Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

It's a croc... and star of museum

Dauphin area known for fossils

  • Print
Norm Williamson stands near the fossil-rich Wilson River.


Norm Williamson stands near the fossil-rich Wilson River. Photo Store

DAUPHIN -- The star attraction at the Fort Dauphin Museum didn't wear a coonskin cap, pad around in mukluks or enjoy robust singalongs.

The star of the fur-trade museum crawled on its belly, did a great imitation of a floating log and shed no tears for its victims.

It's Chris Croc, or Chris the Croc, the 100-million-year-old crocodile found near Dauphin. It's named after local legal aid lawyer Chris Tait, an amateur paleontologist who discovered the crocodile's fossilized bones.

"People are very surprised. They come in here expecting the fur trade and find a 20-foot crocodile," said Sheena Sullivan, museum curator.

Or at least they find some of its fossilized bones. The Fort Dauphin Museum doesn't have the budget to pay for a mounted replica of the crocodile, called a Terminonaris, one of only seven found in North America. Neither was the crocodile's skull found, so the remnant leg and feet bones have to do.

Even so, it's a remarkable discovery. It also points to the real star of the whole affair: the Wilson River. The little-known Wilson starts in the Riding Mountain escarpment, south of Grandview, and snakes east before emptying into Lake Dauphin.

Tait wasn't available, but another occasional amateur paleontologist, Norm Williamson, showed the general area on the Wilson River where Tait found the crocodile, near the Wilson River bridge on Highway 5 west of Dauphin.

The amazing thing about the Wilson River is it cuts so deeply into the escarpment. Steep cliffs stretch at least 20 metres high in some parts. In the stratified embankments are streaks of rocks, sands and soils, all of different hues: a virtual catalogue of periods on Earth dating back 100 million years.

By summer, the river is nearly dry. So amateur palaeontologists walk along the riverbed looking into the freshly eroded shoreline cliffs for anything unusual. At a depth of about eye height, you can find fossils from 90 million to 100 million years ago.

That's how Tait found his crocodile in 2007. He was actually looking for fish fossils. He has one such find, the fossil bones of a Xiphactinus, currently stored in his apartment. Xiphactinus is a very recognizable for how its incisors jut up the sides of its mouth, like Chopper in the Tweety Bird cartoons. Fossils from plesiosaurs (Loch Nessie) and shark teeth are also found.

"It provides lots of opportunities to find things," Tait said of the Wilson.

The Western Interior Seaway ran through Manitoba ages ago, but this area was part of a shallows that included islands, ideal for reptiles such as crocodiles to raise families, said Williamson.

What about the climate? Crocodiles can't even withstand frost. Manitoba was so much warmer back then and not due to continental drift. It would have been only one or two degrees farther south.

The very short answer is it had to do with changing ocean currents, said Kevin Campbell, a University of Manitoba biologist and board chairman of the Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre in Morden. In fact, camel fossils have been found on Ellesmere Island, the northernmost island in Canada, dating back 20 million years ago, said Campbell. That's how warm it once was.

And dating back 50 million years ago, there were not only crocodiles on Ellesmere Island but palm trees. Frost only arrived in the Arctic about seven million years ago. The temperature started to really drop four million years ago, followed by ice ages that started two million years ago.

The Manitoba Heritage Act dictates all fossils found within the province are property of the province and must be turned over to the Manitoba government or a steward of the province, such as a museum.

The Fort Dauphin Museum, founded by legendary outdoorsman Joe Robertson, includes a fossil house of some of the ancient bones found on the Wilson River. The museum also includes items from the oldest Paleo-Indian campsite in Manitoba, found in the Duck Mountains, believed to be up to 8,000 years old from its lancelot projectile points. The museum also displays exhibits of decorated war hero Billy Barker, who was from Dauphin, and Red River settler and surveyor Peter Fidler.

Fort Dauphin was originally established by the son of famous explorer La Vérendrye, Pierre, in 1739, at the mouth of the Mossey River on Dauphin Lake, and was active until the 1830s, said fort manager Adam Hanson.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 26, 2014 A4


Updated on Monday, May 26, 2014 at 7:35 AM CDT: Replaces photo

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Total Body Tune-Up: Farmer's Carry

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • Marc Gallant / Winnipeg Free Press.  Local- (Standup Photo). Watcher in the woods. A young deer peers from the forest while eating leaves by Cricket Drive in Assiniboine Park. A group of eight deer were seen in the park. 060508.
  • Two Canadian geese perch themselves for a perfect view looking at the surroundings from the top of a railway bridge near Lombard Ave and Waterfront Drive in downtown Winnipeg- Standup photo- May 01, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos


Are you concerned about the number of homicides so far this year?

View Results

Ads by Google