Tumbler Ridge Museum wants more provincial support for fossils
“It’s a 450-million-year-old story that we can tell here,” says mayor, frustrated with provincial funding disparities
As the province plans to spend $789 million to rebuild the Royal BC Museum in Victoria, community leaders in northeast British Columbia say hundreds of millions of years of fossil records in the largest museum BC dinosaurs are “nickel and faded”.
The injection of such an extraordinary sum of money into a single museum has many questioning the fairness of the decision, as small museums in British Columbia are also in desperate need of funding for programs, development business and tourism.
Tumbler Ridge Mayor Keith Bertrand says he would like to see more provincial involvement in his community’s Dinosaur Discovery Gallery.
“There are endless possibilities there. The gallery only displays, I would say, about a quarter of the artifacts that are actually in the building. It’s just been 20 years that it’s nickel and black, ”said Bertrand. “We have what we have, which is amazing, but it could be so much more.”
The gallery remains the largest dinosaur museum in British Columbia, with more than 3,000 fossils contained in its warehouse, a former school gymnasium. These fossils are the future of the museum, Bertrand says, with pieces ranging from two inches to 10 feet long.
“It’s something to celebrate; it’s a 450 million year old story that we can tell here,” he said.
Bertrand claims the province is the true owner of the fossils, pointing out that the Tumbler Ridge Museum only kept them in its name.
“The fossils belong to the province, but they have always said that they would like to see the fossils preserved in the region where they were found, so that the local economy can also benefit,” said Bertrand. “We certainly have a high visitor rate, but my vision for the future is to become a provincial repository and hopefully have provincial staff in the museum as well.”
“At the district, we think we should send a 20-year storage fee to the province.”
The Tumbler Ridge area was designated a UNESCO Global Geopark in 2014, protecting 8,500 square kilometers of rocks and mountains, with geological records dating back to the Cretaceous period.
Municipal funds have generally been provided annually to the museum by the District of Tumbler Ridge and supplemented by the Regional District of Peace River. In 2021, $220,000 was provided by the Tumbler Ridge District to the museum foundation for operations, and an additional $150,000 went to the Tumbler Ridge Global Geopark Society.
Dr. Charles Helm said he would like to see a more equitable distribution of funding from the province, as the fossils contained at Tumbler Ridge and the Peace River region in general are unique in the world – rich in tracks, bones, teeth and skin prints rarely found elsewhere in the world.
“They don’t belong to us individually or to the museum, they belong to the province of British Columbia. The province owns it, but that hasn’t translated into financial support,” Helm said. “On the one hand, the fact that the Royal BC Museum is receiving this injection of funds shows that this government is ready to recognize the importance of heritage and museums. In this sense, it is good; I just wish there was a fairer distribution across the province.
Helm says British Columbia need only look to its neighbors in Alberta and Saskatchewan, home to world-class dinosaur and natural science museums.
“Any other province in Canada, any other state in North America and any other country in the world, if they had this embarrassment of wealth, they would support it and they would pay for research and museums,” Helm said. “But we, for some reason, live in the only province where it’s not a priority. So, we’re absolutely the odd person out, and I don’t really understand why.
Only 14 Tyrannosaur tracks have been found worldwide, including nine in Tumbler Ridge Global Geopark. A sister site exists at Hudson’s Hope, with around 10,000 dinosaur tracks yet to be discovered.
Ancient crocodile swim tracks have also been found in the Geopark, while nearby communities have discovered creatures like the Pink Mountain Dinosaur and the Hudsonelpedia, rare aquatic reptiles.
Both of these discoveries were moved out of province to Alberta and Ontario due to a lack of funding, proper storage space and experts to work on them.
“We have a bed of bones with at least four, five dinosaurs just waiting to be discovered. We have the first dinosaur in British Columbia; its skull is still in the plaster sheath it was in placed 10 years ago because there is no funding to work on it,” Helm said.
Helm was there for the start of the museum’s 20-year history, when his son Daniel discovered the first dinosaur tracks at Tumbler Ridge in 2000. The museum was established just two years after that discovery to protect and preserve what had been found.
“He was a pioneer here, it goes without saying how much he loves this place,” Bertrand said.
The Ministry of Tourism announced that it has provided $606,000 to the Tumbler Ridge UNESCO Global Geopark for an interpretive center and fossil collection repository proposed for the museum. He said the province also provided nearly $1 million in resilience supplements in 2021 to support community museums during the pandemic.
“The government’s Heritage Branch is working with selected local institutions and the Royal BC Museum to recover and preserve important fossil resources by ensuring regional fossil resources remain in the region,” a ministry spokesperson said. .
Tumbler Ridge Museum curator Zena Conlin said while partnerships are appreciated and staff do their best to work with the province and the Royal BC Museum, there is always more to do.
“Every time I see money being spent on museums, arts and culture, heritage, it’s a good thing. I think our frustration is that most of the collection is actually owned by the province of British Columbia and we don’t see any financial support coming directly from the province,” she said.
“It’s not just us, there are museums across BC that hold fossils in their collection or have archaeological items under provincial oversight.”
Tom Summer, Alaska Highway News, Local Journalism Initiative.
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