The TR Ice Ages

Tumbler Ridge Global Geopark


When our delegates from Tumbler Ridge attend UNESCO Global Geoparks Netowork conferences, they are struck by how many Global Geoparks have Pleistocene (Ice Age) geology as their main theme. By contrast, here in Tumbler Ridge we have sometimes viewed the Pleistocene glacial till that covers much of the surface as an irritant, something to be removed in order to uncover the exciting dinosaur and other ancient fossil material that lies below. In doing so, perhaps we have been ignoring some fascinating stuff, that is worthy of celebration and interpretation in our Global Geopark. Consider the following:

Great rock slabs near the summit of Highway 52 are engraved with exquisitely perfect parallel grooves, ground by the glaciers within the last million years. These rocks can be brought to the museum as an outdoor interpretive exhibit.

Less than 100 metres from one of our most popular hiking trails is a section of peat that has already been fully researched by other institutions in BC. This provides the most complete record known from the Peace Region of Ice Age deposits, and the various levels of the massive Glacial Lake Peace. Working with the discoverer and researchers, we can create a fascinating outdoor exhibit beside this site, and conduct tours to it. A spur trail has already been built to it by volunteers this summer.

A site recently reported in the Globe and Mail has sacred significance for First Nations, and is of great geological importance. It features huge, deep potholes, way above any current river surface, which likely originated in a catastrophic flood as the glaciers melted. In the region are stone tools and burned bone, as well as other signs of probable remote First Nations history. And there is an oral history handed down the generations that speaks of such potholes. How will this develop? Could it become a basis for Aboriginal tourism, or is it so sensitive that the best way to interpret it is simply through a museum display? It is too early to tell, but regardless it offers an amazing opportunity for collaboration with First Nations.

And then there are the limestone caves in the mountains. Over time animals fall into them, and can’t get out. Their bones are preserved in the alkaline rock for thousands of years with minimal decay. Carbon-dating these bones will give an idea of how old they are. A caribou bone that is twenty years wouldn’t be a big deal, but if it were twenty thousand years it would make the skeleton worthwhile recovering. And analysing the deposits in these caves for smaller mammals and pollen would tell us a lot about what lived here for the past millennia.

Our landscape, especially in the eastern half of the Geopark, is full of intriguing ice age features – eskers, sand dunes, terraces and big ghost valleys. But the forest cover makes these features hard to recognize. LIDAR is a technology that essentially allows for photography without the forest, so that the underlying landforms can be seen. Imagine LIDAR photos of the forested sections of the Geopark, showing what lies on the surface, converted into a large exhibit outside the museum.

Then consider the research done by the Beaty Biodiversity Museum at UBC, and already celebrated through signage at Quality Falls trailhead – when the ice receded, eastern and western North American bird populations entered the newly exposed territory, and met in places like Tumbler Ridge. Mitochondrial DNA analysis on eastern and western populations of the Winter Wren at Quality Falls led to this bird being split into two separate species.

And finally, understanding our Ice Age past helps inform us about where we live and why Tumbler Ridge looks the way it does. The Upper Bench, Middle Bench and Lower Bench represent three levels of Glacial Lake Peace.

Put all of these ideas together, and it is clear that there are compelling stories to be told.  The absorbing story of the Ice Ages in Tumbler Ridge will take its place alongside the dinosaurs, fossil fishes and marine reptiles, fabulous mountain scenery and myriad waterfalls that together make the Tumbler Ridge Global Geopark unique.