, he complained that the other lawyers in the surrounding areas were unjustly black balling him, and argued that he was ‘as well qualified to enter as any lawyer in Bytown.’ ”

But along the way, Elkanah Billings discovered his love of the natural world, and particularly rocks.

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