From Art To Zoology

    Your A to Z guide to the University of Alberta Museums.

    By Jennifer Kuchta, '02 BA on August 15, 2011

    An A to Z Guide to the University of Alberta Museums

    For 99 years now, the University of Alberta has been building one of Canada’s largest museum holdings with 28 collections in 11 departments spread out over 120 locations that house 17 million objects. Covering numerous disciplines in human history and natural science, this unique distributed museum model is supported by a central team of museum experts with each museum led by an appointed academic curator.

    While many collections are accessed regularly by researchers, students and the community, the U of A  Museums are working towards a centralized curatorial research facility to enhance collaboration, facilitate improved access, encourage further interdisciplinary studies, and exhibit the latest collections-based research. 


    The U of A Museums are a designated Category A institution, able to acquire cultural property as certified by the Canadian Cultural Property and Export Review Board.

    The University of Alberta recently acquired Robertson Bay, Greenland, by famed artist Lawren Harris, just one of the many Group of Seven paintings in the Art Collection. Emily Carr once owned the painting.


    Renowned husband-and-wife archaeologists, Alan Bryan and Ruth Gruhn, are memorialized with two collections named in their honour: The Bryan/Gruhn Ethnographic and Archaeology Collections were acquired by the couple over a period of 50 years to capture the essence of cultural practices.

    Polar bear skulls in the Mammology Collection

    Polar bear skulls are on display in the Mammalogy Collection.

    The vast majority of the biological science collections are used to monitor trends in Biodiversity. A number of these collections support research in Polar Regions, related to the Northern Initiative at the U of A.


    Classical Greece and Rome are well-represented in the W.G. Hardy Collection for Ancient Near Eastern and Classical Antiquities, curated by Jeremy Rossiter, ’77 MA, ’86 PhD, and staffed by graduate students in the Department of History and Classics.

    Many of the university’s collections are used as reference materials to track Climate Change and other global issues.


    Curator and acclaimed paleontologist Philip Currie is featured in Dino Gangs, a documentary film that explores the hunting habits of Tyrannosaurus rex.

    De Boers has permanently loaned a collection of their Diamonds for exhibition purposes in the Mineralogy and Petrology Museum, open daily to students and the public.

    A cast of a skull of a Dunkleosteus, one of the deadliest ancient sea creatures, guards the entrance to the Paleontology Museum, open daily to students and the public.


    The Osteology and Fossil Hominid Cast Collections are extensively used in the Department of Anthropology for the study of Evolutionary Anatomy.


    Anne Bissonnette & Vlada Blinova in the Clothing and Textiles Collection

    Curator Anne Bissonnette and collection manager Vlada Blinova in the Clothing & Textiles Collection.

    The Friends of the University of Alberta Museums is a non-profit society founded in 1984 to support museum activities on campus. Membership is open to anyone.


    The earliest collecting on campus began in the Geology Department. Non-geological specimens and artifacts were subsequently transferred to other appropriate departments.

    Seven U of A museum collections are involved in an international research initiative driven by the Global Biodiversity Information Facility that provides free biodiversity data for scientific research, conservation and sustainable development.


    There are four Herbaria in the U of A Museums, including the Cryptogamic Herbarium (mosses, liverworts, hornworts, lichens and fungi), the Devonian Botanic Garden Herbarium (bryophytes and lichens), the Paleobotanical Collection (plant-related fossils), and the Vascular Plant Herbarium (ferns, conifers and flowering plants.)


    Felix Sperling in the E.H. Strickland Entomological Museum

    Curator Felix Sperling, '79 BSc, '86 MSc, in the E.H. Strickland Entomological Museum.

    There are more than one million Insects in the E.H. Strickland Entomological Museum, more than 30 percent of which are accessible via the online database at This collection is curated by professor Felix Sperling, ’79 BSc, ’86 MSc, who followed his passion for butterflies as a young boy to become an esteemed entomologist.


    The Jim van Es Marine Invertebrate and Malacology Collection is just one of the collections in the Department of Biological Sciences, valued for its use in courses teaching animal diversity, particularly related to shells and mollusks.


