How Do You Store Your Bison Head?

How Do You Store Your Bison Head?

A common human trait is to obtain and store our belongings. And, maybe without even thinking, storing them in a relational way that makes sense to us, such as in a sock drawer, or stored together in some logical manner for use, like tools in a toolbox. At the very least, items are stored in a place where we know we can find them when we need them.

Museums around the world, including here at the Manitoba Museum, have much the same approach when storing their collections. There are over 300,000 specimens in the permanent collections of the Natural Sciences section, of all different types, shapes, and sizes, and they all need to be stored in a systematic way so that we can find them when they are required for research, education, or exhibits.

Lichen specimens stored in individual trays, with labels bearing their catalogue number, identification and data.

Lichen specimens are stored in individual trays, and have labels with their catalogue number, identification and data.

Two images. Left: An open drawer containing pinned beetles stored in interior boxes. Right: A microscope slide with 60 micro fossils adhered to the surface placed beside a dime for scale.

In scientific collections, we store specimens of the same species together, and then numerically by their catalogue number. This way, a single particular specimen can be easily located. This is the system that is used most commonly for museum collections including insects, mammals, birds, fossils and plants. Other collections, such as minerals, are stored by their chemical groupings. There are also some specialized research collections that are stored together as an assemblage of different species that were all collected from the same site. This system makes it easier for researchers who want to view and compare all specimens from a particular location. For example, all fossils from a Churchill shoreline, or insects that were pollinating a particular field.

Within each collection, the sizes and storage requirements of the different species vary considerably. They are not all the same size, shape, weight, or fragility level, and we need to be able to provide safe storage solutions in our collections areas for specimens that range from microscopic to very large. For example, paleontological micro-fossils, such as tiny shells or bits of coral, are extremely small (sometimes smaller than 1 mm), and too fragile to even handle individually. In order to keep them safe, but also available for study, they are gently adhered to a special type of microscope slide so that they can be safely handled, and then stored.

Images above: Left – Pinned beetles of the Carabidae Family are stored in special drawers with other specimens of the same species, separated by interior boxes. Right – Micro-fossil shells are adhered to special slides with numbered sections in order to distinguish them.

Another type of specimen that we had to devise a storage method for were fungal spore prints. Spores are the tiny microscopic structures that fungi disperse for reproduction and are thus similar in function to plant seeds. The spores are produced on the underside of the spongy or gilled mushroom cap. To assist with identifying the species of mushroom, we collect these spores, and then carefully store them. A spore print is made when mushroom is freshly collected. A piece of black paper is placed under the cap to catch the spores that will be released. The resulting print basically looks like dust in the shape of the mushroom cap. What gives us the information we need to identify them is the colour of the spores – these can be white, cream-coloured, rusty, black or brown. We have found that we can store these fragile paper prints similar to photographs. We place them in plastic CD cases, using photo mounting corners to hold the paper flat; the disk lid closes to protect the print surface from being disturbed.

A white fungal spore placed on a square of black paper inside a CD case.

These cream-coloured spores help scientists identify the species of mushroom that they came from.

Taxidermied head of a Bison stored on a custom-wheeled dolly.

Odd-shaped or very large specimens pose a storage challenge on a whole different level, so we must make special considerations for them. Large mammal mounts, for example, are not easy to store. They are large, heavy, take up a lot of room, and can be fragile too! To add to that list of concern parameters, they can also contain arsenic, which was an effective pesticide used by taxidermists prior to the 1980’s, but is toxic to both pests and humans. We have started to test our collections so we can take the necessary precautions when handling and storing them. Smaller mounts, such as song birds, can be stored in metal cabinets. But larger mounts are a little more difficult, and we have had to develop alternate methods of storing them.

Many of our larger mammal mounts are placed on custom-built wheeled platforms so that they are off the ground, and can be moved if needed. In some cases, we added a wooden framework around the mount so that we can enclose it in poly sheeting, as a barrier for pests and dust. The framework keeps the poly from coming into contact with the fur or feathers of the specimens as it could bend, break, or flatten the structures.

Above: Taxidermied head of a Bison stored on a custom-wheeled dolly for easy transportation. It will be enclosed in protective poly sheeting for storage.

Large mammal skulls, like caribou and elk, can have enormous antlers, and certainly pose another storage challenge. We have adopted a simple and effective storage solution using heavy-duty custom metal frames that are locally fabricated. The frames are spanned with expanded metal centers, and installed where we have open wall space. The large skulls can then be secured and hung on the frame. We are fortunate in that we have large areas of open wall space!

