Discover Canada

Posted on: 26 March 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

Canada is a country with an abundance of early history just waiting to be visited, experienced and explored.

The world’s richest, most representative and the most significant Coal Age fossil site can be found in Nova Scotia, Joggins Fossil Site. It encompasses a 100 km strip of sea cliffss up to 30 m high along the coast of the upper Bay of Fundy. The largest fossil creature at Joggins is an arthropod nearly 2m long. Twice-daily tides, among the world’s highest, continually erode the cliff face and expose new fossil beds. Since the mid-1800s, the fossil forests of Joggins have been so extensively studied that the site is often referred to as a 'Coal Age Galapagos.'

At Mistaken Point, Newfoundland and Labrador, you’ll discover the world’s earliest record of multi-cellular life in ancient oceans. Fossils of thirty species of soft-bodied animals preserved in the ash of ancient volcanoes that erupted 560-575 million years ago, provide the earliest and most complete record known of Ediacaran multi-cellular life on the late Precambrian deep-sea floor. Impressions of feather-like fronds, discs and spindles comprise the oldest and most diverse assemblage of multi-cellular life known.

A two-million-year old snapshot of life is preserved in the remarkably rich fossil beds of the Escuminac Formation, which is exposed in a seaside cliff at Miguasha Park, on the south shore of the Gaspé facing Baie des Chaleurs, Québec. There are some 60 such Devonian period fossil sites around the world. But none matches Miguasha in abundance of specimens, quality of fossil preservation and representation of evolutionary events for vertebrates. It is the only Devonian site on the World Heritage List.

The 21 species of fish fossils discovered here made Miguasha famous, nonemore so than Eusthenopteron foordi, the “Prince of Miguasha,” whose limb-like fins and two-way gills-and-lungs respiratory system gave rise to the modern conception of evolution from fish to four-limbed, land-dwelling vertebrates, or tetra pods.

Over to the West of Canada, the province of Alberta houses the largest concentration of rock art and the most complex images on the Great Plains of North America, found at Ai sinai'pi ('Writing on stone') a National Park within the traditional territory of the Niitsítapi. The landscape figures prominently in the sacred geography of the Niitsítapi. Spirit powers are associated with the rock formations and with the view towards the nearby hills, known as Kátoyissiksi.

At the end of the latest Ice Age, 13,000 years ago, Red Deer River Valley was created. It contains the greatest concentration of Late Cretaceous dinosaur fossils yet found on Earth. More than 300 first-quality dinosaur skeletons have been pulled from a 27-kilometre stretch along the Red Deer River since digging began there in the 1880s. Dozens of these now grace museum space in 30 cities around the world. Since 1985 the largest collection of treasures from the park has been housed in the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology, in Drumheller, a two-hour drive northwest of the Dinosaur Provincial Park, and just 90 minutes from downtown Calgary.

Apart from dinosaurs and fossils you can also explore the traditions and culture of First Nation tribes. For thousands of years, bison provided the Aboriginal peoples of orth America’s Great Plains with many of life’s reqirements — meat for food, hides for clothing and shelter, sinew, bone and horn for tools, and dung for fires. The principal means of killing large numbers of bison was the buffalo jump, where herds were stampeded over cliffs and butchered at the bottom. Buffalo jumps were common on the northern Plains. But the biggest, oldest and best-preserved buffalo jump in North America is the Head-Smashed-In (or estipah-skikikini-kots in Blackfoot) Buffalo Jump in the Porcupine Hills of southwestern Alberta.

Off the West Coast of British Columbia, what was once a vigorous Haida community of 300 people is today a haunting assemblage of weathered and fragmented house frames and mortuary and memorial poles. By the 1880s, disease had decimated the population of Nan Sdins village on SGaang Gwaii (Anthony Island) British Columbia, an island at the southern tip of the Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands) archipelago, and by the turn of the last century, only remnants of the houses and poles remained.

Fifteen poles were moved to museums in the 1930s and 1950s. More of the village has been taken by nature, consumed by age and the elements, and returned to the forest. What remains is unique in the world, a 19th-century Haida village where the ruins of 10 houses and 32 memorial or mortuary poles bespeak the power and artistry of a rich and flamboyant society.

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