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

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

Royal BC Museum

Just Posted

Surrey council chambers. (File photo)
Surrey council to consider ‘public engagement’ strategies tonight

Council asked to endorse ‘Public Engagement Strategy and Toolkit,’ and a ‘Big Vision, Bold Moves’ transportation public engagement plan

Old trucks are seen in the yard at the B.C. Vintage Truck Museum in Cloverdale June 14, 2021. The Museum is reopening June 19 after a seven-month COVID closure. (Photo: Malin Jordan)
Cloverdale’s truck museum to reopen

B.C. Vintage Truck Museum set to open its doors June 19

Surrey City Hall. (File photo)
Surrey council to consider $7.3 million contract for street paving projects tonight

A city staff report recommends Lafarge Canada Inc. be awarded $7,326,667.95 for 15 road projects in North Surrey and one in South Surrey

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in a plenary session at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, England on Friday June 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada donating 13M surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses to poor countries

Trudeau says the government will pay for 87 million shots to be distributed to poor countries

Police arrest the suspect in an attempted armed bank robbery on June 2 at the Scotiabank at Gladwin Road and South Fraser Way in Abbotsford. (Photo by Garry Amyot)
Abbotsford bank robbery suspect who was stopped by customers faces more charges

Neil Simpson now faces total of eight charges, up from the initial two

FILE – Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry talks about B.C.’s plan to restart the province during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, Tuesday, May 25, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. officials watching U.K.’s Delta variant struggles, ‘may need to slow’ restart plan

Studies show that one dose of vaccine is only 33 per cent effective in preventing B.1.617.2 spread

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

RCMP Const. Shelby Patton is shown in this undated handout photo. RCMP say that Patton was hit by an allegedly stolen truck that he had pulled over on Saturday morning in Wolseley, east of Regina. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, RCMP
Pair charged in Saskatchewan Mountie’s death make first court appearance

Const. Shelby Patton was hit by an allegedly stolen truck that he had pulled over Saturday morning

David and Collet Stephan leave for a break during an appeal hearing in Calgary on Thursday, March 9, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol
Appeal Court rejects stay for Alberta couple facing third trial in son’s death

Pair accused in their earlier trials of not seeking medical attention for their son sooner

Highway notices like this come down effective June 14. Public health restrictions on non-essential travel and commercial operation have hit local businesses in every corner of B.C. (B.C. government)
Province-wide travel back on in B.C.’s COVID-19 restart plan

Gathering changes include up to 50 people for outdoor events

Calgary Stampeders’ Jerome Messam leaps over a tackle during second half CFL western semifinal football action in Calgary, Sunday, Nov. 15, 2015.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
CFL football will be played this summer in Canada

Governors vote unanimously in favour to start the ‘21 campaign on Aug. 5

Citizenship Minister Marco Mendicino holds a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, Nov. 12, 2020. The federal government is announcing that Indigenous people can now apply to reclaim their names on passports and other government documents. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Indigenous people can now reclaim traditional names on their passports and other ID

Announcement applies to all individuals of First Nations, Inuit and Métis background

Most Read