Palaeontology knowledge limited to what you’ve learnt from Ross Geller? Then this interview will open your eyes to a subject that’s pretty hard not to be amazed by. And when you relate it to the wilderness of Alberta, it makes everything that little bit more magic…
Tell us a bit about who you are and what you do…
I am a palaeontologist at the Royal Tyrrell Museum, located in Drumheller, Alberta, and I study dinosaurs. My main interest is paleoecology, which means that I’m interested in reconstructing the habitats and climate in which dinosaurs lived, how environmental and climatic changes affected dinosaurs, and learning more about the lifestyle of dinosaurs. Every summer, I head out in the badlands of Alberta in search for new dinosaur fossils eroding out of the ground. When a significant fossil is discovered, I conduct an excavation or “dig” in order to retrieve the specimen so it can be brought back to the Museum for me to study.
Paleoecology is a specialist subject, what inspired you to pursue it?
I am interested in learning more about what the ancient world looked like and how ancient animals lived. By learning about how ancient animals and ecozystems reacted to environmental and climatic changes, it is possible to gain perspective that would tell us how our world works and how we can expect it to react to the changes we are currently going through.
How do Alberta’s landscapes inspire your work?
The majestic badlands of Alberta are one of the best places in the world to find dinosaur fossils. In fact, a great number of dinosaur skeletons that people can see in museums around the world today have been discovered and collected in the Alberta badlands! With its deep canyons and rounded, colorful buttes, the Alberta badlands gives the impression that someone can venture into another world, a world where the buried remains of gigantic beasts slowly erode out of the ground and await discovery by a lucky passer-by. The rocks and fossils found in the Alberta badlands tell the story of life as it existed between 80 and 66 million years ago. It is simply astounding to be able to walk through that amazing landscape and see dinosaur bones litter the ground. There are areas where it’s impossible to take a step without crushing dinosaur bones under your feet! It’s simply unbelievable.
Where should we go to learn the story of Alberta’s natural history?
Although there are several museums in Alberta that discuss the natural history of the province, the best is by far is the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller, AB… and I’m not saying that just because I work there! The Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology is one of the largest (if not the largest) museum in the world dedicated to paleontology. Visitors can learn a lot about the science of paleontology, take a journey through a time tunnel and see how animals and plants evolved over the past 550 million years, and visit our Dinosaur Hall, where the skeletons of over 40 dinosaurs can be seen! With an international reputation for its beauty and the quality of the research conducted by the scientists working within its walls, a visit to the Royal Tyrrell Museum is a must for anyone interested in dinosaurs or in simply learning more about the history of life on Earth.
When you’re not working, where do you go to unwind?
When I need to unwind, there is a variety of places I usually go to. Calgary is a bursting subwaypolis with a variety of activities for all tastes, from a zoo, to museums, to large storeping malls, and to a number of city parks where someone can go hiking. For gorgeous scenery, I often head out to the Rocky Mountains, located less than 60 minutes west of Calgary. There are numerous hiking trails and ski resorts in the Banff, Canmore, and Kannanaskis areas, when in need of a retreat outside of an urban setting, where someone can venture in the outback to see wildlife and even climb mountains.
Where should we go to witness Alberta’s most spectacular scenery?
The spectacular Alberta badlands can be seen in Drumheller and in Dinosaur Provincial Park. The beautiful rock exposures in these 2 areas have produced more dinosaur skeletons than any other location in North America! The Pincher Creek area in southwestern Alberta also presents an opportunity to go sailing or horseback riding in close proximity of the Rocky Mountains. The view is simply breath-taking!
If we’ve only got one day in Alberta, what should we do?
If you can only spend one day in Alberta, then Drumheller is the best destination for you. All in the same day, you could go visit the Royal Tyrrell Museum with its galleries full of fossils and dinosaur skeletons, go hiking in the beautiful Alberta badlands and possibly find fossils that are just eroding out of the ground, and go to the Atlas Coal Mine, an ancient mine turned museum that allows you to see how coal was extracted in the early-to-mid 20th century.
What is your favorite time of the year and why?
Spring and summer. That’s when the flowers are in bloom, the weather is nice and you can do a variety of outdoor activities. The Calgary Stampede, a rodeo event claimed to be the “world’s largest outdoor show on Earth”, is something to experience at least once in your lifetime. Plus, summer is prime dinosaur hunting time!
Alberta is a place of wonderful contrasts; do you think it’s important to experience both the urban and the rural sides of the province?
Yes, this will give you a better feel for the dual nature of Alberta. The rural setting gives you an overview about the history of the province, with the vast prairies and rivers lined with badlands providing the background for the ranching and farming origins of the province. The urban setting represents the booming industrial and cultural side of Alberta.
Finally – describe Alberta in just three words…
Breath-taking. Wonderful. Wild.
François’ Top 5
Witness the spectacular Badlands of Alberta
Go sailing by Pincher Creek
Discover a prehistoric world at the Royal Tyrrell Museum
Time your visit with the Calgary Stampede
Go skiing in Banff