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100 Years of Dinosaurs on Display

Martin Lipman © Canadian Museum of Nature


Edmontosaurus regalis in 2006, when the new Talisman Energy Fossil Gallery opened.

Imagine trying to blow out 100 candles on a birthday cake! A challenge for sure, but one that a dinosaur could manage—especially one as large as Edmontosaurus regalis.

Edmontosaurus died well over 65 million years ago, but the Canadian Museum of Nature’s skeleton of this duck-billed dinosaur has the distinction of being the first dinosaur mounted for display in Canada—unveiled to a curious public exactly 100 years ago this July.

At the time, it was undoubtedly a centrepiece for the new Hall of Fossil Vertebrates, which had just opened six months earlier on January 20, 1913. Today, Edmontosaurus is the granddaddy of the museum’s many dinosaurs by virtue of being there first.

While the museum’s current fossil gallery features the fearsome Daspletosaurus as one of its marquee stars, it’s hard not to miss Edmontosaurus. Its skeleton is embedded in a mixture of plaster and concrete, and mounted on a giant panel, a style of display that is “old-school” compared with today’s free-form mounts.

Source: National Museum of Canada 22229. Courtesy Canadian Museum of Civilization.


Original Hall of Fossil Vertebrates in 1913.

But back in 1913, Edmontosaurus took pride of place as the museum (then under the direction of the Geological Survey of Canada) was steadily building a remarkable collection of dinosaur material, much of it from fossil-rich Alberta. Included in this bounty was Edmontosaurus, which had been collected in 1912 along the Red Deer River valley. 

Edmontosaurus has had about four different “homes” in the museum over the decades, reflecting changes to the museum’s fossil displays. The most recent move occurred in 2006, when a 20-strong team of staff and contractors inched the 6,800 kg mount from one side of the museum to the other---becoming the first specimen to be installed in the new fossil gallery.

Even though new knowledge, technology and modern display techniques change the look and feel of a fossil gallery over time, one thing that hasn’t changed is the appeal of dinosaurs. Wrote Lawrence Lambe, the museum’s palaeontologist in 1913: “The public has not been slow to take advantage of the opening of the museum on Sunday afternoons, when the fossil vertebrates have received their full share of attention, the hall being generally crowded up to the hour of closing.” Clearly then, as now, dinosaurs and the other creatures that lived alongside them have timeless appeal.

As for Edmontosaurus, it will likely remain in the fossil gallery for decades until the next reworking of the museum’s dinosaur gallery. But when the time comes, a surprise awaits the movers in the form of a “time-capsule” envelope hidden behind the panel by Curator of Palaeobiology Kieran Shepherd. There’s a picture of the move team from 2006, some coins from the day, but most importantly some advice on the best way to move the heavy panel mount—ensuring that Edmontosaurus will continue to amaze and inspire visitors for another 100 years.

Be sure to visit our fossil gallery and pass on birthday wishes to Edmontosaurus. Keep your eye out for some of our other “centennial stars” (or close to it). These include the skull of the horned dinosaur Styracosaurus, which was displayed for the first time in December 1913, and the panel mount of Xiphactinus, a giant carnivorous fish.