Lords of the Land
On November 25 2010, EMP publisher Bob Harris met with Donald M. Henderson, PhD the Curator of Dinosaurs at the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller, Alberta. With Donald’s guidance, EMP began yet another story intended to explore the rich history of the mountain parks, and tourism in Alberta and British Columbia. EMP’s focus in this article, is not the detailed account of the prehistoric eras of the past, as much as to provide you with a perspective on “place” and the relationship that this very special place has had over millions of years with its inhabitants. We at EMP encourage you to extend your appreciation of this region’s ecosystem, history, and challenges to its future by browsing our web site. For a better appreciation of Paleontology, we encourage you to explore the Royal Tyrrell Museum, their web site www.tyrrellmuseum.com, and the many other museums in the mountain parks of Western Canada.
I’m reading over my notes taken during and after an extensive tour of the Royal Tyrrell Museum. My interpretive guide on this tour was Donald Henderson, Curator of Dinosaurs. Donald may have a PhD, but he is not a stuffy academic. Henderson maintains a love affair with all things dinosaur and he refuels his passion each summer out in the field, at dinosaur digs.
Dinosaur bone beds are found within Western Canada regularly. Just 90 days before my tour of the Tyrrell, a City of Edmonton worker discovered bones 30 metres underground in a sewage tunnel excavation. On that occasion, the Royal Alberta Museum of Edmonton and the Royal Tyrrell Museum worked cooperatively to protect, preserve, and study the fossils.
Henderson met me in the expansive lobby of the Royal Tyrrell and as we began the tour we were welcomed by four life-size dinosaurs. As we walked past our menacing greeters, Donald explained that the Tyrrell celebrated its 25th anniversary on September 25, 2010.
To mark the occasion, a special exhibit called Alberta Unearthed was constructed to showcase the Top 25 Stories of Discovery of Alberta’s prehistoric past. These stories include:
Black Beauty: Discovered in the Crowsnest Pass, this is one of the best preserved Tyrannosaurus rex skulls ever found. 66 million years old, the element manganese accounts for the remarkable black colouring.
Ornithomimus Edmontonicus: Extraordinary find in the summer of 1995 of the nearly complete skeleton of a bird-mimic dinosaur at Dinosaur Provincial Park in SE Alberta.
Dinosaur Babies in Eggs! In 1986, Wendy Sloboda discovered what she thought was a fossilized eggshell. The discovery of nests, eggs and embryonic remains, from a new species of duck-billed dinosaurs caused a media sensation. Contact the Devil’s Coulee Dinosaur Heritage Museum in Warner for a guided tour to the site. Phone: (403) 642-2118. E-mail: email@example.com
While exploring Pipestone Creek in 1973, science teacher and amateur fossil hunter, Al Lakusta found fragments of dinosaur ribs. Since then, more than 3,500 bones including the bones of 40 different animals have been excavated and work continues on this site.
Located 19 kilometers west of the City of Grande Prairie and approximately 16 kilometers south of the Town of Wembley, the bonebed dates back 72-73 million years. It is one of the five most significant dinosaur bonebeds ever discovered. The size of several football fields, it contains the remains of a new species of Pachyrhinosaurus – one of the rarest and least understood horned dinosaurs.
Since 2003, work had been underway to develop the Pipestone Creek dinosaur bonebed, both as a research area for students and as a potential tourist destination. Plans include the construction of a world-class facility to be called the River of Death & Discovery Dinosaur Museum.
Financing for this project was given a real boost in 2010 when Dan Aykroyd & Donna Dixon brought their family to the Pipestone bonebed to get personally involved in a “dino dig”. They were so delighted with their experience that they have agreed to host the inaugural Dan Aykroyd Family and Friends Celebrity Dinner to help raise the last $5.5 million required to complete the construction. This event was held on July 23, 2011 in Wembley, Alberta. For more information, go to https://dinomuseum.ca/2014/08/13/amber-weekend.
About half way in between Grande Prairie, Alberta and Prince George, British Columbia (B.C.), Wapiti Lake Provincial Park is located in a remote area of northeastern B.C. Many excellent specimens have been obtained at Wapiti, including a one metre long diamond-shaped Bobasatrania fish fossil.
“Now wait a minute”, fish fossils!” I exclaimed. “Here in the mountains.”
