By Kim Krieger and Laura MascaroPublished November 18, 2018 7:55pmUpdated November 20, 2018 10:55amIn the early 1980s, a man named John L. C. Wilson, known for his long, white beard and deep voice, became a fixture of Calgary’s science scene.
A longtime member of the North West Association of Scientific Societies, Wilson was a member of Calgary Museum of Natural History, a member and board member of North West Academy of Science and the director of the National Centre for Advanced Study of Science Education.
“The idea was to have the museum open as a showcase for our great city’s scientific heritage,” says Wilson.
Wilson was in his late fifties and in his final year at the University of Alberta when he joined a local community science club.
In 1981, the club began collecting specimens and Wilson found himself on the front lines of a new field of study, paleontology.
“My goal was to become a paleontologist,” says the bearded, blue-eyed man who has been described as “one of the great paleontologists of all time.”
He became a professor at the university and later moved to Calgary, where he became the curator of the Natural History Museum.
Wilson says the museum’s first exhibit in 1989, The Northwest Science Museum: An Old Science, featured more than 100 specimens and more than 200 artifacts, including a jaw fragment that is thought to have been made by a species of dinosaur known as the Ornithischia.
The museum opened in the fall of 1990, but Wilson says it quickly fell behind its competitors in the science community.
“They had to do more with the money they had,” he says.
“We had to find new things.
And that was what we did.”
In 1996, Wilson co-founded the North Western Association of Science Societies.
“That was a real turning point in the museum,” he recalls.
“It’s become a destination for people from all over to come in and learn and explore.”
Since then, Wilson has been a member for 30 years.
He says that the museum is now a destination in itself, and that there are now more than 2,500 exhibits on display.
The first exhibit at the museum was The North Western Science Museum, which features specimens from around the world.
“People come from all walks of life and are curious about the history of their own country, the world,” Wilson says.
The next exhibit is titled The North Science Museum as Seen from the Frontiers of Science.
“This is a museum that really speaks to a new generation of scientists,” he adds.
Wilson has been instrumental in developing the museum, which includes a wide range of activities that are open to the public.
The museum has a science club, a paleobotanical garden, a science theatre, a library and exhibits on geology, biology, genetics, paleomagnetism and more.
“I think we have an incredible collection of things that are out there that no one else has in Calgary,” he said.
Wilson and his wife, Kathleen, who also co-own the museum with their son, Brian, have been instrumental with fundraising efforts.
“A lot of it is down to us and Kathleen and her husband,” he explains.
“Our children and grandchildren are now in the same room with us and it gives them something to look forward to.”
The Wilson family is looking forward to a return to the museum as soon as possible.
“When we do come back, we’ll have our own space and we’ll be able to have a great time with our kids and grandchildren and the staff,” he predicts.
The North Western Society is in the process of renovating the museum to create an open-air, indoor, community space.
Wilson is hoping to start that work in late 2019.