For the entirety of my life, I have resided within the great city of Toronto, Canada. When I first became captivated with all things prehistoric, my parents took me to the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM). Little did they know at the time, but their plan to entertain me worked far too well; in the 13 years since my initial visit, the ROM has become a home away from home for me. When I was younger, I enrolled in the summer camps that were provided by the ROM, taking courses on everything from dissecting owl pellets to learning about the dinosaurs within the halls of the museum. When I was 7, I stayed overnight at the museum, which was probably the first “all nighter” I pulled with dinosaurs on my brain. At 9, I was featured on Toronto’s local news network, CP24, advertising the awesome exhibit Ultimate Dinosaurs: Giants of Gondwana on behalf of the ROM. It was at this point that I was able to meet the ROM’s very own David Evans, a thrilling experience for my younger self. When Ultimate Dinosaurs was in town, the ROM also hosted a series of lectures that spotlighted famous paleontologists whose discoveries stretch across the world. These paleontologists—individuals such as the legendary Paul Sereno, Phil Currie, Scott Sampson, David Evans and Jack Horner— are some of my idols. Through the ROM, my love of dinosaurs was able to blossom to its fullest, as the museum became something of a safe space for me.
Then, at the age of 12, I stopped going to the ROM. To this day, I cannot fathom why I cut out a place of genuine enjoyment from my life; all things considered, maybe I was trying to look cool for others. Looking back on it, I regret this hiatus more than any other decision in my life. Then, in the summer of 2018, in what felt like an impulsive decision at the time, I returned after 3 long years. Upon walking through the front doors and seeing the massive Futalognkosaurus that resides in the lobby, I felt a spark of inspiration. This spark led to me recreate this website, visit museums in other cities, and most importantly, truly love dinosaurs again. After my initial return, I went back again. Then again. And again. I bought a membership, as this was getting expensive! With each visit, the ROM helps me remember why I continue to write on this blog: because dinosaurs are the best.
Now, with my long history with the Royal Ontario Museum aside, I can get down to the nitty-gritty aspect of this article: reviewing my favorite museum.
Unique Fossil Specimens
The sheer number of species on display at the ROM is astounding. As noted, the museum’s lobby contains the skeleton of the sauropod Futalognkosaurus; a dinosaur so massive that it generates a sense of awe like no other. Aside from this titanic sauropod, the lobby also contains the fossils of two near-complete hadrosaurids and the skeleton of an ancient amphibian. On entering the main fossil hall, the visitor encounters a giant Pterosaur Quetzalcoatlus, a display unique to the ROM. The rest of the fossil hall is filled with an array of fossils that depict all aspects of the ancient kingdom. Fossils of ancient marine life, including the fossils of species such as the giant turtle Archelon, a Mosasaurid and a Pliosaurid, the killer fish Xiphactinus, multiple Ichthyosaurs and the long-necked Elasmosaurus are distributed throughout the exhibit. Small fossils of plants and insects add a unique layer of depth to the collection of specimens. Of course, there are also dozens of dinosaur species from every period of the Mesozoic in the hall, including Tyrannosaurus, Allosaurus, Stegosaurus and the massive skeleton of the sauropod Barosaurus. The holotype specimens of species such as the cone headed Parasaurolophus and the ceratopsian Wendiceratops have attention brought to them, highlighting the active nature of the museums paleontological department. The rest of the hall is comprised of multiple Hadrosaurids, two ankylosaurids, a few ceratopsian skulls and skeletons, the dome headed Pachycephalosaurus and others. These specimens contribute to the uniqueness of the ROM’s dinosaur hall.
In addition to fossils from the Mesozoic era, the fossil hall also contains specimens from both before and after the dinosaurs. Tucked away in the hall lies the skull of the armored fish Dunkleosteus and the skeleton of a 7-foot-long ancient scorpion. At the end of the exhibit is where the true diversity in their exhibit lies, as the extinct mammal hall is rather impressive. With such fossils as the giant ground sloth Eremotherium, a fully-grown mastodon, the short-faced bear Arctodus, multiple giant armadillos as well as dozens of other species, the mammal hall is distinct from other museums, which tend to gloss over this period in earth’s history. When combining the amount and variety of fossils present within the mammal and dinosaur halls, the ROM’s fossil exhibit is one for the ages.
Engaging and Descriptive Information
One of the better aspects of the ROM’s fossil hall is its ability to convey accurate information to the viewer. For every fossil present in the museum there is a paragraph and description accompanying it, providing visitors with important facts about the fossil in both English and French. For some of the more important species, such as Tyrannosaurus and Barosaurus, there are interactive displays that contain a multitude of facts and figures pertaining to the species, as well as clips of documentaries and interviews with paleontologists about the dinosaur. For displays such as the skull of Acrotholus, a large paragraph accompanies the fossil detailing why the fossil is significant to both paleontology and the museum itself. In addition, these ‘fact sheets’ are easy to understand for people of all ages. The interactive displays and large amounts of facts for each species allow all patrons to fully understand the exhibit, making the experience more enjoyable for adults and kids alike.
Artistic Elements: Fossil and Dinosaur Displays
The ROM utilizes several artistic methods to display and describe dinosaurs and fossils. The vast majority of the skeletons in the hall are displayed in realistic poses that generate a feeling as though a living animal is in fact in front of you, which goes a long way in making the exhibit feel realistic. However, every single skeleton is isolated from one another. None of the displays interact with each other, which can make the exhibit feel rather traditional at times. This doesn’t take away from the overall enjoyment of the exhibit; however, more interaction amongst the various species would enhance the realism.
The ROM also utilizes an Apple-like esthetic that is streamlined, minimalist and very white. This works well given that most of the fossil hall is located within “the Crystal”, a modern, steel, glass and aluminum space built onto the original ROM’s architecture. The space possesses no vertical walls, and I would suspect that this presents some design challenges (or opportunities). While the ROM’s exhibition is great, the relative dearth of art and color is in contrast to other museums. There are a few panels of landscapes or small models in the background, but these are rare. The art used on the interactive displays is however very strong. For special exhibits and new discoveries, the ROM commissions the brilliant paleoartist Julius Csotonyi. I would love to see more of Csotonyi’s art used in the general exhibits as it would add to the realism.
All in all, I would give the museum’s fossil hall an A rating. I can safely say that this rating will only get better in the future as the museum continues to discover new species every year led by head paleontologist Dr. David Evans (see my article on “A Review of Zuul: The ROM Exhibition”). With Dr. Evans’ outstanding ability to find awesome new fossils, I am confident that my favorite museum will continue to entertain and inspire me for decades to come.