ROM Governors

A Family Affair With a Land Before Time

Dr. Maureen Trudeau and her family first discovered the Burgess Shale while wandering the Royal Tyrell Museum in Drumheller, Alberta

Dr. Maureen Trudeau and her family first discovered the Burgess Shale while wandering the Royal Tyrell Museum in Drumheller, Alberta. She and her “dinosaur-obsessed son” came across an exhibit with large replicas of bizarre early life creatures that had been unearthed in Yoho National Park, British Columbia. Maureen’s natural scientific curiosity compelled her to read and understand more about this UNESCO World Heritage Site, which has preserved some of the most ancient life forms on the planet.

After doing some digging online, she and her family returned to the Rockies and climbed the Burgess Shale. “The trip makes for spectacular climbing and scenery,” says Maureen, but adds that it’s not for the faint of heart. “The hike up and down is 22 km, and the last part is a steep climb that requires helmets in case of falling rocks. But when you get to the top and hold a 500-million-year old fossil in your hands, you start to understand where life began.”

Today, Maureen and her stepdaughter, Dr. Sandra Mergler, have generously supported the ROM’s future Dawn of Life on Earth Gallery, which will showcase rare specimens from this early marine ecosystem and from Canada’s other world-renowned fossil beds. The new gallery will tell the important story of our earliest ancestors, highlighting mass extinction events and how these inform our current planetary crisis. Sandra felt inspired to join her stepmother in supporting the project because of her fond memories of family vacations spent learning about ancient fossils and natural history.

“We would like more people to know about the fascinating beginnings of life on Earth and the ROM is the perfect place to bring these stories to life,” says Maureen. “The Burgess Shale is part of our Canadian heritage; it’s important that we celebrate it and continue to make new discoveries there.” Maureen’s generous gift to the Gallery of Early Life also honours her late husband, Jonathan Mergler, who shared her appreciation for the stories and knowledge unearthed in these extraordinary fossils.

The Gallery of Early Life
Guided by our world-class curators, the ROM’s future Dawn of Life on Earth Gallery will be an immersive environment with innovative design and hands-on activities. Technology, including remarkable 3D animations, will connect visitors to ROM palaeontologists in the field as they unearth fossils in real time. To learn more about supporting this exciting project, please contact Ulrica Jobe at or 416.586.5818.