9th BC Paleo Symposium (2011)

9th BC Paleontology Symposium, Tumbler Ridge, 21-23 MAY 2011

SUMMARY AND HIGHLIGHTS

Paleontologists from across British Columbia attended the ninth biennial BCPA Paleontology Symposium in Tumbler Ridge over the 2011 May long-weekend. They were treated to an astonishing array of riveting presentations by speakers from across western Canada, plus Martin Lockley from the University of Colorado.

The event was hosted by the Tumbler Ridge Museum Foundation (TRMF) and Peace Region Palaeontology Research Centre (PRPRC), in the brand new Best Western Conference Centre, and also formed the 3rd annual Peace Region Palaeontology Symposium. Resident paleontologists Rich McCrea and Lisa Buckley did an admirable job of pulling together two days of enervating lectures, debate, workshops and a superb banquet.

Walter Energy (formerly Western Coal) generously sponsored the symposium. This allowed for a nominal registration fee, the funding of travel costs for the keynote speakers, and the printing of a detailed volume of abstracts laid out in full colour for all registrants.

Crys White and Sharon Banning help out at the Registration desk. (Photo by D. Helm)
Crys White and Sharon Banning help out at the Registration desk.
(Photo by D. Helm)

The weekend kicked off on the Friday evening with an outdoors buffet supper, offered as part of the TRMF's Grand Opening of the Tumbler Branch Line Railway Exhibit, in a Caboose beside the Visitor Centre in downtown Tumbler Ridge. Fortunately, the electrical storm cleared just in time for the paleontologists to swell the numbers, enjoy the exhibit and the snacks, and get to know each other.

All reassembled at 9 a.m. on the Saturday, for the formal opening of the symposium by Tom Cockburn, BCPA Chairperson, followed by a welcome by Mayor Larry White of Tumbler Ridge. Bob Bays, Vice President of Canadian Operations for Walter Energy, addressed the symposium briefly, indicating how pleased the company was to be able to sponsor an event of this nature.

The District of Tumbler Ridge has generously supported the regional museum project for a number of years, and Councillor Jerrilyn Schembri provided an animated and passionate summary of the history of the community, and how dinosaurs and paleontologists have changed its nature and diversified its economic prospects.

The presentations then began, appropriately starting with a summary from Rich McCrea on the excavation of British Columbia's first articulated dinosaur, which enters its fourth year in 2011. Dozens of juvenile tyrannosaur teeth have been found in the surrounding rock, a highly unusual phenomenon, leading to intense speculation.

The dinosaur theme continued with a keynote address by Martin Lockley, from the Dinosaur Tracks Museum at the University of Colorado at Denver, widely acknowledged not only as an international leader in the field of ichnology, but also as a philosopher. Martin enthused about the remarkably diverse assemblage of tracks in the American Wild West, from Paleozoic to Cenozoic, including megatrackway sites and "dinosaur freeways."

Martin Lockley presenting the keynote address on trackway ichnology of North America. (Photo by D. Helm)
Martin Lockley presenting the keynote address on trackway ichnology of North America.
(Photo by D. Helm)

Tumbler Ridge resident Charles Helm described the fulfilling experience of prospecting the local hills for Triassic fish and marine reptiles, contributing to the bringing of over fifteen hundred such specimens into the PRPRC collections.

Pat Trask of Courtenay, in a presentation entitled "Amateurs, a Misnomer," described some of the discoveries made on Vancouver Island. Pat's perspective from the south-western corner of the province provided interesting contrast to the north-eastern themes that characterised many of the other topics.

Lunch was provided by the local Lions Club in the form of a barbecue outside the Dinosaur Discovery Gallery. Admission to the gallery was free for the duration of the weekend.

The Triassic Marine of the eastern flanks of the Canadian Rockies continued to feature with two fascinating addresses, by Andrew Neuman and Robin Cuthbertson. Andrew, Executive Director of the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology, spoke of his great interest in these Triassic fishes, and his work spanning almost three decades at the magnificent Ganoid Range site above Wapiti Lake, south of Tumbler Ridge.

Robin, from the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Calgary, followed with a description of the marine reptiles from this same Sulphur Mountain Formation. This poorly understood group forms his area of special expertise, and he described two specimens of particular interest, one from Wapiti Lake and one from above Tumbler Ridge.

Tyler Shaw, who has worked as technician at the PRPRC for the last four years, then provided balance and diversity with an often hilarious description of the challenges of converting a gymnasium floor into a replica of the trackways made by local dinosaurs, which now forms the centrepiece of the Dinosaur Discovery Gallery. The ultimate result, finely tuned to depict subtle track variations, was the result of much experimentation, which miraculously left Tyler largely unscathed.

Symposium participants view the displays in the Dinosaur Discovery Gallery and discuss the latest research findings. (Photo by D. Helm)
Symposium participants view the displays in the Dinosaur Discovery Gallery and discuss the latest research findings.
(Photo by D. Helm)

Rich McCrea, in his second presentation of the day, detailed his perspective on the relationship between paleontology and industry in western Canada. This relationship has been characterised by an astonishing level of co-operation and support, and contradicts many government perceptions.

