Nature’s Path

By Spencer Pearson (BRSM ’18)

As part of our weekly labs in the Earth Science class here in Montreal, there are a number of ‘excursions’ to various sites throughout the city that help students better understand some of the concepts taught in class. This past Friday, we spent our morning exploring the Redpath Museum and all of its little intricacies. The Redpath Museum is a natural history museum located the center of the McGill University campus, and has been around for a number of years, cementing itself as a Montreal institution.

Located in a building that is deceptively unassuming, there is a surprising amount of information, detail, and care put into the exhibits. The entire museum is divided into three separate floors, each one dedicated to a different part of history or science. Right as you walk in, you immediately notice the fossils mounted on the walls, or the numerous informational graphics showing the histories of animal migration patterns. The first floor is largely comprised of glass display cases showing off recreations of extinct animals’ skeletons. For instance, in one corner, you may see the far-reaching legs of a giant spider crab, and in the other corner you may also see the remains of a one-hundred year old tortoise.

Throughout the second and third floors, the layout remains largely the same, with glass display cases and informational graphics adorning the walls. However, as you climb the stairs, you’re immediately faced with the life-like taxidermy of many of Canada’s local animalia – a stuffed Lynx lays casually on the banister above your head, and a strong, proud gorilla stares you down from the corner. All the way to the top of the building, every floor hides some kind of little secret, acting as a way to look at the history of the nature around us.

During this particular trip to the Redpath Museum, myself and my classmates were tasked with completing a scavenger hunt. The questions varied from general to specific, with questions like how many years ago did dinosaurs roam the Earth or why might the Irish Elk have benefited from its larger antlers. The great thing about having a scavenger hunt during our visit was that it helped us dig deeper and seek out the smaller details in the museum. It’s easy to get distracted by the large visual elements at most exhibits and be convinced that there is little else, but that is so rarely the case. The Redpath Museum has much more to share than what is immediately presented.

If there is one indication that the Redpath Museum has more to offer than can be fit into one excursion, it would be that, after I completed my scavenger hunt, I immediately wanted to turn around and dive back in to discover whatever information I missed the first time around.

At the end of the day, the real strength and value of the Redpath Museum was the sense of awe that came with it. More than anything else, or any piece of information, I began to understand the scale of natural history. Obviously, this isn’t something that can be expressed well in a blog, but I left the Redpath Museum having spent my morning finding a way to appreciate the history that surrounds me, be it through nature, architecture or animals.