Our next storage challenge is how to store a 25 ft. long whale jaw that weighs 200 lbs!

A Museum staff member kneeling on the ground attaching cable to a large pair of antlers.

Strong aircraft cable is used to hang these large skulls with antlers.

A Museum staff member stands on a rolling ladder platform facing the camera beside seven taxidermied skulls fixed on the wall

Collections Technician, Aro, installing the skulls onto our new metal storage rack.

Janis Klapecki

Janis Klapecki

Collections Management Specialist – Natural History

Janis Klapecki obtained a B.Sc. from the University of Manitoba, specializing in Zoology and Botany. She also holds a certificate in Managing Natural History Collections from the University of Victoria, BC. Janis has over 20 years experience…
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Welcome to the CEO’s Corner

Dearest Manitoba Museum friends,

First, thank you for being here. I appreciate how much information we receive on any given day, and how overwhelming it can feel. We often ask ourselves, ‘Is this message relevant to me or do I just delete it or move on?’ Fair question, and a necessary one if we want to create a life most meaningful to each of us. This message, aka my introductory blog, is one such piece of communication I hope you don’t automatically move on. I’m going to try my best to make reading this message worthy of your time and attention.

To begin, for those of you I haven’t yet had the pleasure of meeting, my name is Dorota Blumczyńska and I am the CEO of the Manitoba Museum. I joined the Museum two and a half incredible years ago. I say incredible because my life has been forever changed by what I’ve learned, unlearned, and re-learned in this seemingly short time. Leading this important organization is one of the greatest honours of my career, my life. Every day brings with it new insights, new challenges to overcome, new opportunities to embrace, and new uncertainties to leap into. More about that in a bit.

Why a blog? Although engaging with our communities is an important part of my role at the Museum, it isn’t something I get to do as much as I would like. The day to day realities of leading a museum are dynamic and demanding; they require paying attention simultaneously to what’s on the horizon and what’s right in front of us. I enjoy the challenges that come with supporting a fantastic team and doing hard and heart work, in balance with opportunities to be with the people and planet we do all of it for. That’s where this blog comes in: it’s my way of being present with you, our community, while serving the needs of the moment. In time, as we get to know each other, I hope to hear from you, respond to questions, and offer my insights on museum work and why it matters. These are some of my goals.

So, a little about me. I came to Canada with my parents and four siblings in 1989. We were brought here as Privately Sponsored Refugees – meaning a community who had never met us agreed to support our family during our first years here; everything from finding work, housing, learning English, to understanding our new country. As it is for many migrants, life in Canada in those early years was very difficult. The most basic things proved more complicated than any of us had imagined. In time however, we began to make friends and it was the warmth and welcome of others that helped us feel like we had found home again.

Community, I’ve learned, both professionally and personally, is what makes life a less arduous journey. The mere presence of others, those who witness our milestones, celebrate our successes, grieve our losses, and accompany us in the most beautifully mundane moments, enriches our existence.

My own life was enriched two and half years ago when I was invited to be a part of the Manitoba Museum team.

It was enriched years earlier when my family was selected for re-settlement.

And it continues to be enriched by every chance I get to welcome you, our community, into relationships with us.

This past year, as you can see from our spectacular new website and changes to many of our physical and online spaces, has been a year of continued transformation. Improvement not for the sake of improving, but with the goal of bringing us closer together, in proximity to each other’s stories.

This CEO corner, the first of many blogs from me to you, will help us get to know one another a bit more, encourage us to be curious about each other’s perspectives, and will create a space where we can ask and answer questions, explore complicated topics, and perhaps, demystify some of the myths and mysteries of museums today.

The name

Loving Thy Nonsuch – Care of a Beloved Ship

By Carolyn Sirett, Senior Conservator

In 1973, the Nonsuch replica made its final resting place at the Manitoba Museum where it has become the largest artifact in the Museum’s collection and one of the most beloved. The preservation of this treasured little ship falls onto the shoulders of the Conservation department, whom over the past 50 years have taken great care in ensuring it sticks around for generations to come. So how does a team of trained Conservators look after a ship that has been stored indoors for the last fifty years?

Behind-the-scenes, weekly, monthly, and bi-annual maintenance tasks are completed, ensuring that Nonsuch stays in working condition.  Regular cleaning of woodwork, removal of dust from decks, and polishing of metal components keeps everything in tiptop shape.  Historical changes in footwear have also helped greatly in the preservation of Nonsuch.  There are stories from the early 1970s of Conservators removing studs from high-heeled shoes that would get stuck in the deck seams almost daily. The flat-bottomed footwear of today’s fashion style has been much more sympathetic and favorable to the lasting conditions of the ship.

