Arts & CultureCampus & City

Exploring Edmonton: Royal Alberta Museum

The Royal Alberta Museum has exhibitions that're sure to wow anyone!

When I was in elementary school, museums didn’t exactly make it to the top of the list for what I considered a good time. Back in those days, the Xbox 360 was still king, One Direction was still a band and Barack Obama was the President of the United States. Why would I care about extinct animals or their fossilized remains?

Fast forward to 2022 and as I now inch closer to the adulting life, museums have taken on a whole new meaning for me. For example, with the threat of climate change, seeing what’s left of extinct animals behind a glass wall just hits different now. Also, seeing relics that are thousands of years old is just plain cool when juxtaposed against today’s TikTok/Instagram world.

Royal Alberta Museum gift museum
Alexander Cheung The amazing museum gift shop in the lobby where you can buy cool toys, gifts and clothes as keepsakes.

For those who may not know, the Royal Alberta Museum is located right in front of Edmonton City Hall downtown. The museum moved to its current location in Fall 2018 from the Glenora neighbourhood. The best way to get to the museum is using the Churchill LRT station which has a direct underground connection to the museum. If you choose to drive, just note that the museum doesn’t have a parking lot so you will have to pay for street parking. The admission cost for one adult is $21.

Royal Alberta Museum mammoth
Alexander Cheung  Part of the Natural History section of the museum featuring extinct animals such as the Columbian mammoth and American mastodon.

The Royal Alberta Museum is divided into two large sections, the Human History and Natural History sections that occupy both the first and second floors, respectively. There is also a Bug Gallery which is home to insects and other invertebrates. Unfortunately due to COVID-19, the museum theatre, Children’s Gallery (kids area) as well as some other parts of the museum were closed when I visited. 

My favourite part of the museum was the Natural History section. In elementary school, I never cared much for geology but seeing examples of actual rock formations was a pretty cool experience. For example, one of the exhibits explained how the Rocky Mountains were formed due to tectonic plates. In fact, millions of years ago Alberta was actually covered by an ocean of salty briny seawater and the seafloor was lifted to what it is today. 

Royal Alberta Museum elk
Alexander Cheung An exhibit of two male deers duelling during mating season.

The Natural History section also had a huge collection of rocks and minerals. On top of this there were numerous exhibits featuring wildlife that were local to Alberta. For example, the second floor had two small aquariums that were home to a pike fish as well as western painted turtles which only live in Alberta’s southern river valleys.

Royal Alberta Museum pike
Alexander Cheung

The first floor was home to the Human History section of the museum. If you or someone you know is an anthropology buff, the Human History section is the place to be. The first floor encompassed human history from before colonization all the way up to modern times. For example, one of the exhibits was an Indigenous roasting pit that was over 1,700 years old. In another exhibit, researchers theorized what Indigenous people likely ate thousands of years ago by examining animal bones and the tools Indigenous people used to cook their food (i.e. stone tools and cooking pots).

Royal Alberta Museum
Alexander Cheung A gallery exploring shared knowledge and values that passed down through generations and was developed in collaboration with Alberta’s First Nations and Metis people.

There were also more modern exhibits. A number of exhibits covered the fur trade and one even covered the 1885 Riel Resistance, displaying the red North West Mounted Police (the predecessor of the modern Royal Canadian Mounted Police) uniform and carbine rifle from that era. 

Last, but not least, was the Alberta Transforms exhibit which covered Alberta’s post WWII history and the significant civil rights and social movements that have occurred since.

Royal Alberta Museum car
Alexander Cheung The Alberta Transforms exhibit which showcased a post-1945 Alberta and the changes brought on by population growth and the then new oil economy.

In conclusion, the Royal Alberta Museum is a totally underrated gem in our city. If you’re looking to spend a full day to fill up on cool facts and tidbits (or you’re a total anthropology buff), the Royal Alberta Museum is the place to be. I only spent two hours at the museum and it felt as if I didn’t even scratch the surface. In retrospect, I would have given myself the whole day so as to visit every exhibit and really soak it all in. Whether you’re interested in ice age animals, rocks and minerals, or even Albertan social movements of the past 50 years, the Royal Alberta Museum will definitely have something for everyone.

Alexander Cheung

Alex is a writer and photographer with the Gateway. He is a senior contributor and specializes in tech and travel.

Related Articles

Back to top button