The event was the unveiling of Collecting Communities: a Carboniferous Cabinet of Wonders, a new permanent exhibit at the fossil centre celebrating collectors, and dedicated to Reid, who passed away in November at the age of 94.
But it was John Calder, senior geologist with the department of natural resources and a close friend of Reid’s, who stole the show with his personal reflections of the Keeper of the Cliffs.
“For Don, it was more than just collecting things; I think his passion was discovery,” said Calder. “The idea that he could walk on the beach and flip over a stone that no human being had ever laid eyes on, or split something open in a rock that hadn’t seen sunlight in 300 million years… that sense of discovery is so primal, so kid-like but beautiful. It’s a wonderful thing he was able to keep that passion.”
He spoke of the valuable contributions Reid made to the fossil record, collecting for so long that he created a meaningful census of the biodiversity and fossil diversity of Joggins.
Reid and his discoveries were also instrumental in the UNESCO World Heritage Site designation achieved for the Joggins Fossil Cliffs, although Calder credited him for being the ambassador for Joggins to the world long before, meeting people on the beach and at his own Joggins Fossil Centre, which opened in 1989.
“When we were trying to get world heritage designation here, we looked through his guestbook and there were people from 44 different countries, every state and province,” said Calder. “They had been through his fossils before the government ever stepped up to do the right thing.”
Calder became emotional while recalling a conversation with Reid and his daughter Gloria when plans were taking shape for the current Joggins Fossil Centre. The planners wanted to be careful not to compete with the centre Reid was already operating in Joggins.
“He said, ‘I’m ready to retire. I just want to walk the beach and talk to people, and I want the fossils I’ve collected to always be here in Joggins after I’m gone.’ So that’s what he did,” said Calder, choking back tears.
Many of those fossils can be found throughout the Joggins Fossil Centre, and many more will be distributed across the province in a new initiative Calder announced during his talk. Boxes containing fossils discovered by Reid will be sent to every school in Nova Scotia, giving students a first-hand look at some of the discoveries he made in Joggins.
“He would be so thrilled to do this,” said Calder. “It would be a doorway for an inner city kid from Halifax or from the north end of Dartmouth, to touch a fossil from Joggins that they would never get the chance to do. Other kids will be able to say they want to go there, and see for themselves.”
About 50 people were on hand in Joggins for the event, which also included a talk from Janine Rogers and Thaddeus Holownia of Mount Allison University. Rogers, who was co-curator of the new cabinet of wonders exhibit with Melissa Grey, spoke about the “Art of Science of the Cabinet of Wonders,” while Holownia gave a photographic presentation titled “Joggins – A Life’s Work and Other Landscapes.”