Three transport trucks parked at the Canadian Museum of Nature.
Trucks about to have their Extreme Mammals cargo unloaded. Image: Jonathan Ferrabee © Canadian Museum of Nature

They’re heeeeere! The Extreme Mammals are migrating en masse from the Cleveland Museum of Natural History to the Canadian Museum of Nature, and when we say en masse we mean, quite literally, a lot of mass!

Last week we received four 53-foot-long transport trailers, on Sunday morning we received three more, and next week we will receive another four. That’s eleven trailers coming into the museum, but we’re not done there… We still have to ship another eight trailers of empty crates out for storage in the warehouse.

Large wooden crates in a gallery of the Canadian Museum of Nature.
The Extreme Mammals crates in the third-floor gallery of the Canadian Museum of Nature, where the exhibition will open on June 3. Image: Jonathan Ferrabee © Canadian Museum of Nature

There are 157 crates for the show, some of which are big enough to drive a car into! They hold the almost 100 unique specimens and many “fleshed out”, full-sized models that illustrate the strange and extreme adaptations in mammals through the millennia. This cast of characters from the Extreme Mammals exhibition will fill more than 700 square metres (7,535 square feet) of exhibit space.

So there’s a lot of big rigs coming and going here at the museum. Because we share elevators with our visitors, we do all the moving in the building before 9:00 AM so that we don’t get in the way of our guests heading to their favourite exhibition during the day. Most days, that means unloading the first truck at 6:00 a.m. No rush-hour traffic around at that hour of the day!

A man unpacks a crate that contains the head and neck of a life-sized model of Indricotherium.
The head and neck of a life-sized model of Indricotherium. Image: Jonathan Ferrabee © Canadian Museum of Nature

Some of these trucks have climate control inside the trailers to keep the humidity and temperature at fixed levels to properly conserve the specimens. They also feature specialized suspension for a super-smooth ride, thereby ensuring the specimens aren’t subjected to a lot of vibration or Ottawa’s famous spring potholes.

Yessir, there’s a lot of just plain hard work behind the scenes to get a big blockbuster show set up. There are two weeks of shipping and receiving, then three weeks during which we assemble structures, install specimens, fire up video and computer interactives, hang graphics, light the show and take care of a thousand small details.

Luckily we have the best team around for taking on the installation. We have technicians who specialize in all kinds of exhibit technology, such as audio/visual, lighting and display assembly, from both our museum as well as the American Museum of Natural History in New-York where the show originally comes from.

Several people preparing to lift a life-sized model of Ambulocetus from its wooden crate.
The team carefully unpacks a model of Ambulocetus, one of the "strange creatures" in the Extreme Mammals exhibition. Image: Jonathan Ferrabee © Canadian Museum of Nature

We also have registrars and conservation specialists from both museums who record the condition of each specimen and then install them according to strict requirements. Our security staff round out the crew, ensuring everything is safe.

Yup, they’re hardworking and knowledgeable… and they get up very early!!!

The best part about setting up a show is that we get a sneak preview. And let me tell you, there’s some pretty bizarre looking critters in this one and they’ll be camping out at the Canadian Museum of Nature for the next six months. Our visitors are gonna love this show!!!