hunting for Canadian Fossils

“I think I found coprolite mom. That’s dinosaur poop, you know.” I did, in fact, know what coprolite was – but I had no idea my five-year-old was so informed on the topic.

On one of the hottest days of the summer, our family of five had embarked on the Fossil Safari offered in Dinosaur Provincial Park, a fossil hotbed in Alberta’s arid Badlands region. After a quick tour bus ride through the hoodoos, our guide offered an overview on the various fossils in the area, and admonitions about not handling or picking up the fossils, before allowing us to roam the area freely. As families discovered fossils scattered throughout the sandy ground, the guide wandered around helping us identify what we were looking at.

If you have a wannabe palaeontologist, there are four great places to visit to discover your own Canadian fossils.

Drumheller, Alberta

At the Royal Tyrell Museum in Drumheller, Alberta visitors can enjoy a world-class museum and nearby hikes and walking trails. Numerous programs are available, suitable for all ages. In Dinosite, participants can search for fossils and see real dinosaur remains still in the ground in a 90-minute, 3km hike through the badlands. In the Dig Experience, participants use the tools and techniques of palaeontology to uncover fossil replicas in a simulated dig site.

Dinosaur Provincial Park, Alberta

For those wanting to get their hands dirty, Dinosaur Provincial Park, a few hours from Drumheller, is where it’s at. A UNESCO World Heritage site where palaeontological digs continue today, the park contains one of the richest bonebeds in the world. Amongst the coulees and hoodoos, visitors can take part in guided fossil tours, like the family-friendly Fossil Safari we experienced, or join in a fully authentic dinosaur dig. These digs feature an experienced palaeontological technician and participants take part in excavating fossils, which are then donated to the Royal Tyrell Museum.

Morden, Manitoba

The hilly region of Morden, Manitoba is rich in fossils from Late Cretaceous Period, 80 million years ago. The Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre conducts Fossil Dig Adventure Tours for children, families, and earth science enthusiasts of all ages. The 16,000 square foot museum houses the largest collection of marine reptile fossils in Canada, and holds the Guinness World Record for having the largest mosasaur on display in the world. Just be sure not to call them dinosaurs – these marine reptiles co-existed with dinosaurs, but aren’t classified as dinos.

Rock Glen, Ontario

Near Hungry Hollow, Ontario, this 67-acre conservation area features natural trails, waterfalls and the Arkona Lions Museum. Well-known for its rich fossils dating 400 million years ago from the Devonian era, commonly found fossils include trilobites, brachiopods and crinoids. Evidence of ancient life can be found in this locality as well, as arrowheads, stone tools and pieces of pottery have been found in the area. Guided hikes and educational programs are available, though many prefer to take a self-guided tour. Digging for fossils is strictly forbidden, but visitors are permitted to take home one of each type of fossil they’ve found on the surface.