    There are numerous recordings of Khyal, a modern genre of classical singing in Northern India, held in the Canadian Centre for Ethnomusicology.

    The Muse Project is a strong initiative in K-12 education developed to provide learning opportunities for school-aged children, one of many outreach opportunities using museum collections.


    The Pathology Gross Teaching Collection in the Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology is a widely used resource for illustrating disease processes.


    The Meteorite Collection is the largest university-based meteorite collection in Canada, housing more than 1,100 specimens from over 130 different meteorites.

    Lisa Claypool and the Mactaggart Collection

    Curator Lisa Claypool in front of one of the paintings in the Mactaggart Art Collection.

    The world-renowned Mactaggart Art Collection, donated by former chancellor Sandy, ’90 LLD (Honorary) and Cécile Mactaggart, ’06 LLD (Honorary), is composed of more than 1,000 rare textiles, costumes, paintings, and other artifacts from ancient and modern East Asia.


    He’s known affectionately as the Nature Nut but John Acorn, ’80 BSc, ’88 MSc, is just one of 28 appointed curators, who are all current academic staff and active faculty members responsible for the University’s museum collections.


    Collections objects are used daily as primary source materials in Object-Based Learning and research projects.

    The Freshwater Invertebrate Collection is the designated repository for ecological specimens collected during the Alberta Oil Sands Environmental Research Program (1975-1985), representing an important baseline survey of aquatic invertebrate diversity in the region before major development occurred.


    Many unusual specimens in the Parasite Collection are used for morphological identification as well as to support learning and research related to wildlife disease.

    The Art Collection contains vast holdings of historical and contemporary Canadian and international artists, with a particular strength in contemporary international prints, accessed regularly in the Print Study Centre in the Fine Arts Building.


    The Rosenberg Quilt Collection is just one of the many impressive holdings in the Clothing and Textile Collection. This unique collection contains more than 23,000 clothing and textile-related artifacts


    The U of A Museums administrative and advisory service offices, led by Janine Andrews, ’84 MSc, are housed in the historic Ring House 1, built as a residence for the University’s first President H. M. Tory, ’28 LLD (Honorary). This house is allegedly haunted by the spirit of Emma Read Newton, wife of the fourth president of the University, Robert Newton, ‘50 LLD (Honorary).


    Explore the skin of the earth through the Soil Science Monolith collection, exhibited in the hallways of the Earth Sciences Building.

    Enjoying the annual Science Sunday event for kids

    The U of A Museums offers its ever-popular Science Sunday event for kids annually.

    Science Sunday for kids is one of the most popular public programs offered by the U of A Museums the first Sunday of every March.


    Numerous Trilobites are just some of the more than two million fossil invertebrates in the Invertebrate Paleontology Collection.

    The Trace Fossil Collection contains fossils that provide evidence of life activities (such as moving or feeding) preserved in the geologic record.


    The Bohdan Medwidsky Ukrainian Folklore Collection is actively used for teaching and study, and is frequently accessed by the local community for genealogy research. It also supports the U of A’s status as North America’s largest centre for Ukrainian studies.


    There are often many ways to Volunteer or get involved with various museum collections and programs. For more information visit


    Water is well represented in the research and teaching specimens in the U of A Museums, including, but not limited to, the Ichthyology, Freshwater Invertebrate, and Fossil Fishes collections.


    In 1979, the U of A acquired an Egyptian mummy. The mummy and its coffin have been the subject of various research initiatives including computerized X-ray scans, carbon dating, and infrared photography.


    Part of the folkways Alive collection.

    The folkwaysAlive! Collection contains more than 2,000 records.

    You can hear Yodeling and Yabos, amongst many other songs and sounds, in the extensive folkwaysAlive! collection, in partnership with Smithsonian Folkways Recordings. This collection contains more than 2,000 records donated to the U of A by Folkways Recordings founder Moses Asch.


    The Zooarchaeology Reference Collection is a comprehensive selection of animal skeletal specimens from Alberta and the Arctic