Prehistoric Animals in the Natural History Park at the Calgary Zoo, 1941
Postcards from the Past, PC 1510
The Calgary Zoo recently released its 20 year plan and it really looks ambitious. The President /CEO has said that “twenty years from now, the Calgary Zoo will bear little resemblance to the zoo today.” The prospect is exciting although not without controversy. The function of zoos has changed over the years. When I was a child the animals were kept in cages. In a major redevelopment, the Calgary Zoo built more natural habitats. The Calgary Zoo has changed and adapted over its entire 84 year history and I’m glad to see the tradition continue.
I have mixed feelings, though, about the loss of the dinosaur park. When I was little, the dinosaurs were the most memorable feature (possibly because they frightened the wits out of me).
The dinosaurs have been a fixture at the Calgary Zoo since the 1930s when the Zoological Society’s director returned from Europe filled with enthusiasm about the dinosaur park in Hamburg. A man on a mission, he decided to create a similar natural history park in Calgary. It made complete sense, of course, because we had rich fossil beds and lots of evidence of prehistoric life (barrels of which would come gushing out of the ground at Leduc about 10 years later). To that end, experts were consulted — these models were not going to be horror show beasts — they would be accurate representations of prehistoric life.
A number of sculptors were involved in the realization of these models, with John Kanerva being the most prolific, eventually turning out a large proportion of the park's 56 dinos. The Natural History Park opened officially in 1937, once Dinny, the life sized brontosaurus was completed. The Calgary Daily Herald praised the zoo, in attempting to replicate the “grotesque creatures of the reptilian age which monopolized the world aeons ago” (Aug. 21, 1937). The Natural History Park also incorporated actual fossil specimens as well, which were housed in the Fossil House (see photo below).
While I will be sorry to see the prehistoric park go, I do understand the reasoning behind it. We have a great resource right on our doorstep, at the Tyrell museum in Drumheller and while I have fond memories of the dinosaurs and the fossil houses, I look forward to the future of the Calgary Zoo, still one of the best in the world.
If you are interested in finding out more about the dinosaurs of Calgary, the spring 2013 issue of Alberta History, includes an excellent article by Calgary’s Historian Laureate emeritus, Harry Sanders. You can find the magazine (and lots more besides) in the Local History room at the Central Library.
Fossil House a the Calgary Zoo, ca. 1940s?
Postcards from the Past, PC 2013