An individual wearing a flat cap and rubber gloves polishing a brass surface on a large wooden ship.

Assistant Conservator, Loren Rudisuela, polishes the brass on the tiller handle of Nonsuch. ©Manitoba Museum

An open binder with a loose sheet unfolded beside it. Notes about Nonsuch care and the ship.

Log books with maintenance records and drawings from the 1980s are still used today to track and record preservation tasks by the Conservation department. ©Manitoba Museum

Woman wearing a pink harness and holding a paint brush with tar, on the Nonsuch rigging.

Senior Conservator, Carolyn Sirett, climbs the ratlines to apply pine tar to the standing rigging as part of the ship’s maintenance. ©Manitoba Museum

The more challenging jobs are completed above the main decks, in the rigging and sails that soar high above the gallery space.  With a stomach for heights, the ratlines or rope ladders, are used by Conservators to climb up to the various sections and apply pine tar to the standing rigging.  Pine tar, an oily black substance brushed on to the ropes, is what gives the ship and gallery its iconic smell – a smell that has been said to spark memories of first field trips, first dates, and first visits.  Caring for Nonsuch is a passion for the Conservation team, and a longstanding tradition of ship secrets that have been passed down from one Conservator to the next.

Carolyn Sirett

Carolyn Sirett

Senior Conservator

Carolyn Sirett received her B.A. in Anthropology from the University of Manitoba, Diploma in Cultural Resource Management from the University of Victoria, and Diploma in Collections Conservation and Management…
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Current Night Sky: November 2023

November brings colder weather which quickly becomes the dominating factor for most observers. When the sky is clear it will be cold, so the most important equipment is not a telescope or pair of binoculars, but a pair of good boots and a warm parka. Don’t forget mitts, a toque, and several layers of underclothes.

Visible Solar System

Jupiter is at opposition early in the month, providing its largest and brightest views face this year. It rises at sunset and is visible all night, finally setting in the west as the sun rises.

Saturn is at its highest shortly after sunset, but still low in the sky for Manitoban skywatchers. Although visible until after midnight, telescope viewers will want to catch Saturn and its rings as early in the evening as possible to minimize the poor seeing nearer the horizon.

Uranus reaches opposition as well this month, its best and brightest for the year but still requiring at least binoculars for most observers to
spot it as a faint “star”. CHART COMING

In the morning sky, Venus rises about 3 hours before the sun and stands high in the east in the pre-dawn sky.

Mercury has moved into the evening sky but the angle of the ecliptic at this time of year keeps it too low to be easily spotted from Manitoban latitudes.

Mars passes around the far side of the Sun on November 17th and so is invisible from Earth.

The Moon passes several planets this month:

  • November 9 (morning sky): the waning crescent Moon is about 1 degree away from Venus in the morning sky, a spectacular alignment
    worth getting up for.
  • November 14 (evening sky): the thin crescent Moon is near Mercury, but the pair will be too low to observe from Canada.
  • November 24-25: The waxing gibbous Moon is near Jupiter tonight.

 Observer’s Calendar

All times are given in local time for anywhere around the world at mid-northern latitudes, unless it’s an event which occurs at a specific moment – then the time is given in Central Daylight Time – the local time for Manitoba.

November 2: Jupiter at opposition

November 4: Daylight Saving Time ends tomorrow – set your clocks one hour earlier before you go to bed tonight.

November 5: Last Quarter Moon; the South Taurid meteors peak in early evening, but only produce two to five meteors per hour. On the plus side, those meteors are often bright fireballs.

November 9 (morning sky): Venus 1 degree below crescent Moon

November 10: The monthly meeting of the Winnipeg Centre of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, the largest astronomy club in the province. The meetings are open to anyone and are also streamed online.

November 11: The North Taurid meteor shower peaks, also producing a few meteors per hour. Between the two overlapping Taurid streams and the upcoming Orionid stream, November often has an increase in bright fireballs.

