His exposure to geology and to exploration began early in life: during school holidays he worked as a geological field assistant in remote parts of Canada and the USA. He went on to study physics, maths and geology at Trinity College, Ottawa, and became the first graduate in geophysics in 1930. He then won a scholarship to Cambridge where he took a BA in 1932, and went on to take his PhD in geology at Princeton in 1936.
His first job was with the Geological Survey of Canada. His extensive field trips to the North-West Territories combined geological mapping with the adventure of exploration which he loved. During these years he became interested in the large scale structure of mountain ranges, and began to think about them from a global perspective. This approach was to become a characteristic of his later fundamental contributions to geology.