Linda Langevin (left) holds a framed photo of a crayfish fossil discovered by her late husband David Langevin and his colleague John Leahy, the late husband of Bernita Wienhold-Leahy (right), a gift from the Royal BC Museum for donating David and John’s collection of 18,000 fossils, some 52 million years old, found at McAbee Fossil Beds Heritage Site near Cache Creek, B.C. Kristyn Anthony/VICTORIA NEWS

B.C. museum receives donation of 52-million-year-old fossils

Over 18,000 specimens from heritage site outside Cache Creek, B.C. will lead to new scientific discoveries

It was a hobby that went “berserk.”

That’s how David Langevin’s wife Linda Langevin describes the collection of 18,000 fossils her late husband and his colleague John Leahy discovered just outside Cache Creek, B.C.

The pair had met in a Kamloops-based rock club and travelled to McAbee Fossil Beds Heritage Site on an expedition. Now, almost two decades later, the 52-million-year-old specimens comprised of plants, insects and fish the pair painstakingly preserved have been donated to the Royal BC Museum.

“It took over the house, it took over the home, it took over the family, it took over them, but in a positive and good way,” Linda says of the pair’s dedication to the project.

“To crack open a plain old looking rock and see laying there a gorgeous bug or flower exposed for the first time in 50 million years – they just thought that was the most amazing thing,” she recalled.

McAbee, a provincial heritage site, is home to fossils from the early Eocene Epoch, making them some of the most important in the world for their diversity and quality, says Richard Hebda, curator emeritus at the Royal BC Museum.

Much of what they found had been preserved naturally, having been driven down to the bottom of an old lake bed, explains Hebda, who on occasion found himself scaling the site’s rock walls with Leahy – a teacher who died in 2015 – who was as fearless as he was enthusiastic.

“Collecting fossils with John was just a wonderful exercise,” Hebda says. “His eye was so fantastic. He could look right at a slab and see what was important that was there.”

The late John Leahy, photographed against the McAbee Fossil Beds Heritage Site outside Cache Creek, B.C. Photo contributed

The Eocene Epoch is characterized by how warm the planet was then and Hebda draws the conclusion that these specimens could provide a model for what might happen with global climate change going forward, one more reason the findings are so unique.

“It’s rare to have fossils in such numbers, so well preserved, and in such diversity,” he says, because the preservation has occurred at the cellular level.

A closer look at the fossils reveals the layers of hundreds of thousands of years of history.

“The site is like nowhere else on Earth,” Hebda says, and for that reason he and Leahy often discussed what the future would hold for both the fossils, and the site.

“As an institution we’re able to hold complex collections like that, especially with specimens that are going to be new to science,” says Hebda, who expects new species to be discovered from the fossils. “They need to be in a place where their access can be managed and their care can be carried out for centuries.”

Different people will come a hundred years from now and find different things, he adds.

The late David Langevin holds the fagus langevenius, a fossil named for him, discovered at the McAbee Fossil Beds Heritage Site outside Cache Creek, B.C. Photo contributed

In the 80’s, Langevin was “horrified” to learn a mining company from Alberta had dug up part of the site for kitty litter, Linda says. He and a friend went and staked a mineral claim; the action ended up ensuring the site was provincially protected.

Along with the tours Leahy would give to interested school groups and tourists, the former schoolteacher photographed and scanned his finds in detail, mailing the images to scientists across North America. Many scholarly paleontological papers were written as a result, relying upon both the samples and imagery that Leahy provided as a “citizen scientist.”

Richard Hebda (right) of the Royal Bc Museum embraces Linda Langevin (left) whose late husband David Langevin uncovered 52 million-year-old-fossils donated to the RBCM Thursday. Kristyn Anthony/VICTORIA NEWS

Two years after Leahy passed away, Hebda came to the family home to survey what had been collected, the scope of which blew him away, says Bernita Wienhold-Leahy, John’s widow. “He just shook his head and said, ‘I can’t believe the work he did.’”

“John and Dave’s passion was to share the McAbee site with school groups, scientists, anyone that would be interested in finding and discovering their own little piece of history,” she adds. “This is the natural place for them to be.”

kristyn.anthony@vicnews.com


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

The struggle for space inside Surrey’s elementary schools

SECOND IN A SERIES: A look at how overcrowding impacts student life

VIDEO: 5X Festival takes over Surrey’s Central City plaza

Second annual event draws thousands of people throughout the day

City shifts proposed transit station to King George after cancellation of LRT

Council to consider Newton Town Centre plan in fall

VIDEO: Plane makes forced landing on Highway 17 in Surrey

Police say no one was injured and no damage to aircraft or vehicles

Nearly 200 motorcycles take off from Cloverdale for Brenden’s Ride

Annual fundraiser supports programs that empower people with disabilities

10 facts about Father’s Day

Did you know that the special day for dads was first celebrated in 1910?

B.C. VIEWS: When farmland protection doesn’t protect farmers

Secondary residences aren’t mansions, families tell Lana Popham

Bombers down B.C. Lions 33-23 in season opener

Former Lion Andrew Harris leads Winnipeg with 148 rushing yards

Northern B.C. family remembers murdered Indigenous woman with memorial walk

Still no closure for Ramona Wilson’s family 25 years later

Pride flag taken down by Township of Langley

Woman said she was told it was removed from her front yard because of a complaint

B.C. university to offer mentorship program for former youth in care

Students using the provincial tuition waiver program will soon be able to form a community at KPU

Cyclists competing in one of the toughest bike races on the planet pass through Fernie

Divide riders looking strong as they finish first leg of 4160 km race

You might not know these B.C. records are public

Hired a lawyer to file a civil claim? Those are published online

B.C. bus driver loses case to get job back after texting while driving full bus

An arbitator ruled that Tim Wesman’s phone usage was a “a reckless disregard for public safety”

Most Read