“Scotty” the T. Rex, Just Part of a Saskatchewan Dinosaur Experience
It wouldn’t be obvious to travellers today driving the roads which cut across the wide open crops and cattle country of southern Saskatchewan, that if they’d made the trek some odd 100 million years ago they would have needed a canoe for a long and perhaps very hazardous trip across the flat landscape.
Saskatchewan was no vast agricultural prairie crop land in those days. During what’s known as the Cretaceous period (145 to 65 million years ago) it was covered by the shallow muddy Western Interior Seaway. Palaeontologists have learned much over the past 100 years about the vast array or prehistoric creatures ranging from marine reptiles, razor-toothed fish, and plant and meat eating dinosaurs that lived on, in, or near this extensive water body.
While deer and antelope may abound today, the dinosaur-era “wildlife” is obviously long gone, but fortunately visitors to various communities within southern Saskatchewan can still get a glimpse of what these creatures, extinct for 65 million years or more, were like.
The provincial museum is a good starting point to explore the dinosaur trails.
The Royal Saskatchewan Museum in Regina is an excellent place to start your journey down Saskatchewan’s dinosaur trail, says Jill Svienson, a communications consultant with Saskatchewan Ministry of Parks, Culture and Sport.
Established in 1906, the natural history museum offers many exhibits and programming in Life Sciences and First Nations, but the Earth Sciences section reveals the age of the dinosaur. Among the displays is a Mosasaurus from the late Cretaceous Period when giant reptiles ruled the sea. These mosasaurs were nothing to sneeze at; fossils found in areas between Saskatchewan Landing and Riverhurst show they were up to 10m in length. A close relative of the lizards, the mosasaur had a flattened tail for propelling itself through the water, and flippers for steering. The exhibit illustrates what a full-size mosasaur might have looked like, lunging toward its prey.
Saskatchewan’s fossil records show the province was home to both carnivorous and herbivorous dinosaurs, including meateaters like Tyrannosaurus rex (T. rex), horned dinosaurs like Triceratops, and duck-billed dinosaurs like Edmontosaurus. In fact, following a province-wide contest involving leading provincial fossil exhibits, “Scotty” the T. rex in 2016 was named the provincial emblem for Saskatchewan.
Some favourite museum features among many young families include Megamunch, a half-sized robotic Tyrannosaurus rex, and the Paleo Pit. Unlike his ferocious ancestors that lived here over 65 million years ago, Megamunch greets children with a “friendly” roar during their visit. The Paleo Pit is a playroom just for kids and their parents/guardians. Take a break from the museum galleries and enjoy some prehistoric play together using the puppet theatre, colouring table, climbing structure, discovery wall, puzzles, play tables and book nook.
Next Stop Eastend
The Royal Saskatchewan Museum in Regina sets the tone, but to have a close up and more personal connection with Scotty, it is off to the museum’s satellite location in Eastend, along Hwy 13 in the southwest corner of Saskatchewan. At the T. rex Discovery Centre you’ll see the fully erected, life size, skeletal structure of the first T. rex found in the province.
That story begins on August 16, 1991, when then high school teacher, Robert Gebhardt from Eastend joined the museums palaeontologists on a prospecting expedition to the exposed bedrock along the Frenchman River Valley to learn how fossils are found and identified in the field.
Within hours, Gebhardt discovered the base of a heavily worn tooth, and a tail vertebra, both suggesting that they belonged to a T. rex. Three years later, museum palaeontologists began excavating the T. rex, one of the largest known carnivorous dinosaurs. More than 6,000 people visited the excavation site during 1994. The 65-million-year old skeleton was named Scotty and is the first T. rex found in Saskatchewan. As the individual bones were removed from the rock, Scotty provided new information both about T. rex and about the Cretaceous period. Casts made from the bones were used to construct a replica of the T. rex. This Discovery Centre provides visitors an up close look at a wide range of dinosaurs and their fossils.
By Lee Hart
For more information visit royalsaskmuseum.ca/trex.