November 13: New Moon

November 14: Antares occulted by Moon (daytime event)

November 18: The annual Leonid meteor shower peaks on the night of November 17-18, with a predicted rate of about 10-15 meteors per hour (under a dark sky) in the pre-dawn hours of the 18th. Th e Moon is a thin crescent in the evening and so won’t interfere with  observation, making this a decent year for this famous shower. No major outbursts are predicted for this year, which can cause rates of several thousand per hour. A potential minor outburst may occur near 12h Universal Time on November 21st, consisting of 10-15 bright meteors per hour. The is timing is well-placed for North American observers and is worth monitoring. For details on how to turn your meteor watching into scientifically useful data, visit the International Meteor Organization.

November 20: First Quarter Moon

November 25: Jupiter below waxing gibbous Moon

November 26: Uranus below waxing gibbous Moon IMAGE COMING

November 27: Full Moon (near Pleaides star cluster)

Fakes & Forgeries: Buyer Beware!

The month of October is affectionately called ‘spooky season’ by many folks. While the word spooky makes most people think of ghosts, vampires, and other creepy things, equally spooky for me are the number of items for sale online marketed as authentic pieces of fur trade history!

Ok, maybe I’m trying too hard to connect this blog post to the season. BUT there is an abundance of fakes and forgeries on the market, all trying to entice unlikely buyers searching for Hudson’s Bay Company history.  This trend is not seasonal, but it always make me cringe. I receive a few emails each year where someone has spent a substantial amount of money online on a bale seal, token, amulet, or trade axe and they want to learn more about it. I always feel so terrible when I have to let them know that they likely purchased a fake or forgery.

Which means it’s time for me to share some of my ‘red flags’ when looking at online auction sites for fur trade history. I’ve also written about two commonly forged items, bale seals and trade axes, for Canada’s History Magazine so you can read those too (links at the end of the blog!).

This month I decided to do a quick google search to see what came up when I typed “Hudson’s Bay Company tokens” and “Hudson’s Bay Company bale seals”. I immediately spotted numerous red flags: anytime I see a conjoined HB I’m a bit suspicious; iconography that bears no resemblance to the HBC Coat of Arms also sets off alarms; and anytime there’s a very old date stamped on the item my hackles raise. Why is that? Well, HBC was fairly routine with how, where, and when they marked their items. Although trade tokens were highly variable during the earlier years, and many posts made and issued their own, anytime HBC produced something it looked pretty official and often used their full name, or their coat of arms (or a portion of it).

Trade Tokens

Here are some examples of HBC trade tokens from the Museum Collection:

Four brass trade tokens with HBC coat of arms in a black velvet case.

This is a set of the brass trade tokens for the East Main district. Note the Coat of Arms.

A set of aluminum trade tokens marked HBC or Hudson's Bay Company in a frame on red velvet backing.

Here is a framed set of the thinner aluminum tokens used in the Arctic and the Labrador/St. Lawrence districts.

And here are some items I found this month, including this one from an auction house where somebody paid $360 USD in 2022 for an item that is clearly fake.

Note the large beaver icon in the centre and the miss-spelling of Hudson’s Bay Company.

And these tokens which are slightly better forgeries, but still fake none-the-less (and I am not a member of WorthPoint so I don’t know how much these sold for!).

Screen shot from an online site selling a number of brass tokens.

These brass tokens look a little better but still not how HBC would mark their tokens.

This one on ebay might be the best forgery. It uses the Coat of Arms, but it’s still not a 1670 medallion. It looks modelled after a much later commemorative coin, and if you look at the reverse in the second image, there’s no way HBC was putting French on their early coins and tokens!

Screen shot showing the front of a fake coin that uses the coat of arms and looks pretty authentic.

This is a pretty good looking fake, but the date, 1670, is the red flag. That’s not the Company’s name at that time period and it looks like a commemorative coin!

Screen grab showing the reverse of the token with a ship and writing in French.

The reverse of this coin or token is also questionable, especially the French!

Bale Seals

Lead bale seals are another commonly faked item. I would encourage folks to look at images of actual bale seals to see that they’re relatively small, thin, and intended to be pinched or crimped. So there are often two parts with a small connecting piece. What I tend to see online are these thick, flat circles with crude HB or conjoined HB C on them and a perforated hole.  Here are two similar examples both posted to a coin community forum:

A strange leather bag on the left and three chunky round objects with conjoined HB.

The conjoined HB and chunkiness of these make me question their authenticity.

Round object with a drill hole at the top and crude conjoined HB.

Again, this looks quite crude and unlike any authentic HBC bale seal.

And here are some examples from the HBC Collection. These are 20th century varieties, no longer made from lead but enamel-coated zinc or aluminum:

Two grey (zinc) bale seals in the front and red enamel-coated ones in the back, all featuring HBC coat of arms.

