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  5. Moving and Restoring Diorama Treasures

Moving and Restoring Diorama Treasures

Martin Lipman © Canadian Museum of Nature


The bottom of this massive diorama shell was sliced off and the upper portion jacked up before the bottom section was slid out from underneath.

The Canadian Museum of Nature's spectacular dioramas are three-dimensional, realistic recreations of wildlife habitats, and they've been a valuable part of the museum since the late 1950s and early 1960s.

The backdrops of eight dioramas were painted by Manitoba wildlife artist Clarence Tillenius, who also helped with their design. Over the years they've captivated thousands of admiring onlookers with their realism and fine detail. They're big too! The largest is almost 5 metres high and 8.5 metres long, and weighs more than 2 tonnes.

Martin Lipman © Canadian Museum of Nature


Many hands were needed to carefully guide the diorama components across the scaffolding bridge.

When these installations were first created, no one thought they would ever be moved. But decades later, renovations to the museum required that they be installed in the new Mammal Gallery on the other side of the building, beyond a vast atrium. Just how were these huge and heavy heritage pieces to be relocated?

Rebuilding these complex habitat recreations took a dedicated team of conservators, scientists, exhibition designers, taxidermists and artists. They documented the thousands of components of the 18 dioramas. They cleaned, reassembled and retouched everything from the background paintings to the flowers and leaves in the foregrounds.

The new Mammal Gallery boasts some attractive changes from its predecessor. The illusion of "being there" is enhanced by better sightlines to the dioramas, non-reflective windows and higher ceilings. More specimens have been added to better tell the story of mammal adaptation. Each diorama is now complemented by large-format touch-screen computers with supplemental, interactive content. There are more hands-on activities and new spaces in which to do them.

By saving the best from the past and improving the experience, we've refreshed the vitality of this historic part of the gallery. Future generations of visitors can marvel at the dioramas' artistry while learning about Canada's unique environments.

Locations Depicted

Each diorama represents a location somewhere in Canada, a place where one could go and stand and see virtually the same scene.



Mountains on the left are in Waterton Lakes National Park; mountain on the right is in Glacier National Park, Montana, USA


British Columbia

Little Qualicum Falls, Vancouver Island

Richardson's ground squirrel




New Brunswick

Fundy National Park, looking down Acorn Hill toward the Bay of Fundy and the Nova Scotia coastline

Bison and wolf

Northwest Territories

Lake Claire, Wood Buffalo National Park

Arctic hare


Kokumiak River Basin, Southampton Island

Muskox and husky


Above Wager Bay, on the west coast of Hudson Bay

Little brown bat, short-tailed shrew and white-footed mouse


Doré Lake



Lac Fortune, Gatineau Park

Grey squirrel


Champlain Lookout, Gatineau Park

Water shrew


Lac Taylor



Black Lake



Near Woodpile Creek

Arctic ground squirrel


Ogilvie Mountains northeast of Dawson

Collared pika


Ogilvie Mountains

Dall's sheep


Sheep Mountain, overlooking Slims River

Canadian Museum of Nature © Canadian Museum of Nature


Martin Lipman © Canadian Museum of Nature