'Part of our history': Dinny the Dinosaur to undergo $200K makeover

An icon at the Calgary Zoo since being constructed in 1935, it's made of hand-pressed concrete and is the last remaining structure from the original Natural History Park, which was the first of its kind in North America.

Work will reinforce neck and left rear leg of statue built in 1935 that sits at Calgary Zoo

The neck and rear left leg of Dinny the Dinosaur will be reinforced this spring. (Scott Dippel/CBC)

Dinny the Dinosaur is getting a makeover.

An icon at the Calgary Zoo since it was constructed in 1935, the statue is made of hand-pressed concrete and is the last remaining structure from the original Natural History Park, which was renamed the Calgary Zoo and Natural History Park in 1937.

"I'm sure he's seen some wear and tear over the last many years, I remember as a kid you could climb kind of all over him," said Josh Traptow, executive director of the Calgary Heritage Authority.

"I think every Calgarian or visitor that has gone to the zoo has probably seen Dinny the Dinosaur and probably has a memory of him."

The Natural History Park was dismantled in 1983 and the remaining 55 structures — designed and built by Finnish-born artist John Kanerva — were destroyed.

Only Dinny remains. 

Dinny the Dinosaur in 1941. (Calgary Zoo)

The 12-metre tall, 36-metre long statue is one of three public art pieces in the Calgary Heritage Authority inventory — the other two being the exterior murals at the Glenbow Museum and the Brotherhood of Mankind statues outside the former Calgary Board of Education building downtown.

Funding for the $200,000 project is being split between the city and the zoo.

"Heritage is always more expensive than building something new because it was usually handcrafted with tradespeople that may not be around anymore," said Traptow.

"I don't know how many people still do hand-pressed concrete and that kind of stuff. When you're dealing with heritage assets it's often more expensive and take more time to do it right to ensure the integrity of that asset."

Work will focus on reinforcing the neck and left rear leg, which will be done from the inside.

Dinny was built in 1935, constructed from hand-pressed concrete. (Scott Dippel/CBC)

"Dinny looms large in my sort of golden childhood memories, and I think it does with a lot of Calgarians," said area Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra.

"It is a landmark and it certainly presaged our understanding of this landscape as being a significant paleontological hotbed of dinosaur bones. It's part of our history."

Erin Rollheiser has been visiting the zoo since childhood and said she is looking forward to bringing her own children to see Dinny.

"I thought they were going to tear it down and knowing they're not going to and I can bring my son, I'm just super excited," she said.


Dave Dormer

Former CBC digital journalist

Dave Dormer worked with CBC Calgary from 2016 to 2019. A graduate of the SAIT photojournalism program, Dave has worked in print and television newsrooms across western Canada.

With files from Scott Dippel


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