Located in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, the Redpath Museum is a natural history museum located on the campus of McGill University. It is dedicated to providing educational resources and spreading knowledge of science and the natural world to the Montreal community.
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The museum was opened in 1882 as a repository for the scientific collections of Sir John William Dawson, the university’s principal and geology professor. Commissioned by famed sugar baron Peter Redpath as a gift to Dawson to commemorate his 25th year as principal, the museum is noted for its idiosyncratic architecture, a blend of Victorian Classicism and Greek Revival styles. As such, it has frequently been used as a set for film and television. It is the oldest space in Canada to be built specifically as a museum.
Permanent Collections and Exhibits
The museum’s permanent collections are particularly strong in the fields of ethnology, geology, biology, and paleontology. Of note among the paleontology holdings are the oldest-known Nova Scotian terrestrial fauna preserved from the Carboniferous Period, the largest collection of Saint Lawrence Lowlands invertebrate fossils from the Ordovician period, and a large collection of Burgess Shale fossils. More than 20,000 mineral samples, 500 rock holdings, and 17,000 cultural artifacts have been collected from sites around the world, with many displayed publicly in permanent exhibits.
On the first floor of the museum, the Entrance Hall features the Back to the Sea exhibit, a display on marine vertebrates with evolutionary ties to terrestrial reptiles and mammals. A large diorama also depicts the terrain of Montreal during the Ordovician Period, 450 million years ago, when much of North America was underwater. A special exhibit hall also features current research from the university’s science departments.
A large origami pterandon designed by NASA consultant Dr. Robert Lang is suspended over the second floor’s Dawson Gallery, which focuses on the biological and geological history of Quebec. Fossil specimens from the museum’s permanent collection are displayed to present a survey of the region’s natural life from prehistory to the present, including a full-size Gorgosaurus skeleton, triceratops and Tyrannosaurus rex skulls, and a skeleton of the velociraptor relative Dromaeosaurus albertensis. Minerals from Quebec are showcased in the gallery as well, emphasizing the rich and varied geological history of the region. A special exhibit on Quebec Biodiversity emphasizes the importance of species diversity and harmony in the natural environment for the future of world ecosystems, and a display on Endangered and Extinct Species presents mounted passenger pigeons and bones of the Dodo bird. The gallery also features a handwritten letter by famed evolutionary scientist Charles Darwin, showcasing his connections to the university’s research. Nearby, the Hodgson Gallery features an exhibit of 1,200 gem-quality shells collected by Abe Levine.
The World Cultures Gallery on the museum’s third floor is its best-known exhibit, featuring more than 1,000 objects preserved from cultures of the past and present. The gallery is particularly strong in artifacts from ancient Egypt, featuring three fully preserved mummies dating as far back as 1500 BC. Digital facial reconstructions depict the mummies as they might have appeared prior to their deaths. The exhibit also features a full Egyptian coffin and a cast of the Rosetta Stone as well as archaeological and cultural material from the Mediterranean, Mesoamerica, Asia, Oceania, and Africa.
Outside the museum, a small Geological Garden contains samples of minerals and fossils from Quebec and other areas of Canada.
Ongoing Programs and Education
Since its inception, the Redpath Museum has been committed to providing educational resources for Montreal’s students. In addition to guided and self-guided tours for students of all ages, the museum offers a number of ways to bring the natural world directly into the classroom. Through the Science Outreach program, trained educators bring the museum’s collections to students, offering presentations on fossils, dinosaurs, volcanoes, mummies, and other kid-friendly natural history topics. A videoconferencing program is also offered to allow students to embark on hour-long virtual tours of the museum without leaving their classrooms.
Family-friendly events include the Sunday Discovery Workshop series, with informal guided tours of exhibits and themed activities connected to the museum’s exhibits. Nature walks are hosted periodically at nearby locations, offering activities for ages six and up. For older visitors, the popular Freaky Friday series is a happy hour and lecture all in one, with presentations debunking common myths about a variety of popular science discussions. The Cutting Edge lecture series features talks with McGill staff on current topics of research, while a weekly documentary showcase brings the best in scientific cinema to the museum’s auditorium.
859 Sherbrooke St W, Montreal, QC H3A 0C4, Canada