The final presentation of the day was by Phil Bell, from across the border in Alberta, on the proposed Philip J. Currie Dinosaur Museum just west of Grande Prairie. Celebrating what is reported as the densest dinosaur bonebed in the world and a lot of other regional treasures, this $27M project continues to advance rapidly, and Phil did a great job of bringing the audience up to date on its progress.

A sumptuous banquet followed, with abundant opportunity for socializing in a relaxed fashion. At the banquet's conclusion, Dr. Charles Helm was awarded the Rene Savenye Award for Contributions to British Columbia Paleontology. This award, given out infrequently, highlights significant efforts by an individual from the non-professional community to enhance the status of paleontology in British Columbia. Through his tremendous dedication to developing the paleontological research infrastructure, and his own collecting and research, Charles is truly deserving of this award.

Charles Helm, on right, receives the Rene Savenye Award from BCPA Chair Tom Cockburn. (Photo by D. Bowen)
Charles Helm, on right, receives the Rene Savenye Award from BCPA Chair Tom Cockburn.
(Photo by D. Bowen)

Day Two began with Lisa Buckley, Collections Manager at the PRPRC, describing a new Cretaceous avian ichnogenus from a specimen found at the Boulder Gardens, a spectacular hiking destination just south of Tumbler Ridge. Lisa also related how she studies modern-day bird tracks and foot structure in order to better understand this ancient plover-like trackway.

Martin Lockley then presented a fascinating talk on Tracking Dinosaurs in China, remarkable not only for the phenomenal trackway discoveries of the past decade, but also for the enormous lengths Chinese authorities go to in order to protect and interpret this heritage. The relative lack of government support in British Columbia was noted during question period.

This was followed by the first of two workshops, on the public perception of natural history museums, chaired by Lisa Buckley and Sean Robson. Animated discussion ensued, reflecting the controversies inherent in the topic, and the optimal way for museums to engage the public.

The second afternoon saw a shift in focus, into the invertebrate realm, but still with a western Canadian theme. Sean Robson of the Manitoba Museum led the way with a description of three paleozoic sites in Manitoba, characterised by exquisite preservation. One of these includes some of the finest jellyfish specimens to be found anywhere.

The final formal lecture was presented by Bruce Archibald of the Department of Biological Sciences at Simon Fraser University. In addition to spectacular insect fossils from a variety of Eocene sites in British Columbia, Bruce expanded on how these sites were compared with current temperate and tropical sites to open a window on global patterns of climate and biodiversity. This provided a great reminder of how paleontological research can be applied to other fields.

Symposium speakers assemble for the traditional photo of "the usual suspects." (Photo by D. Helm)
Symposium speakers assemble for the traditional photo of "the usual suspects."
(Photo by D. Helm)

Delegates then reassembled in the Education Room at the PRPRC for the second workshop, on 3D imagery and its use in paleontology, presented by Rich McCrea, Lisa Buckley and Tyler Shaw. 3D glasses were donned, followed by spectacular examples of cutting edge photogrammetry and laser scanning technology. These wonders were interrupted briefly by a power outage, caused by a lightning bolt in the immediate vicinity.

This signalled the onset of the only significant flaw in the symposium: the thunderstorm escalated into torrential rain, turning creeks already running high from the melt of the massive winter snowfall into full flood, inundating some field sites and rendering others inaccessible. As a result, the planned field trips to dinosaur trackways in one of the local coal mines, lantern tours to the trackway sites closer to town, and a Mississippian invertebrate site near Kinuseo Falls, all had to be cancelled.

Fortuitously, this translated into more time for many to enjoy the burgeoning collections within the PRPRC, and to visit the Dinosaur Discovery Gallery. Andrew Neuman, for example, was able to use the Monday holiday to work his way through the fossil fish collections.

While the formal symposium was thoroughly entertaining and thought-provoking, one of the most important aspects of any such gathering is the opportunity to meet colleagues and enjoy social time together. The symposium was preceded by a BCPA Board of Directors meeting (with a quorum present without the need for teleconferencing, an unusual occurrence). The ongoing topics and challenges that the BCPA faces were discussed in a convivial setting, and a vigorous common sense of purpose seemed tangible.

Co-organizer Rich McCrea reflected: "The TRMF and PRPRC were honoured to host the 9th British Columbia Paleontology Symposium and we were very pleased with the number of participants and the quality of the presentations."

Tom Cockburn summarized thus: "The Tumbler Ridge Museum Foundation and the Peace Region Palaeontology Research Centre through the efforts of Rich McCrea, Lisa Buckley and Charles Helm are to be congratulated for organizing a successful 9th symposium with excellent speakers. The impressive interpretive displays at the Dinosaur Discovery Gallery highlighted the exciting work being done in the Peace region on trackways, dinosaurs, fish and other species."

For many, this was a first-time visit to Tumbler Ridge. Delegates departed already talking about the 10th BCPA symposium, scheduled for Victoria in 2013.

- Submitted by Charles Helm, Tumbler Ridge, with additional text on the Savenye Award recipient by Jim Haggart