Fossilized fish footprints may get tourism dollars in N.W.T.

A paleontologist confirmed the discovery in 2012. He’s made several trips to the area, which is above Alexandra Falls near Enterprise.

Fossilized footprints of sarcopterygii (or walking fish) estimated to be over 360 million years old

Bruce Green with photos of fossilized footprints of a prehistoric “walking fish” also known as a sarcopterygians at the Hay River Visitors Centre. (Kirsten Murphy/CBC)

Northwest Territories' Beaufort Delta has pingos and the Sahtu region has Bear Rock.

But the South Slave area has fossilized footprints of a sarcopterygii  — or walking fish — estimated to be over 360 million years old.

A paleontologist from the Royal Tyrell Museum, Donald Henderson, confirmed the discovery in 2012. He's made several trips to the area, which is above Alexandra Falls near Enterprise, N.W.T.

Not many people outside the region know about the site.

But Bruce Green of Hay River is doing his part to change that.

Bruce Green maintains the site after the Hay River melts each spring. (Submitted by Bruce Green)

Green is a retired biology teacher and amateur naturalist who is fascinated by fossils.

Each spring, after the Hay River melts, he carefully cleans out dirt and debris from breakup, so the trackway is clearly visible. 

Green has a display about the tracks at the Hay River Visitor Centre,  he's working on a brochure for the local museum and he gives talks at the local library — all to attract visitors to the site.

"Right here in our own backyard, we have a world class resource, something that  does not exist anywhere else in the world ... except maybe a smaller set in Poland," Green said.

"I think it's pretty convincing what we have."

Paleontologist Don Henderson (right) and assistant Chris Capobianco of the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller in the summer of 2013 removing rock in the hopes of finding more pristine and uneroded tracks along the Hay River below Alexandra Falls. (Submitted by Bruce Green)

Green is also a gentle but consistent thorn in the side of the Department of Industry Tourism and Investment, the department with the money to promote the site, which is within a territorial park known for its waterfalls.

"A lot of people stop there anyways. A little extra signage would alert people that there is more than just scenery there," Green said.

A spokesperson for the territory's tourism department said discussions are underway for interpretive signage and a life-sized model of the walking fish, which could be as early as this summer.

(Submitted by Bruce Green)

Doug Lamalice has made his own discoveries of fossilized bones near the falls. He's since donated them to the Royal Tyrell Museum. Lamalice is from the K'atl'odeeche First Nation Reserve and his grandmother told him legends about an amphibious creature that once roamed the area.

Lamalice said he supports the promotion of the prehistoric trackway at Alexandra Falls because it is about cultural preservation.

"The elders always told me the land will speak to me at the falls, and it has," Lamalice said. "We need to collect these legends with the science, not just for cultural tourism, but for an understanding of the traditional knowledge that the Dene hold."


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