This week we visited the town of Drumheller, the home of Canada’s only museum of paleontology and the home of one of the largest collections of dinosaur fossils in the world. The town itself is perched on the edge of the Canadian Badlands, just over an hour east of Calgary, where the green rolling farmland of southern Alberta suddenly falls away to reveal an otherworldly landscape of sandstone valleys and rock formations called hoodoos. Looking along the walls of the valley you can clearly see the horizontal lines of sediment deposits laid out over millions of years. The area is a treasure trove for paleontologists and an amazing array of fossils have been found in the area over the years.
Our first stop on the way into town was the “World’s Largest T-Rex” which stands outside the tourism information office. You can climb up to the top of the fibreglass sculpture and look out over the countryside through it’s mouth for $3 per person so I sent my husband up with the kids to pose at the top while I took some pictures.
From there we headed to the main event, the Royal Tyrell Museum on the outskirts of town. The Royal Tyrell Museum is a world class museum with one of the largest collections of dinosaur fossils in the world. It is named after Joseph Tyrell, a geologist who discovered the fossil of a large carnivorous dinosaur nearby in 1884. The museum opened in 1984 and I remember visiting it several years later when I was 12 years old. It was brand new at the time and very impressive and I was concerned that it wouldn’t live up to my expectations all these years later.
Fortunately, the museum seems to have survived the test of time and it doesn’t feel at all worn or dated. The main pathway through the museum takes you through a chronological journey from the earliest dinosaurs through to the great extinction and the age of mammals. The specimens in the main hall are every bit as impressive as the ones in the American Museum of Natural History in New York City but the setting was even better. There were several fossils that could be touched by visitors and short films for the kids to sit and watch. You could also view a large room where fossils were being removed from the surrounding rock and watch the painstaking work firsthand.
My four and five year old really enjoyed their time at the museum, but it is probably even more ideal for slightly older kids who are somewhat familiar with the names of dinosaurs and the different prehistoric ages. There wasn’t really any sort of a toddler area, although there are hands on exhibits scattered throughout the museum. Outside the museum there was an excellent playground and a sand area where they could dig for “dinosaur bones” as well. Another highlight was the colony of gophers that had taken over the grounds. The kids spent quite a bit of time waiting at the holes for them to pop out and trying to guess where they would appear next.
All in all I’m glad we made the detour to Drumheller on our way from Calgary to Edmonton. It’s a bit out of the way, but it’s a beautiful drive and the museum is well worth a half day visit. With older kids who were interested in Dinosaurs you could probably fill the whole day, especially if you took advantage of the many educational programs offered for school aged kids. I’m pretty sure we’ll be back some day!