"Let my imagination run riot," Baird recalls museum's origin | DrumhellerMail
Last updateThu, 21 Jan 2021 5pm

Latest News

Copy of Copy of 20170815 Darryl Drohomerski CAO 0412

Town withdraws support from waste to energy project

The Town of Drumheller is in the process of officially withdrawing from the Southern Alberta Energy from Waste Association (SAEWA).SAEWA is a coalition of municipal entities and waste management jurisdictions that have been exploring creating an energy from… Read More
dragons signing

Dragons building for future

Even in the midst of a pandemic, the Dragons are looking forward to the future with three new signings last week.The team announced on January 11 they have signed Alexey Trischuk for the 2021-2022 season. Trischuk is playing in his first season with the… Read More
Copy of peever

2020 - A Year in Review Village of Carbon

Like many communities, the Village of Carbon was faced with the challenge of navigating event and project cancellations and postponements due to the COVID-19 pandemic.While major infrastructure projects were put on hold in 2020, there is plenty the village… Read More
Will you book any personal or wellness appointments with restrictions easing?

More Local News

Inmates engage in hunger strike at Drumheller Institution

Copy of penn
Inmates at the Drumheller Institution engaged in a hunger strike following restrictions and lockdowns due to a number of reported COVID-19 cases among the inmate…

COVID restrictions ease slightly, one new death reported locally

DrumhellerCOVID Jan18
Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro announced provincewide COVID-19 restrictions would ease slightly during the Thursday, January 14 update.The changes went into effect on…

Town withdraws support from waste to energy project

Copy of Copy of 20170815 Darryl Drohomerski CAO 0412
The Town of Drumheller is in the process of officially withdrawing from the Southern Alberta Energy from Waste Association (SAEWA).SAEWA is a coalition of municipal entities…

Survey results show support for less fireworks restrictions

Copy of fireworks edited
The Town of Drumheller has the results of a survey on fireworks, and it demonstrates residents are supportive of amendments to a proposed bylaw draft to regulate the use of…

More Local Sports

Provincial hockey championship tournaments cancelled

Minor Hockey
With COVID-19 restrictions hockey players are still not able to get back on the ice, and this week Hockey Alberta announced provincial championships have been cancelled.With…

Dragons look forward to season restart

IMG 9993
With the AJHL Hockey season on hold, the Dragons won’t be resting on their laurels.On November 25, the league announced it would be pausing the season until existing…

CBAC swimmers perform well, despite lockdowns

The Canadian Badlands Aquatic Club (CBAC) is another team affected by the new COVID-19 restrictions.Last season the club was having a great year, and coach Morgan Syvertsen…

AJHL puts pause on season

It will be a little longer until fans will get the chance to see the Dragons on the ice.Already the Dragons’ season was halted when a member of the Canmore Eagles tested…

COVID pauses Dragons' season

Dragons logo
There is already a pause in the Drumheller Dragons’ regular season due to COVID-19.So far, the Dragons have played in two regular-season games versus the Canmore Eagles. The…

Senior girls Dynos place third at home tourney

DVSS Girls Vball 2020
The DVSS Senior girls Dynos were happy to be on the court to play as they hosted a four-team tournament over the weekend.School sports are very different, especially indoor…


Condolences to the family of Ronald Bertsch

BERTSCHRonald June 30, 1934 - January 14, 2021 Ronald Bertsch, a long-time resident of Rosebud/Drumheller area went to be with his Lord and Savior on January 14th, 2021 at…

Condolences to the family of Leonard Bernard and Marion Patricia Olsen

OLSEN Leonard BernardFebruary 3, 1927 - January 12, 2021 Marion PatriciaDecember 27, 1932 - January 12, 2021 It is with great love and deep sorrow that the family of Marion…

Condolences to the family of Leslie Alexander Leonhardt

LEONHARDTLeslie Alexander September 18, 1962 - January 12, 2021 On January 12, 2021, Leslie Leonhardt was called to his eternal home while at the Continuing Care Centre of…

Condolences to the family of Beth MacDonell (Heller)

MACDONELL (HELLER)Beth October 12, 1927 - January 11, 2021 Beth MacDonell passed away peacefully at the age of 93 on January 11th, 2021. Predeceased by the love of her life,…

