BC Heritage Fairs Alumni

The Official Heritage Fairs Student Site

The Great Fossil Debate! — November 19, 2018

The Great Fossil Debate!

Welcome to another Heritage Fair Alumni year! Can you believe it’s November already? We’re so excited to introduce you to this year’s group of alumni – stay tuned to our bios page in the next couple of weeks for that to go live. At our first meeting, we talked about an election happening in BC. No, it’s not the one you’re thinking of; this one is to select a fossil symbol for the province.

Take a look at the Alumni’s thoughts below, and then go to the BC Government Website to have your say. Don’t delay – the voting ends this Friday, November 23. Do you agree or disagree with our alumni’s thoughts? Let us know in the comments. – Rachel, BCHFS Alumni Coordinator


Introduction – by Veronica

B.C.’s provincial symbols highlight unique and important elements of our province. These include our flag and coat of arms as well as the Pacific Dogwood, our floral emblem; the Stellar Jay, our official bird; and the Western Cedar as our official tree. The Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development is looking to add to that list by designating a Provincial Fossil. Fossils give us a rare glimpse of the biology and ecology from the past, thus, they provide significant educational and scientific value. Seven fossil candidates have been selected using the following criteria: the fossil should be easily recognized, unique to B.C. and its geography, and have a wide appeal. It should also be an effective educational tool and easily adapted to use in poster, logo, and display designs. The B.C. Provincial Alumni have chosen the fossil they think would be the best choice. Read on to learn more about these biological artifacts and why each would be an ideal choice! To take a look at the seven candidates and vote for your fossil of choice, visit the Government of B.C. website.


Jaia’s pitch: The Cretaceous Elasmosaur from Puntledge River, B.C.


One of B.C.’s late Cretaceous marine reptiles, the Elasmosaur, has the potential to be one of B.C.’s provincial fossils. Elasmosaurs were Plesiosaurs that lived across the world and were a species that survived until the end of the Cretaceous period, about 66 million years ago.

Pieces of these Elasmosaur specimens have been found at various places in B.C., but the first complete Elasmosaur found in Canada is on display at the Courtenay and District Museum, as well as the Palaeontology Centre on Vancouver Island.  

Palaeontologist Mike Trask and his daughter were looking for fossils along the Puntledge River, when they found this Elasmosaur specimen in 1988. Although they expected to find only clam fossils in these rocks, they instead discovered fragments of vertebrae sticking out of the rock alongside the river. Over many weekends, a number of teeth and bone fragments were discovered, which eventually made up an entire jaw and skull. Captivated by this new discovery, hundreds of volunteers turned up to help with the excavation. It is this that built the interest of many Canadians in the science of palaeontology and created B.C.’s first palaeontology society in Courtney, Vancouver Island. Without this discovery, palaeontology would not have been as profound in the history of B.C. and for this reason, the Elasmosaur would be a strong choice for B.C.’s provincial fossil.


Keilin’s Pitch: Ichthyosaur


For 220 million years, this immense aquatic reptile was embedded in the limestone of northeastern British Columbia. Excavated by the ambitious palaeontologist, Dr. Elizabeth Nicholls, these prehistoric Ichthyosaur remains were determined to be the largest of their kind at a length of nearly 75 feet. Resembling a dolphin or a shark, this fast-moving, highly specialized animal dominated the marine environment by ambushing its prey while effectively avoiding its predators. These survival abilities allowed the Ichthyosaur to escape extinction for over 100 million years and had it not been for Nicholls, this particular specimen could have been hidden for many more. Although the sheer sophistication of the Ichthyosaur makes it an ideal contender for the Provincial Fossil, Nicholls represents British Columbia’s curiosity and passion as well. In the male-dominated field of palaeontology, Elizabeth Nicholls demonstrated her genius and dedication as the curator of marine reptiles at the Royal Tyrrell Museum and by undertaking excavations such as that of British Columbia’s Ichthyosaur. Regrettably, she passed away in 2004 from breast cancer, but her work has greatly influenced today’s palaeontologists. In consideration of Dr. Nicholls’s excavation of the Ichthyosaur, it will absolutely reflect B.C. as the Provincial Fossil. Not only will it highlight a significant discovery in our province, but it will also honour the legacy of a respected female palaeontologist.


Judy & Vedanshi: First thoughts on the Salmon


Salmon have a long and rich history in British Columbia, starting from their presence in lower B.C. after the Ice Age, approximately 2.6 million years ago. This fish is an extremely important aspect of the culture of Coastal First Nations groups in B.C.. For thousands of years, salmon were not only their main source of food but also a symbol of gift-bearing relatives who were treated with great respect. They are often a part of totem poles as well, which symbolize peace, harmony, and family. Nowadays, salmon has become the main focus of fisheries, which has improved the economy and made it one of the primary exports of B.C. In 2015, it was reported by GSGislason and Associates Ltd, that B.C. was responsible for more than 80%, around 5000 out of 6000, of all new jobs provided by salmon fisheries in Canada. From the Chinook to the Sockeye, salmon has become a well-known and important aspect of B.C.’s society. However, after further consideration and because the salmon has already been selected as the provincial fish emblem, it would be better to recognize another fossil to represent British Columbia.


