Charlie and Fido


Charlie and Fido


  • 1933 - 1968
  • lizard in glass case with children

In the 1960s my father was seconded to the ROM from the Toronto Board of Education and the immediate effect of this career move for me was access to the Royal Ontario Museum after closing hours. I had a tremendous sense of privilege and insider knowledge when my mother and I picked my father up at work. Some days I would see curatorial designers puzzling over the best way to display an artefact. Other days my father would take a moment to walk through a gallery with me. His anecdotes about Periclean Athens and Greek mythology have stayed with me to this day. He pointed out Iroquoian pottery shards, trays of jewel-like beetles, a stuffed dodo, the mesmerizing wall of cosmic Buddhist deities, a mummified cat, and rare, ancient porcelain as delicate as a baby's skin. Any dash up or down the main staircase brought one face to face with the clan animals carved on the Haida and Nisga'a totem poles. Each room, open to the public or not, was crammed with treasure. But for me the highlight of any visit was the opportunity to visit Charlie and Fido, the two huge marine iguanas that lazed magestically in large glass boxes resting on plinths at the entrance to the Natural Sciences wing, a prelude to the galleries containing the remains of their Jurassic ancestors. At the end of the day, Charlie and Fido would be taken for walks to stretch their chubby, scaly legs and swish their dragon-like tails. They would sashay along the august marble floors, monsters on a stroll, and in those moments they seemed the most mysterious, wonderous items in the Royal Ontario Museum's collection, a pair of living dinosaurs accessible only to those with access behind the scenes. All this enthusiasm for the museum's collections encouraged my parents to enroll me in Saturday Morning classes at the ROM, then supervised by the remarkable Miss Eugenia Berlin. Somewhere in the rush to the new that characterized the 1960s, Charlie and Fido were removed from their plinths and replaced by interactive displays. I recall Miss Berlin did not like lizards and when I asked after them considered their absence a closed subject. Charlie and Fido simply vanished, as if they had never been there, as if another era had evolved and forgotten to include them.