"Let my imagination run riot," Baird recalls museum's origin


   “Nothing but a few cactuses, sage brush and boulders.”
    Close to 30 years ago, Dr. David Baird hiked up to the top of the hill east of where the Royal Tyrrell Museum now sits. This same hill now has a wooden staircase and a viewing platform. Thousands climb that same hill every year to discover the badlands. For Dr. Baird: “Nothing but a few cactuses, sage brush and boulders."     Before this, Dr. Baird was simply given a vision. He believed it was Dr. Bill Byrne, who was then assistant Deputy Minister of Culture, who called him up with this vision.
    “A voice from Edmonton said ‘We would like some help in finding someone to come and build us, the Government of Alberta, a world class museum to be a tourist attraction for Southern Alberta. It is to be based on the fossil collection and fossil wonders to be found in the valley of the Red Deer River at Drumheller.’”
    Dr. Baird had already accomplished more than most would in a lifetime, a career as an academic, with dozens of published works. He was also founding Director of the National Museum of Science and Technology. At first, he was apprehensive. The voice from Edmonton laid out its expectations. It told him the government already had $30 million set aside for the project, it had a site picked out, and they would leave him alone to lead the project.
    “I said 'Better come and have a look,'” he chuckles.
    “On January 2, 1982, I landed in Drumheller to stay five years. It was the happiest five years I ever spent in my whole 70 years of professional experience,” said Baird, who is now 90. “I was doing something where I could let my imagination run riot.”
    The fact that he was given a free hand to create the museum was also a blessing for Baird.
    “For example, within two weeks I realized the terms of reference, ‘to build a world class museum dedicated to the fossil heritage of Alberta’ was not really good enough. I wanted a broader title. So I asked him (Byrne) to go back to the government to change it to read ‘A celebration of three thousand million years on earth, with special but not exclusive reference to Alberta.’ … It means the whole beautiful life on Earth from three thousand million years ago, all the way to the present time, and furthermore I could put mankind at the end of the story, where he actually belongs in the story, and wonder about his future. Within two weeks he came back and the government said yes; I was just on seventh heaven, and I wrote the story of what I thought the museum should be.”
     His relationship with the architect was just as comfortable as with the government. He met up with chief architect Doug Craig and gave him a list of 27 architectural requirements of the facility. He then left Craig to design the building. He still has this list.
    While many of these requirements were simple, they had purpose, and still shape the museum today. One of the requirements was that the building harmonizes with the look of the badlands so it is part of a landscape. Another is routing the driveway to go past the front of the building, simply so people could easily locate the entrance. Another was having space for visitors’ eyes to adjust to entering a building.
    “I said the sunlight on the bald old prairie in Drumheller is pretty bright, inside a museum the lighting is controlled. So you are going to step from the bright sunlight into the dark museum,” he said. “Instead of spending your first 20 minutes with your eyes adjusting to the gloom of the museum, I would like 20 or 30 feet of gradually reducing light - increasing darkness to the front door.
    “He came up with a brilliant solution. It is his, it is Craig’s,” said Baird.
    Another vision of the museum Baird carried was that the museum be known for having a dramatic view, and he began imagining the great dinosaur hall. His vision came to fruition and he remembers introducing it to the Premier of Alberta on opening night.
    “I took the whole party into the darkened museum, up the winding stairs to the balcony that overlooks Dinosaur Hall, which was in total darkness. And I said, ‘And now Mister Premier, you wanted me to give you a world class museum, I want to present to you one of the greatest museum views in the world.’ I pushed the button and somewhere downstairs a bell rang, and a guy threw a couple knife switches and on came the lights. Well, it was the most incredible silence you ever heard.”
    There were skeptics at the beginning. He recalls there being curiosity about the project in Calgary, and he recalls being invited to a group to give an after-dinner talk on the museum. He recalls telling the audience he was forecasting 400,000 visitors a year.
    “I was almost laughed out of court. They were polite, but they didn’t believe it for a second,” he said.
    He is vindicated that in the 25th year, the museum welcomed its 10 millionth visitor.
    Along with the building of the museum came filling it with interesting exhibits and specimens.  He said while there had been fossil collecting for years in Alberta, rather than relying on what they had, he wanted fossils to fit into the narrative. He also insisted on high quality work. Specimens came from all over; some were unearthed, others came from the provincial museum, the Geological Survey of Alberta and some from private collections and even people’s basements.
    A group of scientists, designers, technicians, artisans and craftsmen toiled away building the exhibits. Like he worked with the architects, he had the same working relationship as he did with the designers. He laid out what was required, and he let them do their job.
    “It was a busy four or five years, but it was wonderful, we were building a world class museum, we had lots of money and an enthusiastic government,” he said, adding it was not uncommon for politicians and bureaucrats who were “passing through” to come and assess the progress.
    He fondly remembers many of the people he worked with and is pleased that some are still with the museum, including Dr. Don Brinkman and Dr. Dennis Braman. He also has fond memories of working side by side with Dr. Bruce Naylor, who became the director of the Tyrrell in 1992.
    “He was a good friend and a much admired person in my view, and he has done a superb job,” said Baird.
    He also has bouquets for the modern staff at the museum. When he parted ways with the museum, his advice was to keep the exhibits fresh, and the museum’s success proved they have worked hard to continue a tradition of excellence.   
    He has nothing but good memories of his time in Drumheller.
    “I was a director of a geological survey, I was chair of two or three university departments of geology, and lived all over Canada, all the way from St. John’s Newfoundland to Drumheller, but the most interesting and productive five years was right there in Drumheller,” he said.  
    “If you think I am proud, you are right.”

Tourist Map

2019 Map