150 things about Canadian palaeo – part 3, early palaeontologists #FossilFriday

Now onto week 3 of my 150 things about Canadian palaeontology. So far I’ve introduced you to some general bits about palaeo in Canada, and discussed the Burgess Shale. This week I’m going to talk a bit about the important people in some of the history of Canadian palaeontology. Not all are Canadian, but they are some people who really kicked off the interest in Canada. Starting off with number 15/150:

15. In 1856, the first full-time palaeontologist was appointed to the Geological Survey of Canada, which was Elkanah Billings. His work focused primarily around Ottawa and the St. Lawrence River, but also other areas of Ontario and even Nova Scotia. He built up a large collection of fossils, particularly of echinoderms and brachiopods.

16. Sir John William Dawson was a geologist at McGill University and the first Canadian-born scientist to receive international recognition for his work. He was mostly interested in palaeobotany, studying fossilised plants in coal from the Gaspé Peninsula. He formed the Royal Society of Canada, and also happened to be extremely anti-Darwin, not believing in evolution.

17. Joseph Burr Tyrrell (pronounced TEER-uhl, not TIE-rell) was a Canadian geologist born in 1858, and worked for the Geological Survey of Canada, where he spent time exploring southern Alberta and the Red Deer River valley. He was looking for coal, and succeeding in finding a significant coal seam. But on August 12 1884, he also stumbled across a dinosaur skull near what is now Drumheller. This was the first of many dinosaurs identified from Canada, and the Royal Tyrrell Museum now bears his name in honour.

18. Another Geological Survey of Canada employee, Lawrence M. Lambe discovered a number of dinosaurs in the early 1900’s, and named many new genera and species, including well known dinosaurs like CentrosaurusEuoplocephalusGorgosaurus and more. He also named the most common crocodilian fossil found in Alberta, Leidyosuchus. For this, he has the honour of having a double-barrel dinosaur name named after him – Lambeosaurus lambei.

19. A little after Lambe was most active, the University of Toronto sent a group out to southern Alberta where they discovered a new hadrosaur (duck-billed dinosaur) in 1922. William Parks was responsible for describing this amazing specimen, one of the most easily recognisable hadrosaurs, Parasaurolophus. This specimen is still on display today at the Royal Ontario Museum. He was responsible for naming Lambeosaurus (for Lawrence Lambe, as mentioned above), and other dinosaurs.

The original Parasaurolophus specimen described by Parks in 1922, taken by me last summer at the Royal Ontario Museum.

20. Barnum Brown was a well known American palaeontologist working for the American Museum of Natural History in the late 1890’s and early 1900’s. For a few years in the 1910’s, he worked in the Red Deer River valley of Alberta, floating down the river on a flatboat, searching for dinosaurs. Here he found an amazing Albertosaurus discovery at Dry Island Provincial Park, which was largely forgotten about for many years, which I will talk about in more detail later on.

21. The Sternberg Family, lead by Charles H. Sternberg was another American family that decided to explore the Red Deer River looking for dinosaurs, at the same time as Barnum Brown. He had 3 sons that also worked in vertebrate palaeontology, George F. Sternberg, Charles M. Sternberg, and Levi Sternberg. Charles M. worked for the Canadian Geological Survey for a number of years, exploring the fossil-rich regions of Alberta, Saskatchewan and British Columbia, and was partially responsible for setting up Dinosaur Provincial Park in Alberta, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

This list is by no means complete, but they are a few of the important names. As you have noticed, there are no women on this list. If anyone knows of any women important in early Canadian palaeontology, please let me know!

The series:

Part 1: Intro

Part 2: The Burgess Shale


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