At first glance, the small city of Drumheller seems an unlikely place to find a superb science museum – one of the finest in Canada and one that is very family-oriented. The museum opened in 1985 and was given “Royal” status in 1990 by Queen Elizabeth, a sign of high distinction.
I live in Calgary and when I have visitors who are inclined to see a museum, I always suggest they drive to see the Royal Tyrrell. Alberta is the dinosaur capital of the world and this museum houses one of the most interesting and diverse collection of fossils and related items you’ll find anywhere. The Royal Tyrrell has a collection of over 125,000 fossils, mostly vertebrates.
The Museum is located in Midland Provincial Park, 6 km (4 miles) from Drumheller itself, in the heart of Alberta’s badlands. Floods from melting glaciers carved the unique landscape around the museum more than 10,000 years ago, creating dramatic eroded beauty. But it’s what’s buried within the ground that is this area’s treasure, as the most extensive deposits of dinosaur bones found anywhere in the world are in Alberta’s badlands.
Fossils on display vary from invertebrates found in the nearby Burgess Shale of the Canadian Rockies, to those of mammoths, but the predominant displays are of the Jurassic era, especially of duck-billed dinosaurs (herbivores) and Albertosaurus (carnivores), which were plentiful here. Displays include everything from a nest of dinosaur eggs, dinosaur footprints, and even beautiful ammonite (popular in making jewelery).
The museum is very diverse, with many exhibit halls and spaces, which can be enjoyed by everyone. These include:
A Cretaceous Garden, which recreates a lush coastal environment with swamps, ponds and marshes much like how prehistoric Alberta might have been when dinosaurs roamed here.
Devonian Reef. A life-size model of Alberta 375-million-years ago, during the Age of fishes.
Burgess Shale: Underwater world, featuring small, odd and unique creatures found fossilized in the Burgess Shale of Yoho National Park.
Cretaceous Alberta has life-size models of Albertosaurus moving across a dry river channel. It was a top predator, just like it’s bigger cousin, T Rex. The first Albertosaurus was discovered by Joseph Tyrrell, after whom the museum is named, then a young geologist searching for coal.
Lords of the Land: T-Rex and other top carnivore exhibit. Tyrell’s original Albertosaurus fossil is part of this exhibit.
Preparation Lab: See how fossils are meticulously removed from their rocks. The Tyrrell Museum is not just an exhibit hall but a place of ongoing scientific research and specimen preparation.
Dinosaur Hall. One of the world’s largest displays of dinosaur remains, with 40 mounted skeletons, from Stegosaurus to T Rex to Triceratops.
Age of Mammals, with displays like this mock-up of a saber-tooth cat attaching a mammoth.
You’ll find plenty of activities to engage your kids, from play areas, to interesting displays, to dinosaur digs, fossil casting, lectures, and several hiking options. Science camps in Midland Park and Museum camp-ins are held in the summer months, so if these interest you contact the museum before arriving.
If you visit
Drumheller is situated northeast of Calgary, about an hour and a half’s drive (135 km, 84 mi) from the city. You will need a car to get there as public transportation options are suboptimal. The drive through the prairies is quite nice – even interesting if you’ve not visited the prairies before – with an especially notable stop being Horseshoe Canyon a few kilometers this side of Drumheller.
The Museum is open daily, except for major holidays, and there are extended hours during the summer. Plenty of free parking is available on site. Museum admission is reasonable, less than $50.00 for a family of up to 8. Click on the Museum’s website for further information
Be sure to allow a full day to explore the museum.