New Mural Tells a Thousand Collecting Stories

A new mural near the main entrance of the Canadian Museum of Nature’s research campus depicts a spectacularly dense and colourful web of interconnected peoples’ names.

This web is the grand social network of collectors who together have hiked trails, paddled rivers, trudged through bogs, and visited the Far North and other remote places in Canada in search of natural treasures.

A mural showing a network of collectors.

The mural in the lobby of the museum’s research campus on Pink Road in Gatineau, Quebec, reveals the connections between a sampling of the thousands of people who have contributed specimens to the museum’s collections. Image: David P. Shorthouse © Canadian Museum of Nature

Though from a distance the mural appears to be a piece of abstract art, on closer inspection each bubble on the mural is a collector’s name and each line joining names represents the type of museum specimen that links those collectors.

For instance, in 2010 museum botanist Laurie Consaul worked with residents in Sanikiluaq, Nunavut, to document local plant diversity, creating the cluster of names shown below.

close-up of mural showing collectors' names

The collector network formed by museum botanist Laurie Consaul and residents of Sanikiluaq, Nunavut. Image: David. P. Shorthouse © Canadian Museum of Nature.

Museum folk use the term “natural heritage” to describe objects inherited from past generations, maintained in the present and bestowed to future generations. The museum’s research campus houses 14.6 million natural history specimens, from dinosaur fossils to microscopic algae, exquisitely preserved for future generations of Canadians.

Each specimen has a record of its identity, where and when it was collected, and who collected it, information that’s critical for biodiversity science.

Herbarium sheet with a pressed plant

A snow cinquefoil (Potentilla nivea) specimen collected by Laurie Consaul and residents of Sanikiluaq, Nunavut. © Canadian Museum of Nature. Catalogue number: CAN 599404

What the specimen labels don’t fully record is the immense effort required to build and maintain this massive collection, and the intense feelings involved.

The term natural heritage includes a notion of pride, responsibility, and our own identity in relation to Canada’s natural wonders. Your personal heritage may include fond memories of hiking or camping, or attending a bioblitz where an expert helped identify a flitting butterfly or a delicate moss.

Those same feelings of belonging and connectedness are shared by the thousands of collectors who have contributed specimens to the museum.

two people looking at the mural

Teresa Neamtz, a student in the museum’s Scientific Training Program, and lichenologist and Researcher Emeritus Irwin Brodo share an anecdote while examining a network of collectors. Image: Susan Goods © Canadian Museum of Nature.

The mural is fully appreciated if you have the good fortune to view it with a museum staff member during our annual research campus Open House.

As they gaze at the names of fellow collectors, anecdotes of their own collecting trips will begin to bubble to the surface. They will share humorous stories about their trips, tidbits about the specimens and other natural history discoveries.

You too will become connected to the great stories that are part of our natural heritage.

People standing in the river holding nets

Since the early 1970s, herpetologist and museum research associate Frederick W. Schueler (right) has contributed an enormous number of diverse specimens to the museum, from Canadian amphibians and reptiles, to fish, plants and invertebrates. Here, Schueler and colleagues electrofish for lamprey larvae in the Ottawa River, 26 May, 1987. © Canadian Museum of Nature

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