Zinc examples in the front, including one that has been pinched with red enamel-coated ones in the back, both featuring HBC coat of arms.

Grey (zinc) seals alongside red and gold examples.

Three 20th century examples from the collection: plain zinc, red, and gold coloured.

So please be cautious when purchasing items online, because there’s nothing scarier than finding out you’ve wasted your hard-earned dollars!

Dr. Amelia Fay

Dr. Amelia Fay

Curator of Anthropology & the HBC Museum Collection

Amelia Fay is Curator of Anthropology and the HBC Museum Collection at the Manitoba Museum. She received her BA in Anthropology from the University of Manitoba (2004), an MA in Archaeology…
Meet Dr. Amelia Fay

Do you know how to spot fakes and forgeries?

Join Dr. Amelia Fay in this video in the Hudson’s Bay Company Museum Collection to learn how to spot some common fakes and forgeries that claim to be HBC artifacts.

Check out Dr. Fay’s blog Fakes & Forgeries: Buyer Beware! to learn more and see some photos of fake artifacts people have tried to sell online.

A Story of Three Violins

Did you know that the three violins on display in the Prairies Gallery and the Winnipeg Gallery all have something in common?

Find out what, or who, it is in this video with Dr. Roland Sawatzky, Curator of History!

New Exhibition Shares Stories of Family and Migration as Told Through the Art of Clock-Making

Winnipeg, MB: October 23, 2023 – The Manitoba Museum will be a temporary home to a beautiful and engaging exhibition developed by the Kroeger Clocks Heritage Foundation in partnership with the Mennonite Heritage Village.

Keeping Time: The Art and Heritage of Mennonite Clocks provides an in-depth look into the craft and art of Mennonite clocks made in Europe and transported by immigrants to the Americas over the last two centuries. Beautiful in and of themselves, each clock also has an important story to tell about its owners and their experiences of migration.

“Several clocks featured in this exhibition are on loan from family homes, where their ticking and chiming connects present-day owners to their ancestors. Others are loaned from museum collections, where they are preserved for their cultural value,” says Alexandra Zeitz of the Kroeger Clocks Heritage Foundation, who is herself a descendant of Mennonite clockmakers.

For centuries, Mennonite clockmakers honed their craft to produce iconic clocks that brought beauty and structure into homes and communities. Today these timepieces carry emotional meaning. They survive as cultural representations and witnesses to the social and political upheaval experienced by their makers and owners. These clocks are now found around the world, wherever there is a Mennonite diaspora.

“These clocks were both beautiful and functional, but most importantly, they acted as symbols of family stability. They were taken along during Mennonite migrations to retain and transplant that social continuity,” says Roland Sawatzky, Curator of History at the Manitoba Museum.

This temporary exhibition features 15 Mennonite clocks, made between the late 1700s and early 1900s and transported to Manitoba by Mennonite immigrants over many decades. These beautiful timepieces were made in Mennonite workshops in Ukraine, and represent Mennonite migration stories, mechanical ingenuity, folk art, and family life.

Members of the media are invited to preview the exhibit in
The Manitoba Museum Discovery Room • Thursday, October 26 

Doors Open: 6:30 pm;
Welcome, Speeches & Refreshments: 7:00-7:30 pm;
Exhibit Viewing: 7:30-9:00 pm


Keeping Time: The Art and Heritage of Mennonite Clocks, will open to the public on October 27, 2023 in the Manitoba Museum’s Discovery Room. It will be on display until February 2024.  Exhibit admission is included in General Admission to the Museum Galleries.




Media Contact: 

Brandi Hayberg
Manager of Marketing & Communications
[email protected]

Meet Manitoba’s Bats!

Have you seen any bats lately? As Halloween approaches we start to see bats everywhere, but do you know where Manitoba’s bats are in October?

Find out in this video with Curator of Zoology, Randy Mooi, and learn some of the challenges our local bats are facing.

Even though there may not be any real bats flitting through the air this October, it is the perfect time to visit the Manitoba Museum to find out more about these fascinating flying mammals. Don’t forget to put on your costume and join us for our annual Halloween Takeover – a safe, weatherproof, and fun-filled experience for all ages – October 28 and 29!

How do fires impact archaeology?

As we all know, this year has been a very active wildfire year, which has massive impacts on individuals and communities. How do fires, whether campfires or forest fires, impact the work of archaeologists?

Find out in this video with Curator of Archaeology David Finch.