I’m a palaeontologist who is used to thinking in ‘deep time’—usually on the order of tens to hundreds of millions of years. As such, you might think that something like a hundred-year anniversary would mean very little to me, but in this case, you’d be mistaken.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the first fossil gallery at the Canadian Museum of Nature. In fact, it was the first of its kind in Canada! When the gallery opened its doors in January 1913, the exhibits were inspiring, but not terribly representative of the fossil life that Canada has to offer. The exhibits consisted mostly of marine fish from Kansas and mammals from Wyoming, purchased from private fossil hunters in the United States.

View of large room, with displays of fossils, including a large fish.
The museum’s original fossil gallery, ca. 1913. © Canadian Museum of Nature.

Enter the Sternbergs. This family of fossil hunters, consisting of a father and his three sons, was hired by the Geological Survey of Canada to collect fossils for the museum in places such as the badlands of Alberta and the cliffs of Joggins, Nova Scotia. Over many years, the Sternbergs amassed one of the finest collections of dinosaurs in the world, and many of their best finds are still displayed proudly in what is now the Talisman Energy Fossil Gallery.

Nine men sit and stand for the camera at a field camp site in Alberta.
The Sternbergs with field crew in Alberta, ca. 1917 © Canadian Museum of Nature.

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the fossil gallery, we’ve placed a number of photographic displays throughout the gallery that depict the fossils as they appeared up to a century ago.

Some of the displays also relay short stories relating to some of our longest-standing “stars”. Be sure to check these out on your next visit to the museum. See which of our dinosaur skeletons was the first ever to be displayed in Canada, and why it took a full 61 years for the skull of our Styracosaurus to be reunited with its body! We will also be introducing live fossil preparation in the gallery on Saturdays during November, so please keep an eye out for that, too.

Closeup of a display case with dinosaur bones, drawings and models.
An early fossil display case, ca. 1935. © Canadian Museum of Nature.

I’ll finish with an amusing anecdote that didn’t make it into the new displays (consider it a blog-only bonus). After collecting for the Geological Survey of Canada, Charles H. Sternberg (the father) continued to collect for other museums around the world. In 1916, he collected the skull of a horned dinosaur in Alberta on behalf of one of those museums. After shipping the skull to his employer overseas, he received a response letter stating that his find was “nothing but rubbish”. However, nearly 100 years later, a team of palaeontologists re-examined the skull and deemed it to be that of a new species, which they named Spinops sternbergorum. Charles H. Sternberg passed away in 1943, but he still got the last laugh!