“That’s right”, replied Dr. Henderson, “When the dinosaurs roamed western Canada 65-100 million years ago, much of this area was filled with swampy coastal forests. And before that, some 230 million years ago, the summits of what is now the Rocky Mountains actually formed the ocean floor. The ocean teemed with life and wonderfully some of the bones of these fish and reptiles have survived.”
Due to the scientific significance of the finds here, Wapiti Lake was established as the first palaeontological reserve in B.C., so to learn more head to Tumbler Ridge the “Dino Capital of BC”. Tumbler Ridge is located 4 hours west of Grande Prairie, at the junction of highways 29 & 52. The Dinosaur Discovery Gallery hosts a massive fossil record of Triassic marine fish and reptiles from this region. www.tumblerridgemuseum.com
Two carefree boys were out for some fun tubing down the Flatbed Creek rapids south of Tumbler Ridge one sunny day in 2000 when a series of what looked like four-toed footprints in the bedrock caught their attention. Subsequent investigations identified the footprints as tracks made by a *theropod some 97 million years ago and led to the discovery of several hundred bones, the largest collection in BC and the oldest bones in Western Canada. Specimens are on display in the Dinosaur Discovery Gallery.
The first discovery of fossils on the mountaintops was made in August 1909, when Dr. Charles Doolittle Walcott, then Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution visited the mountains overlooking the town of Field, B.C. Over the next sixteen years, Walcott collected more than 65,000 fossil specimens from the area now known as the Burgess Shale. These and other fossils recovered from expeditions over the past century, grace the halls of some of the world’s greatest museums, helping to bring an ancient world back to life.
More info and nuggets:
The Cretaceous-Tertiary Boundary marks a moment in time, 65 million years ago, when there was a sudden global change in the environment, devastating many of the animals and plants that were alive at the time. It is marked by a thin layer of sediment, called the Boundary Claystone. One of the best sites in the world to see this claystone is about an hour north of Drumheller, along the Red Deer River, near Trochu, Alberta. No dinosaurs have ever been found above this layer, leading us to believe their demise coincides with this event. Scientists conclude that a meteor collided with Earth and the resulting debris formed the Boundary Claystone.
Mammals began to diversify following the demise of the dinosaurs in ancient Alberta. During the period from 65 to 55 million years ago, an obscure group of bear-sized herbivores lived in the area that is now located just east of Red Deer. In 2001, while widening a road at the Joffre Bridge, a crew discovered the remains of one such pantodonts.
Ammonites are extinct hard-shelled, coiled, squid-like marine creatures—abundant during the Mesozoic Era. Tectonic pressure, heat, and mineralization over millions of years, compress them into colourful, iridescent material used to create jewelry called Ammolite.
Ammonites preserved in this manner are both fossils and gemstones.
There are many exquisite and scientifically significant fossils in the collection of the Royal Tyrrell Museum. However, none are as beautiful as this ammonite. Measuring 62 cm (24.4 inches) in diameter, this specimen is the most brilliant ammonite ever recovered in Alberta.
Korite International operates an open-pit mine near Lethbridge that produces 90% of the world’s Ammolite. At current production levels, the supply of this rare gem is expected to be exhausted within 20 years.
Grande Cache: Although west-central Alberta has not produced many dinosaur skeletons, it has preserved some of the best dinosaur track-sites in the world. More than 10,000 dinosaur footprints have been uncovered in coal mines near Grande Cache. These trackways provide important information about how dinosaurs moved, interacted with their environment, and with each other. Located under a layer of coal in unstable rock, the footprints were first discovered by Smoky River Coal Mine staff in the late 1980s.
The first Canadian scientific dinosaur discovery was made in 1874 by George M. Dawson, the pioneer geologist of Western Canada, after whom both Dawson Creek, British Columbia and Dawson City, Yukon are named.
For more than 30 years, Dr. Philip Currie’s name has been virtually synonymous with dinosaurs in Canada. Currie was involved with the proposal and planning of the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology in Drumheller which opened in 1985 and now attracts about 375,000 visitors from around the world every year. Dr. Currie became the museum’s Curator of Dinosaurs, a position he held for more than 15 years before joining the University of Alberta.
A world-renowned expert on meat-eating dinosaurs, Dr. Currie has carried out extensive research on the anatomy, evolution and behaviour of these great creatures. One of his most notable contributions was his effort to establish the link between birds and dinosaurs. For more than a decade he has been a proponent of the hypothesis that birds originated from dinosaurs.
