There’s a new reason to take the short drive along Alberta’s Highway 43 from Grande Prairie to the community of Wembley—a wonderful new dinosaur museum anchored by a bone bed filled with fossil treasure.
The Philip J. Currie Dinosaur Museum hosted an open house on September 3, 2015 and welcomed more than 2,000 visitors. I witnessed the wonder and pride experienced by the young—and the young at heart—who wanted to be part of something new and exciting.
Named after Dr. Philip Currie, Canada’s leading palaeontologist, the new museum honours his lifelong commitment to the discovery and study of palaeo-heritage.
What is interesting, however, is the role played by a school teacher in the museum’s creation. As noted on the museum’s website: “Al Lakusta stumbled upon something exciting while out on a nature walk one day at Pipestone Creek. His findings that day in 1974 would eventually be identified as bones of a yet to be discovered species Pachyrhinosaurus – a type of horned dinosaur, which subsequently was re-christened Pachyrhinosaurus lakustai after Lakusta.”
Palaeontologists from the Royal Tyrrell Museum, including Dr. Currie, eventually examined that same area and realized there were thousands of bones in a massive bone bed. This rich site has become a treasure trove of fossil finds that eventually inspired the creation of the new museum.
While the fossils are the main draw, the museum is also an impressive piece of architecture designed by Teeple Architects in conjunction with Architecture Tkalcic Bengert. The elegant modern design provides wonderful natural light, interesting angles, and warmth from the extensive use of wood in the public spaces. This building was also one of the fastest design/build/install projects that the museum world knows of!
In addition to the state-of-the-art displays, the museum opening featured a travelling exhibition called Ice Age Mammals—created and toured by the Canadian Museum of Nature in collaboration with members of the Alliance of Natural History Museums of Canada. The temporary exhibit space was packed and so I am confident it is a welcome addition to the museum’s permanent displays.
This gem of a museum is certainly worth a trip to the Grande Prairie area any time of year. I encourage any visitor to take advantage of the helicopter tours of the nearby Pipestone Creek bone bed. These offer an amazing way to view both the museum and the bone bed that inspired its creation.