There are many individuals in the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology’s thirty-year history who have contributed to its success as Canada’s dinosaur museum. Maurice Stefanuk (1924-2016) was one of the Museum’s first technicians and research assistants who worked on many of the original specimens that are on display today in our Dinosaur Hall. Born and raised in Drumheller, Alberta, Maurice spent his childhood exploring the badlands. During one outing, he found a large carnivorous dinosaur tooth—a small discovery that sparked a life-long interest in fossils from the area.
During World War II, Stefanuk served as a sonar operator in the Royal Canadian Navy in the Battle of the North Atlantic protecting vital transport convoys from German U-boats. He made twenty-six dangerous transits from Canada to England. In the fall of 1982, he joined the Royal Tyrrell Museum team, helping build exhibits as a dinosaur fossil preparator. After the Museum opened in 1985, he took field photographs of dinosaur quarries being excavated along the Red Deer River north of Drumheller and hiked the rugged badlands relocating them for Toronto-based palaeontology legend Dr. Loris S. Russell. New information learned from these dozens of sites was used in a recently published dinosaur biostratigraphic study.
His biggest contribution to science was the discovery of two of the best skeletons of the comparatively rare tyrannosaur Albertosaurus (the Museum’s iconic symbol). One was discovered in 1973 east of Trochu, and the other in 1985, not far from the Museum. Both important specimens have been utilized in a number of displays and landmark scientific studies.
Albertosaurus has also become Alberta’s unofficial provincial dinosaur with representation on coins, stamps, and as part of the original Museum logo. When Canada House, home to the Canadian High Commission (and one of the most iconic buildings that make up Trafalgar Square in London, England), was undertaking some major renovations to reflect the art and culture of each province and territory, it was only natural for the Alberta Room to house an Albertosaurus. Just before he passed away, the cast of the skull of the second Albertosaurus Maurice discovered went on display.
Remarkably, during his time of service in the war, a picture of Maurice was taken on shore leave in Trafalgar Square, just a stone’s throw away from the future Canada House. Of course he did not know it, but some seventy years after that picture was taken, a fossil he would find thirty years later would be displayed less than 100 metres from where that picture was taken.