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Godzilla, Bruce team for movie, fossil museum

Hollywood bites on centre's proposal

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 15/5/2014 (1194 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

MORDEN -- Bruce is envious.

Bruce is the most ferocious marine reptile of all time, a 15-metre mosasaur, essentially a killing machine whose fossils were found near here and whose exhibit has become the face of the Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre in Morden.

Bruce the mosasaur has fossil museum executive director Peter Cantelon in a perilous position.

BILL REDEKOP / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Bruce the mosasaur has fossil museum executive director Peter Cantelon in a perilous position.

But every decade or so, some dude named Godzilla shows up and hogs the spotlight. A new Godzilla movie opened today.

"Godzilla is a marine reptile," explained Peter Cantelon, executive director of the fossil discovery centre, which houses the largest collection of marine-reptile fossils in the country. "He rises out of the sea in every single Godzilla myth and returns to the sea."

Cantelon pointed out the marine-reptile connection to Warner Bros., and the potential for cross-promotion. Never mind Godzilla is fictional and Bruce is a real marine reptile that ruled the Western Interior Seaway that immersed Manitoba 80 million years ago.

The movie studio liked the idea and sent 500 posters, 10 double movie passes and other promotional material. The tickets are being given away on local radio spots, and the posters are handed out with paid admissions.

"It's building a bit of a buzz and gives us $1,000 of free advertising," Cantelon said.

Such is life for the CFDC in the basement of the Morden Recreation Centre. It has a world-class fossil collection but just an $8,000 promotions budget. Despite its collection -- and more amazing fossils are being discovered all the time -- it struggles in relative obscurity.

The fossil discoveries were the result of open-pit mining for bentonite, started in the 1940s. Bentonite, made from volcanic ash that landed in the interior seaway, is used in everything from lubricants to toothpaste. Volunteers started to get out to mining sites in the 1960s to explore for fossils. The first fossil centre opened in 1972.

There have been talks for decades about moving the discovery centre to the next level. It attracted 16,000 visitors last year. The Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller, Alta., attracts 300,000 visitors a year. Not that the Morden centre could be another Tyrrell, but it could match or surpass the T. Rex Discovery Centre in East End, Sask.

New, amazing displays keep going up at the discovery centre, the result of fossil digs no more than a 30-minute drive from Morden. One new exhibit is fossils found of an Archelon, a giant sea turtle the size of a Volkswagen Beetle. Another new exhibit is a Xiphactinus. You might not remember the name or know how to say it, but you've seen it before. It looks like a fish out of your nightmares. This one was an 18-footer found trying to bite a mosasaur.

Many mosasaur fossil skeletons have been found here. Bruce is just the largest. They were once the dominant predator, ruling over even sharks. The first mosasaur fossils were found in the late 1700s near the Maas River in the Netherlands, hence the name.

"We find loads of shark teeth. It's one of our most common finds," said Cantelon. "And we find giant squids. We find squid pins. It's the cartilage and the only part of the squid that fossilizes. We found one mosasaur with a squid pin right in its throat. We think it choked on the squid pin."

Getting a new building is a long-standing issue for the centre, but it's a Catch 22: It can't justify a new building unless it draws more visitors, but it can't draw more visitors without a new building. "Our goal is growing our admissions, growing our revenue so we can get to a point where we know we can sustain a larger facility," Cantelon said.

It's a bit like moving out of your parents' house. In the CFDC's current location, the City of Morden pays for everything: heat, lighting and water and provides free rent, plus an operating grant this year of $112,500. Yet the discovery centre has no street visibility.

It is searching for a patron. (The Province of Alberta is the Tyrrell's patron.) The Morden Area Foundation has set up a separate fund for donations to the CFDC. The centre would spend the interest.

It is also trying to become one of the province's signature museums. There are six in the province now. That status means more than $50,000 a year to spend on promotion. Signature funding would allow the CFDC to promote itself nationally..

Meantime, Cantelon said he hopes the Godzilla movie steers some people his way. While Godzilla vs. Bruce doesn't quite sound menacing enough for a movie sequel, such as Godzilla vs. King Kong, or Godzilla vs. The Thing, Cantelon has no doubt who's tougher.

"Bruce is pound for pound as ferocious, if not more ferocious, than Godzilla," he said.

Read more by Bill Redekop.


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