The paleontology collections of the Tumbler Ridge Museum Foundation were made richer by the recent addition of an intriguing fossil, with an interesting history. The story begins in the 1960s with Maynard Bergh at Wapiti Lake.
Bergh was an air-force flying instructor during the 2nd World War. After the war he moved from Saskatchewan to Pouce Coupe and set up base, and became one of the first helicopter pilots in the Peace Country. He developed a great love of the Wapiti Lake area, and obtained the recreation lease for the original cabin.
Throughout the 1960’s the Wapiti Cabin became the summer home for his wife and three boys while Maynard was flying his helicopter in the area. It was Bergh who invited the Catholic priest, Father Mariman, to the lake, which led to the construction of the grotto and shrine that are still visited by many who hike in to the lake via the Wapiti Hiking Trail.
In the 1960s one of Bergh?s clients was a geologist. The helicopter was set down in the alpine to allow the geologist to work on a rock outcrop. While looking at a rock Bergh spotted the unmistakable shape and remains of a fish. He and the geologist lifted the rock out of the ground and loaded it into the helicopter. It became a much loved possession of Bergh?s for decades, and an object for visitors to enjoy. Unfortunately the specimen was accidentally dropped and it broke into about a dozen pieces.
When Bergh passed on, he left the rock fragments to his good friend Roy Christie of Fort St John, who has treasured them since. When Christie, now in his 80s, heard of the activities of the Tumbler Ridge Museum Foundation, and its efforts to celebrate and exhibit the region?s fossil heritage, he and his family decided to donate the fossil fish to this worthy cause. The fragmented specimen was taken to the Peace Region Palaeontology Research Centre where it was reassembled and stabilized by palaeontologists Rich McCrea and Lisa Buckley.
The fossil represents the posterior half (65cm long) of a large fish, which almost certainly comes from the Fossil Fish Lake area, now within the protected area of Wapiti Lake Provincial Park. This fish and the many other fossil fish and marine reptile specimens from this area lived around 240 million years ago during the Early Triassic Period, much older than the Tumbler Ridge dinosaurs.
McCrea and Buckley tentatively identified the fossil as a specimen of Saurichthys sp., a large predatory fish that often reached up to one metre in length. McCrea welcomed this addition to the TRMF collections, saying: ?This donation marks the beginning of a representative collection of the Wapiti Lake vertebrate fauna that will stay in the region to be displayed for the public and to be made available for study by local and visiting palaeontologists?.
The fossil fish, once a fearsome terror of the Triassic seas, will soon form part of the Tumbler Ridge Museum Foundation exhibits, and may evoke some envy from modern-day fishing enthusiasts. TRMF would like to thank Roy Christie for returning this fascinating fossil to the area in which it was discovered.