More than just Dinosaurs

Two kids enjoying the dinosaur diorama in the Talisman Energy Fossil Gallery of the Canadian Museum of Nature
The Talisman Energy Fossil Gallery
Martin Lipman, Canadian Museum of Nature

The Canadian Museum of Nature, Canada’s national museum of natural history, unveiled its renewed historic public exhibitions site in downtown Ottawa on May 22, the International Day for Biological Diversity. The six-year, $216-million refit of the building was funded by the Government of Canada. Five signature exhibitions depicting Canada’s unique natural environment were developed with generous corporate and individual support totaling $12-million. The stunning result is a major national historic site transformed into a 21st-century national museum of the natural sciences.

“Thanks to the major investment made by the Government of Canada, we now have a fully modern natural science museum housed in a significant national historic site,” said Joanne DiCosimo, President and CEO of the Canadian Museum of Nature. “Canada now has a fitting national museum showcase to illustrate and engage the public in the extraordinary variety and complexity of our unique natural environment. The vibrant new signature exhibitions made possible through the success of our Natural Partnerships Campaign present the museum’s own research findings and those of our colleagues across the country. As a result of this comprehensive renewal project, we can now engage visitors and people across Canada in important natural history and environmental topics.”

The comprehensive refit of the Victoria Memorial Museum Building began in 2004 and proceeded in phases. The infrastructure of the 100-year-old historic site was upgraded to meet modern building and seismic codes. Major heritage components were respectfully restored. Museum-standard environmental controls, a shipping-receiving facility and visitor amenities including food and retail services were introduced to meet functional requirements.

Known informally as the “castle” due to its Gothic-style architecture, the building was constructed between 1905 and 1910. Through its 100-year history, it has housed the collections and exhibits of the Geological Survey of Canada, the National Gallery of Canada, the National Museum of Man (now the Canadian Museum of Civilization), and the National Museum of Natural Sciences (now the Canadian Museum of Nature).

Gracing the entrance of the Canadian Museum of Nature is a new glass “lantern.” This structure replaces the original stone tower that was removed in 1915, and houses an essential new staircase to the upper three floors, a functional need that was resolved with the renovations. Behind the scenes, more than 4 million pounds of steel were installed to reinforce the building in event of an earthquake, while an interior “buffer zone” wall in the new gallery spaces ensures control of temperature and humidity to preserve the unique natural treasures on exhibit.

The Museum hosts two new signature galleries. The RBC Blue Water Gallery explores the diversity of freshwater and marine life in Canada. Its centerpiece is the complete 65-foot (20-meter) skeleton of an adolescent blue whale, the largest animal on the planet. The Vale Earth Gallery is a specimen-rich showcase of more than 1000 rocks and minerals, more than half of which have never before been displayed publicly. The exhibition underlines the importance of geology and mineralogy and their significance in everyday life.

These two galleries join the Talisman Energy Fossil Gallery, Mammal Gallery, and Bird Gallery, that opened following the successful conclusion of the initial phases of the renewal project.

The museum has also developed a new space, Animalium, for its live collection of some of the smaller creatures of the animal world, including insects, arachnids, and slugs. Three special traveling exhibitions complement the museum’s signature exhibitions throughout the summer season. Frogs – A Chorus of Colours, created by Peeling Productions, presents live frogs from around the world. The multimedia show AQUA, developed by the One Drop Foundation, vividly illustrates water in all its forms and how it is vital to life. The second edition of the popular exhibition of winners of the Canadian Wildlife Photography of the Year contest, developed by the Canadian Museum of Nature with Canadian Geographic, is also offered, with Canada Post joining the partnership this year.

Support for the development of the new signature galleries, national traveling exhibitions and educational programs was generated through the museum’s successful Natural Partnerships Campaign, which has achieved its $12-million goal with the announcement today of two new $1-million contributions. “We are very grateful for the generous support of RBC, Vale and the many other corporate and private contributors to our campaign,” remarks DiCosimo. “This essential support ensures that we have engaging exhibitions and educational programs reflecting the most current science, both our own and that of our colleagues across Canada.”

New amenities for visitors include the Nature Cafe, boutique, a separate entrance for groups, and specially-equipped classrooms. The beautifully restored and modernized salon will serve as a prime venue for conferences and special events, complementing numerous other unique function spaces now on offer. The new south wing greatly improves the museum’s “back-of-house” activities with a first-ever shipping and receiving capacity and facilities for the care of the live collection, exhibition production, a centralized computer system, and mechanical and electrical maintenance.

The Canadian Museum of Nature is a Crown corporation and Canada’s national museum of natural history and natural science. It promotes awareness of Canada’s natural heritage through signature and traveling exhibitions, public education programs, on-going scientific research, a dynamic web site, and the maintenance of a 10.5-million-specimen collection. A founding member of the Alliance of Natural History Museums of Canada, the museum is working with partners to expand its national service and to develop national programs about the natural environment.