New, hands-on dinosaur lab opens in Victoria

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There’s a lady in town many people will want to meet; standing at 20 feet tall, Victoria has a toothy grin to remember for ages – 65 million years to be exact.

Victoria is a Tyrannosaurus Rex, or the fossilized remains of one anyway, and she’s one of the main features at Dino Lab Inc., located at 1B-491 Dupplin Rd.

“She’s the third-largest that’s ever been discovered,” said Carly Burbank, creative director at Dino Lab. “A lot of people don’t even think she’s real, but she is.”

Many of Victoria’s bones have been subtly embedded with magnets, so visitors can pluck out a rib and take a close-up look.

“There’s very few things that people shouldn’t be allowed to touch, because it’s rock,” Burbank said. “It’s part of our natural history, it’s everybody’s and it shouldn’t be eroding or having buildings developed on top of it or sitting in archives where no one ever gets a chance to see it in their lifetime.”

Burbank and her husband, Terry Ciotka have been working with fossils for decades, originally as fossil wholesalers and gradually shifting to fossil restoration experts. Pieces extracted and preserved by their teams have been featured in museums across the world, including in Canada’s famed Royal Tyrrell Museum.

The Dino Lab has been in operation for three years as a private restorative lab, working on extracting and preserving prehistoric fossils of dinosaurs, mammoths, ammonites and more, but as of July 9 opened its doors to the public. Now, Dino Lab runs as a three-part business: a working prep lab, an educational destination and a gift shop filled with unique specimens and minerals.

Burbank said the idea to open up a museum and hands-on education centre came after their children’s school teachers became interested in their work.

“As soon as they found out what we did they asked if we could present to the class,” Burbank said. “It just kept going from there.”

Burbank and Ciotka set up pop-up shops early on, which included the opportunity to allow people to extract real fossils from rock using hand-held drills, similar to dentistry tools.

“People would come in and say ‘oh my kid loves dinosaurs’ and then they’d shove the kids to the side and they’re working on it instead,” she said with a laugh.

Now, anyone who books one of Dino Lab’s 90-minute tours willget a guided tour of the museum and 30-minutes of hands-on work helping to extract real dinosaur fossils in a specialized lab.

The fossils are usually fragments from more common dinosaurs, Burbank explained, but they’re real parts of history.

The Dino Lab also does kids birthday parties, and helps arrange trips for private fossil digs around the world.

For anyone staying local it may be good to know that Victoria the T-Rex will soon be heading out for a museum tour of her own. Something new is planned to take her place at Dino Lab, and while Burbank couldn’t share exact details, she promised it was going to be big.