Minerals, Rocks and More
The deepest historical roots of the museum are related to the geological exploration of Canada. For over 150 years, that exploration has yielded rocks and minerals that have been researched, displayed for curious public audiences, shared with the scientific community and conserved for future uses.
Geological collections have been at the Canadian Museum of Nature since 1965. We have comprehensive collections of minerals, gems, deposit suites and rocks. Within our collections of more than 60 070 specimens, there are 458 holotype and cotype mineral specimens. Researchers and graduate students from Canada and abroad depend on these collections to form the foundation for their research projects.
The Mineral Collection is an extensive collection of minerals from Canada and from around the world, and is heavily used by the research community. The collection was enhanced with the addition of the William Pinch collection and is visited regularly by professionals and amateurs studying Canadian minerals. Contained within this collection are about 5000 radioactive specimens, safely housed in a specially-designed vault, and may be the finest collection of radioactives in the world.
The Rock Collection is a small assemblage of rocks from around the world, and is used primarily for display purposes. The samples illustrate the three main rock types: igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic.
The Gem Collection consists of more than 1220 specimens and contains a wonderful collection of faceted stones, cabochons and carvings, primarily from Canada. Many represent unconventional mineral species or complex cutting styles. A number of these were donated by Canadians to enhance the National Collection. The G.G. Waite subcollection is an important cornerstone of the gem collection.
The Mineral Occurrence Collection represents comprehensive suites of samples from important mines and mineral deposits, primarily in Canada. The specimens are mostly research-grade material and are ultimately intended for use by future researchers, at points in time when those sites are eventually closed or become otherwise inaccessible.
Curation of a collection of specimens whose sizes range from so small they require a scanning electron microscope to view, to so large and heavy they require industrial racking for storage and forklifts to move, can be a challenge. The museum's geological collections are stored in a series of environmentally-controlled rooms. In certain cases, individual cabinets are environmentally controlled, for example to preserve hygroscopic or thermally sensitive material, or to prevent chemical reactions that would degrade the specimens. All storage material that will be in direct contact with the specimens is tested to ensure it will not degrade or introduce pollutants that could potentially damage the collection. These measures ensure the long-term preservation of the collection.
Unlike the other natural sciences, in mineralogy, curation also includes building and displaying the collection for purely aesthetic purposes, not unlike art collections. Like fine art, aesthetic mineral samples have a commercial value and competition for these samples is high. Mineralogy curators regularly visit mineral and gem shows to purchase new material for the collections, occasionally collect display-quality materials in the field and create small exhibitions that illustrate special themes or concepts.