Summit – Cretaceous Seas comes to life

Cretaceous Seas comes to life

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Calgary’s largest extinct marine reptile exhibit unveiled at Mount Royal University

Words by Kimberly Molnar
Photography by James May

As you enter through Mount Royal University’s East Gate, look up to see a graceful, flying giant Pteranodon — its wings expanding from wall-to-wall.

Head to the second floor of the Faculty of Science and Technology B-Wing, but try not to startle the Enchodus, a two-metre-long bony fish, nearly escaping the jaws of an Elasmosaurus turning the corner — its long neck curving around the bend to reveal a terrifying 15-metre-long body.

Around the next turn lives the second-largest marine turtle that ever was, a Protostega.

Finally, come face-to-face with Platecarpus, an aquatic lizard, swimming comfortably behind the group.

You may have seen them lurking around the University. These 82-million-year-old marine creatures have made their way from the Cretaceous Seas of Western North America to their new home at Mount Royal.

Launched January 2015, the five casts of extinct creatures are the largest marine vertebrate exhibit in Calgary. 

The fossil casts are made possible by donations from private donors, as well as sponsorship by the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta (APEGA) that contributed over $100,000 to the total.

Fourth-year Geology student Lindsay Reynolds, who is currently working on comprehensive paleontological research, says the casts will be an inspiration to students.

Reynolds says the exhibit feels like a reward for her hard work as a student, as well as for her professors. “It sets us apart from other universities. I can say something to my colleagues, such as, ‘Can you turn the corner at school to find an Elasmosaur versus saber-toothed herring fight scene? No? I didn’t think so…’,” she adds, with a laugh.

“It’s not just about looking at the 'pretty' skeletons. It’s designed for current and future students who can now physically see the beasts they study and read about in real size.”

Wayne Haglund, PhD, Mount Royal Professor Emeritus

The project was championed by Mount Royal University Professor Emeritus Wayne Haglund, who has worked tirelessly to see the exhibit come to fruition. Haglund, who retired in 2004 after nearly 40 years of teaching geology, has been instrumental in supporting and raising Mount Royal’s Department of Earth Sciences’ profile. Haglund has been a steward for the unique Cretaceous Seas exhibit for the past 15 years. Now he can finally celebrate as his vision comes to life... so to speak.

“The primary objective is to give a learning experience, an educational model,” says Haglund, PhD. “It’s not just about looking at the ‘pretty’ skeletons, it’s designed for current and future students who can now physically see the beasts they study and read about in real size.”

While teaching at Mount Royal, Haglund, along with his colleagues, observed the empty space in the East Gate entrance and brainstormed about how unique it would be to fill the void with marine reptiles. The passionate geology professor put together a proposal to bring Cretaceous casts to the space, but as time went by projects shifted and the concept sat on the back burner. Then, in 2012, Haglund went on a university study tour through Asia, where he met the anonymous donor who helped bring the exhibit to the University. Soon after, Haglund was a guest speaker at a graduation dinner for Mount Royal geology students and at the head of the table was a member from APEGA. Haglund took the opportunity to make Mount Royal’s pitch. After years of planning, conceiving and, well, hoping — he had finally secured the funds he needed to bring the impressive exhibit to Mount Royal.

Mark Flint, APEGA CEO, says they are pleased to support the installation, because it has immense long-term value, not only for Mount Royal students, but for the entire community.

“Through outreach programs and sponsorships, APEGA endeavours to inspire youth and young adults to become professional geoscientists and engineers,” Flint says. “This amazing display at Mount Royal University will educate and captivate the potential geoscientist in all of us.”

Haglund views the casts as a science lab more than an exhibit. It is an opportunity for faculty, staff, students and the public to discuss, interpret and question animals of the Cretaceous Period. He and the Department of Earth Sciences are planning to host elementary school tours of the exhibit in the future.