This past Saturday, Chris and I decided to take a little adventure across the river and go to the Canadian Museum of Nature’s open house of their collections storage facility. This is an annual event that I’ve been meaning to go to for years, but this year the timing finally worked out, and I have to say that it was well worth the trip!

It’s not very often that the public gets to have free-reign in the collections storage area of a museum, and in this case, not only did we get to wander around and view the collections, but we also had the opportunity to ask the people who work with those collections questions. It turns out that this is a pretty popular event; we couldn’t actually get close to some of the tables because there were so many excited visitors crowding around the unique objects!

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My main goal in attending this event was to try to find out more specifically the whereabouts of the bison collected by Dr. Anderson, which I originally wrote about here almost a year ago. When we got to the room where the large mammals are stored, we walked around a bit, but of course, there is only a fraction of the collection on display (I think it would be impossible to display the entire collection).

Eventually, I got to ask one of the members of staff if he had any idea where “my” bison might be (the three staff members there were pretty popular, with lots of people asking them questions). I had brought the collections information with me, and when he looked at it, he considered the information for a bit, and then told me that the skeleton was stored in that room, and gestured to the far left corner where it was kept. He then told me that the pelt was actually stored in a separate room, where they stored all of their furs and pelts.

He explained that the skeleton and the pelt were stored separately because their preservation requirements in terms of temperature and humidity, etc, were different. While this makes a lot of sense, it never occurred to me that the two pieces would be kept separate of each other. In fact, it never occurred to me that there would be two separate pieces at all.

When I originally researched these specimens, I assumed that Anderson collected them specifically for display in the museum, and that because of this, they would arrive at the museum as taxidermy. Given that this is clearly not the case, it seems that Anderson actually collected the bison purely for research purposes, and I am now doubtful that they were ever intended or put on display in the museum. Finding out this piece of information also clarified why, ten years later, the museum accepted and put on display the bison donated by Harry Snyder, some of which are still on display today. At that point, there was no bison diorama for visitors to see the animals depicted in their natural habitat.

When I went to the event, I was very hopeful that I might actually be able to see these bison on display and be able to take a picture of them for myself. While that did not happen, I actually ended up finding another piece of the puzzle that I didn’t even realize was missing. Many thanks to the member of staff for his help in answering more questions than either of us realized.

After seeking out my bison, we carried on with our exploration. We got to see the cryogenic room, the reptile collection, fossils, and lichen and moss, just to name a few. In addition to this, there were tables set up with free books that were old stock that was originally for sale. Chris and I can’t say no to free books, so we grabbed a couple that we’re both pretty excited about!

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If you get a chance, I would highly recommend attending this event the next time is comes around – it is such a rare treat to be given such open access to the collections and the experts behind them, that this is something not to be missed! I would also suggest finishing off the day as Chris and I did: with some very large helpings of some very delicious poutine from La Pataterie Hulloise!

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