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EXPLORE 400 MILLION YEARS OF HISTORY

Author: Lynn Martel

The Canadian Rockies are Lynn’s nirvana, for backcountry adventures, exquisite wilderness, rich friendships and intriguing stories. She’s published two books of adventure, hundreds of articles and nine biographies of dynamic mountain personalities. Lynn is constantly exploring by backpack, keyboard and camera.

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Set in the natural beauty of Grande Prairie’s Muskoseepi Park, the Grande Prairie Museum & Heritage Village houses some 55,000 artifacts celebrating the paleontology, archaeology, natural and human history of the area, and tells a compelling story of how the Peace region has long enticed settlers and visitors to discover northern Alberta’s irresistible charms – me included!

Bones and Stones

Edmontosaurus, a member of the hadrosaur family, or duck-billed dinosaur, was a giant plant eater about 15 m (49 ft) long. The Bones and Stones exhibit explains how the creatures roamed in herds right where the city now stands, 458 km (285 mi) northwest of Edmonton, and throughout the surrounding Peace River region. The vast quantities of fossilized shells, plants, footprints and dinosaur bones found here make it among the largest and richest fossil fields in North America.

Especially fascinating was the display of an Edmontosaurus skeleton arranged in sand to duplicate an archeological dig site. Informative panels detail how most of the relics found in the Grande Prairie area are discovered as riverbanks erode, exposing imprints, fossilized plants and dinosaur bones.

Moving History

Strolling through the Chasing a Dream exhibit, we learned how the Cree and Beaver First Nations – the Dunne-Za – lived in family bands, migrating through the seasons following bison, moose, deer, hare and woodland caribou. They also harvested abundant wild berries, roots and herbs. Their descendants still populate the area.

The first Europeans arrived in the late 1700s to establish trade routes. We were particularly intrigued by several bison hides and beaver pelts on display, and the knives used to skin the animals. The soft yet resilient furs fuelled the region’s economy through the 1800s. And we were downright amazed to see all the different pieces of furniture, including heavy iron stoves the settlers brought with them on wagon trains.

Also capturing our attention were black and white photographs depicting the Royal Canadian Mounted Police stationed in the area. Panels describe how these industrious men didn’t just patrol settlements and camps to suppress the liquor trade, but how they also collected customs duties, helped the sick and injured, surveyed trails, fought fires and delivered mail.

Modern Prosperity

Further along the Chasing a Dream exhibit, we learned how soldiers were enticed to the Peace Region by government land grants after the Second World War, efforts which helped grow the local economy.

The burgeoning forest industry, combined with what was then an emerging industry, oil and gas, also helped attract newcomers. These industries continue to be the region's economic drivers today.

Stepping outdoors, we appreciated the contrast between today and yesterday as we walked the gravel paths of Heritage Village to explore 15 heritage and display buildings, some of which were relocated and restored.

Indulging in one last stop, we visited the museum’s gift shop. We couldn’t resist purchasing some locally mined selenite crystals. The delicate feathery formations are believed to possess peaceful, healing properties. Their exquisite beauty certainly enhanced my affection for Alberta’s north. 

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