Long before Charles Doolittle Walcott discovered the now famous Burgess Shale Fossil Beds, workers on the CPR at Field had found want was known then as “stone bugs”.
The site had also been looked at by RG. McConnell of the Geological Survey of Canada, in 1886, the same year that the Park was established.
By word of mouth the story of the stone bugs became known to Charles Walcott, who came to have a look in July, 1907.
Charles Walcott without any formal scientific training became interested in collecting fossils in his early teen years Walcott was fortunate to have met and been befriended by retired museum curator Colonel Jewell, who really helped open Walcott’s mind to what the fossils he was collecting meant.
Working as a farm labourer in Trenton Falls, New York, allowed Walcott to continue with his passion for collecting.
At the age of 20, Walcott went to work on a farm for William Rust, who also had a passion for collecting.
It was Rust who showed Walcott where to look, and what to do with the fossils once they were found.
They were very good at what they did and soon they were selling their fossils to collectors all over. In September, 1873, Walcott had his only real involvement with college when he went to the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard to unpack the fossils that he had sold to Professor Agassiz.
Incidentally he made a huge amount of money from that sale and another sale made to Agassiz son in 1879.
In 1876, Walcott became assistant to James Hall, the state palaeontologist of New York.
This gave Walcott the knowledge he would need to carry on with his career and upon leaving Hall’s employee, Walcott took a job as a temporary geological assistant for the United States Geological Survey for the sum of $50.00 a month.
Over the next 15 years Charles Walcott worked hard to place himself as one of the top palaeontologists in the world and in 1894, he became the third director of the Geological Survey.
His writing became world renowned and still he never stopped.
In 1907, he became the fourth secretary of the Smithsonian Institution and went to work in the Field, mainly in Alberta and British Columbia. During his collection years(1910-1917) at the Burgess Shale site, Walcott and his family collected and sent to the Smithsonian Institute more than 65,000 fossil specimens.
In 1930, another scientist named Percy Raymond came from Harvard University to open up another smaller quarry just above the Walcott Quarry. He collected fossils from both Quarries.
The Quarries (Walcott and Raymond) were reopened in 1966 by the Geological Survey of Canada and again in 1975 by the Royal Ontario Museum with collecting taking place over a period of at least 17 year.
In 1981 the Burgess Shale site was designated as an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981 and visitors to the quarry are no longer allowed to remove stone bugs.
According to the Royal Tyrell Museum, there are over 200,000 fossils collected from the Burgess Shale site. These collections are held in museums and private collections all over the world.
From the earliest days of the discovery of the Burgess Shale beds people went to the site and brought home souvenirs. Many of the young people in Field and Golden went to the site specifically to bring the fossils out to sell to people who got off the train. Hundreds and perhaps thousands of fossils were sold to visitors from all over.
And so it was from one of these private collections that the Golden Museum was given a reasonably good fossil which is on display at the Golden Museum.
When you visit the museum to look at the stone bugs be sure to have a look at the photographs of Golden scenes and people that are for sale on the front counter.