He has also worked to uncover the many paleo mysteries inside Alberta’s Dinosaur Provincial Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Most recently, along with a professor from Argentina, he identified and named a new species of meat-eating dinosaur, Mapusaurus rosea, which may be one of the biggest meateating dinosaurs known.
Over the years, Dr. Currie has brought dinosaurs and their worlds to life for millions of Canadians through radio and television programs, public lectures, youth programs, films and children’s books. In 2003, Time magazine hailed him as one of Canada’s top five explorers. His research has benefited Alberta and Canada by creating greater international recognition of a very important aspect of Alberta’s natural heritage.
*We received the following note from Jim Merrithew, who currently works at the TOWN OF GRANDE CACHE – TOURISM & INTERPRETIVE CENTRE. We will investigate further.
I was just reading over some of the promotional information for the Experience the Dinosaur Trail publication. I noticed in the following article (Lords of the Land) that the story says the two boys found theropod tracks near Tumbler Ridge. Theropods are two legged predators. I believe the boys found the tracks of four legged Ankylosaurus dinosaurs.
Due to the scientific significance of the finds here, Wapiti Lake was established as the first palaeontological reserve in B.C., so to learn more head to Tumbler Ridge the “Dino Capital of BC”. Tumbler Ridge is located 4 hours west of Grande Prairie, at the junction of highways 29 & 52. The Dinosaur Discovery Gallery hosts a massive fossil record of Triassic marine fish and reptiles from this region.www.tumblerridgemuseum.com
Two carefree boys were out for some fun tubing down the Flatbed Creek rapids south of Tumbler Ridge one sunny day in 2000 when a series of what looked like four-toed footprints in the bedrock caught their attention. Subsequent investigations identified the footprints as tracks made by a theropod some 97 million years ago and led to the discovery of several hundred bones, the largest collection in BC and the oldest bones in Western Canada. Specimens are on display in the Dinosaur Discovery Gallery.
The following is taken from an article written by Dr. Rich McCrea about the discovery of the tracks. I have highlighted the Ankylosaurus reference.
No significant in situ tracksites in northeastern British Columbia were reported until the summer of 2000 when two boys, Mark Turner and Daniel Helm, (then aged 11 and 9 respectively) discovered a trackway when they fell off the inflated tire tubes they were using to navigate a segment of Flatbed Creek near the town of Tumbler Ridge, B.C. (Helm, 2001; 2002) The boys immediately (and correctly) identified the trackway as dinosaurian. By all accounts it took the boys some time to convince the adults in their community that these were dinosaur tracks. The boys showed the trackway to a visiting palaeontologist, Dr. Mark Wilson (University of Alberta), who happened to be in the area. Dr. Wilson confirmed the boys’ find (Helm, 2001) and suggested that they contact Dr. Philip Currie at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology. The boys were then referred to me as I happened to be studying fossil footprints as a part of a Ph.D. program at the University of Alberta. By the boys contacted me it was early in the fall of 2000 and I was unable to make a trip to Tumbler Ridge to look at the footprint finds before winter set in. The boys, with the help of their parents and other interested adults, took many pictures and collected preliminary footprint and trackway measurements. One of the boys (Daniel Helm) used the pictures and data to enter a regional science fair for which he received a silver medal.
I was able to visit Tumbler Ridge from August 15-18, 2001 during a brief interlude from my researches at the major tracksites near the town of Grande Cache, Alberta. I was very surprised by the amount of enthusiasm that was displayed by everyone I met, not only the children, but also the adults. There was a wonderful, scenic hiking trail that led to Flatbed Creek to a point where it was necessary to cross to the other side to see the boys prints. The trackway was composed of two dozen tracks which were the product of a large quadrupedal dinosaur. I was able to identify the trackway as Tetrapodosaurus borealis, an ichnotaxon that has been linked to ankylosaurs (Figure 1). The track-bearing bed and surrounding strata are characteristic of the Dunvegan Formation (Late Cretaceous: Cenomanian) which has extensive outcrops to the north of Tumbler Ridge where dinosaur tracks have long been known. The Flatbed Creek tracksite was mapped and measured with the help of the boys Mark and Daniel, as well some interested adults from the community.
I hope this info is useful to you.
Supervisor, Culture & Tourism
TOWN OF GRANDE CACHE – TOURISM & INTERPRETIVE CENTRE