Abrielle, Kevin, and Rhiannon Pitch the Alumni’s Final Choice: Lace Crab


The Marrella splendens (Lace Crab) is the ideal fossil to represent British Columbia. Brought up through time from the deep ocean canyon around 508 million years ago, its fossils are now embedded in the Burgess Shale located on the peaks of the Rocky Mountains in eastern B.C.. The formation of the Burgess Shale mirrors the diverse landscape of B.C., which starts at the west coast and ends in the high, rugged Rocky Mountains. First formed in mudslides in a deep ocean canyon, the fossils were pushed up on top of other rocks that forms B.C.’s famous mountains. In other words, the same tectonic forces that created B.C. lead to the discovery of the Lace Crab. The Marrella splendens was one of the first fossils ever found by Charles Doolittle Walcott and lead to his discovery of the Burgess Shale. It is one of the most prominent fossils found in this formation. The Burgess Shale is not only significant to British Columbia, but it is also recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site as it has advanced the world’s scientific knowledge into the evolution of animal life and formed “part of the national heritage of mankind.” The name Marrella splendens reminds us of the beauty and delicateness that has survived through time echoing British Columbia’s motto: Splendor Sine Occasu which means Beauty without Diminishment.

The lace crab is an animal that is unique to B.C. In fact, it has only been found in the Burgess shale which is an important fossil-finding area in our province. The lace crab was critical for palaeontological research, as it proved that fossils from the Burgess Shale were more diverse than previously expected.

B.C.’s provincial fossil should represent the essence of our province. It must be unique, game-changing, and intriguing. The lace crab is all of these. Found in 1910 by Wolcott, Marrella fossils were found extraordinarily well preserved. Over the years, 25,000 specimens have been discovered, all of which were found in the Burgess Shale. While every other fossil candidate has been found predominantly in other nations, the lace crab has only ever been found in British Columbia. This makes the fossil extremely unique, just like our province. The lace crab itself is interesting. They range from two centimetres to as small as twenty-five millimetres; yet, 62 moving segments fit into their tiny body. The animal had a head-guard made of two boney spikes, legs, feathery gills, antennae, a stomach inside its head, and two paddle-like limbs to allow for swimming. The lace crab would likely have been very colourful during its lifetime. Such an amazing creature is a perfect fit for such an amazing province.


Leona & Lucas’ Rebuttal: We Still Recommend Salmon

Although the other options in the Provincial Fossil contest are intriguing choices, there are no species that have as large of an impact on British Columbians as the salmon. As the Pacific Salmon Foundation states, “The well-being of the salmon population is a direct reflection of how we are doing as a society and as stewards of the environment.”

Salmon are extremely relevant to both our history and economy, which will make it easier for British Columbians to identify with the fossil. Pacific Salmon have had a heavy impact on B.C. for years. They stood the test of time, as they were a major food source of various Indigenous groups for thousands of years. Salmon also held an important cultural role for the Indigenous peoples since they hold a rich history of legends and stories. In 2013, the Pacific Salmon was adopted as the official fish emblem. As reconciliation is a priority for the B.C. government and citizens alike, recognizing the importance of salmon is a natural step to helping bring communities together.

Economically, salmon provide us jobs like farming and marketing. It also supports tons of economies and communities. Pacific Salmon fuel a $3 billion dollar industry! Additionally, 137 marine species depend on the marine-rich nutrients that salmon supply. Recreational fishing is enjoyed by people around the province, and viewing of wild salmon is an integral part of B.C.’s tourism industry as well. Finally, we believe that it’s important for us to honour and remember the salmon because our society has helped to destroy their ecosystems.

In addition to polluting the ocean with microplastics and suffocating the salmon, fewer and fewer salmon are now being found on our coasts. The salmon are the biggest biological foundation of the river system, telling us whether our rivers are healthy or not. Therefore, in the interest of protecting salmon, making it the Provincial Fossil will help to increase awareness about the steps we need to take to protect our ecosystems.

The salmon not only provides enough ecological and geological value to be considered as B.C.’s Provincial Fossil but is also relevant in a vast number of issues that British Columbians now face. Declaring it as such will only prove to help all British Columbians – and all British Columbian salmon!


Conclusion – by Julia

The new provincial fossil, like the other provincial symbols, will emphasize our uniqueness and represent our province, making this decision an important one. Each of the seven fossils has different stories and reasons as to why they are provincially valuable. The first fossil is the Elasmosaur from Puntledge River, which inspired the first B.C. palaeontology society in Courtenay. Then the Ichthyosaur, reflecting the curiosity and passion of devoted palaeontologists, followed by the salmon; an integral part of British Columbia’s history and economy. Finally, the lace crab, our recommendation, which is unique to B.C.. Other fossils in the running include the Ammonite, Trilobite, and the one-celled animal. The provincial fossil should be recognizable, reflect the geography of B.C., and have the potential to be used educationally and on poster designs. Voting takes place on the Government of B.C. website and closes November 23. Each of the fossils ties into British Columbia in different ways, but only one will be awarded the title, so be sure to go cast your vote.