Your Guide to The NEW Royal Alberta Museum (RAM)

by Lindsay Shapka in , , , ,

Located in the heart of the city of Edmonton, the capital of Alberta in Canada, the Royal Alberta Museum (RAM) opened its doors in its new location in October of 2018. The new space is 419,000 square feet — twice the size of the former museum — making it the largest museum in western Canada!

RAM Building Fast Facts

  • More than 18,000 m3 of concrete was used to construct the Royal Alberta Museum. That's enough to fill more than seven Olympic sized swimming pools!

  • Over 2,500 metric tons of steel reinforcement was cast into the concrete. That's heavier than 500 elephants!

  • Indiana limestone is something we proudly have in common with New York. The limestone that adorns both the interior and exterior was pulled from the same quarry as stones used in the Empire State Building in the United States. (source)

The museum is located on the grounds previously occupied by a Canada Post Office and distribution centre, and there are a few elements in the museum that were preserved from the post office building.

Mosaic murals created by Ernestine Tahedl that were commissioned by the federal government in 1966 for the post office, are now on the façade of the new Royal Alberta Museum building (above left), while terrazzo flooring and limestone panels from the post office are now in the courtyard of the museum's outdoor café (above right).

Planning Your Visit

9810-103a Avenue NW
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

Adult $19, Youth $10, Children 6 and under are Free (check website for multi-day and annual rates)

*Note: The Royal Alberta Museum rests on Treaty Six territory and the homeland of the Métis. Many of the objects in RAM's collections and many of the stories presented in our galleries are Indigenous. In the spirit of reconciliation, and to honour the unique relationship between Indigenous Peoples of Alberta and the Crown, the museum extends free General Admission to Indigenous Peoples.

Opening Hours
Daily 10 am – 6 pm, Thu + Fri 10 am – 8 pm (check website to confirm hours)

The museum is closed on the last Monday of every month, with the exception of the week of spring break (March or April) and December. The museum is always closed on December 24 and 25.

The RAM’s Main Exhibit Spaces

The main spaces of the museum include the Manitou Asiniy (an artifact and space that has great spiritual significance to the Indigenous peoples in both Alberta and Saskatchewan — photos are not permitted), the Natural History Hall, Human History Hall, Children’s Gallery, and Bug Gallery.

Natural History Hall

This is one of my favourite spaces because it contains fossils of ancient mammals, mammoths, and dinosaurs! Did you know that Alberta is one of the most concentrated areas of dinosaur fossils in the world?!

There are also landscapes to explore, rocks and gemstones, stunning dioramas (see below), and lots of interactive displays for the little ones.

Human History Hall

This hall contains multiple spaces that showcase both permanent and temporary exhibits telling the story of Alberta’s human history — and it has been a vibrant and fascinating one so far!

Beautiful artifacts, handiwork, clothing, and stories from the Indigenous people that lived, and still live, in Alberta are on display.

People from all over the world settled in Alberta and brought with them their costumes, traditions, and cultures (left). They created a new culture, which celebrated new traditions and created products (that we now consider vintage) like you can see in the picture on the right.

There are also feature galleries in the Human History Hall, which on my last visit contained an exhibit showcasing the stories of some of the first black settlers in the province (photo above left), artifacts from WW! (photos above right), and textiles.

Children’s Gallery & Bug Gallery

There is a hand’s on space for the little ones to explore and a bug gallery where you can check out creepy critters from around the world.

The RAM’s Special Exhibit Space

The museum intends to have a touring exhibition in this special exhibit space year-round. Currently,  Vikings: Beyond The Legend — the largest touring exhibition of Viking artifacts in the world — is on loan from the National Museum of Denmark (until October 20, 2019).

There are more than 650 artifacts on display, including jewellery, coins, three Viking warships — including the 37-metre Roskilde 6, the longest Viking warship ever found — and 11 interactive stations.

The three sides of a full-scale replica of the Jelling Rune Stone (coloured so you can see the designs better) is shown above. It is often referred to as “Denmark’s birth certificate” because it tells the story of how Christianity became the kingdom’s main religion.

A replica of Thor’s Hammer (above), was worn as a pendant (usually by women) for protection.

Conservation Spaces

A huge part of any museum is what happens behind the scenes in the storage and conservation areas and, for the first time, this museum has made that work more accessible to the public by putting windows into some of these spaces, so you can watch the archaeologists, scientists, and conservationists at work!

Keep your eye out for windows into the labs, and check the website for available tours and talks of these spaces.

Pin Me!

Your Guide to the Royal Alberta Museum
Your guide to the Royal Alberta Museum

Your Guide to The Most Amazing Libraries In the World [Infographic]

by Lindsay Shapka in , , ,

With the vast availability of Ebooks and audiobooks, reading from a physical book is becoming more and more uncommon. New technology has allowed us to have access to millions of books at our fingertips.

But, there is still something special about stepping foot inside of a library — a place that has helped mold some of our world’s greatest minds.

Did you know the world’s oldest operating library was founded in the 6th century?

The Library at Saint Catherine’s Monastery, located in Egypt, holds a collection of early scrolls and manuscripts that are centuries old. And, there are many other libraries that hold priceless books that are an integral part of world history.

It’s funny that we think of libraries as quiet demure places where we are shushed by dusty, bun-balancing, bespectacled women. The truth is libraries are raucous clubhouses for free speech, controversy and community. Librarians have stood up to the Patriot Act, sat down with noisy toddlers and reached out to illiterate adults. Libraries can never be shushed.
— Paula Poundstone

Oldest recently published a guide to the most amazing public libraries that are invaluable to world history, which house millions of items in their collections.

From the Middle East to western Europe, check out more about the historic libraries that share stories from our world’s past in the infographic below!

Most Amazing Libraries Around the World

Photos by Charl van Rooy and Shawn Ang

Pin Me!

Guide to The most Amazing Libraries in The World
Guide to The Most Amazing Libraries in The World

What is Old English and How Is It Different From Modern-Day English?

by Lindsay Shapka in , ,

What is old English?

When you read the words “Old English”, I am sure that the first thing that pops into your head are passages from Shakespeare's plays and words like "thou" and "ye".

I am afraid, however, that you would be incorrect.

The English that Shakespeare used is actually called Early Modern English

So, what is Old English?

Old English was a language spoken by the Anglo-Saxons (or English speaking peoples) who inhabited Britain from around 449-1066. Modern-day languages spoken all over the world can trace their roots back to this dialect. It looks and sounds completely different then any of these languages however.

So foreign is it to our ears in fact, that elements of these ancient words were used to make up the Elfish language in Tolkien's Lord of The Rings books and movies.

Here's an example of Elfish:

Because literacy was low at the time when it was spoken, stories and histories were transmitted orally and so there are only a few texts that exist in Old English.

One of the most famous (other than the Bible of course) is Beowulf  — yes, that long, epic poem that you were forced to study in English class, and didn't really understand, was actually a translation from Old English.

Here are lines 115-125 of the poem, when Grendel the monster attacks while the troops are sleeping, as you may have remembered reading them: 

When night descended he went to seek out
the high house, to see how the Ring-Danes
had bedded down after their beer-drinking.
He found therein a troop of nobles
asleep after the feast; they knew no sorrow
or human misery. The unholy creature,
grim and ravenous, was ready at once,
ruthless and cruel, and took from their rest
thirty thanes; thence he went
rejoicing in his booty, back to his home,
to seek out his abode with his fill of slaughter.

Now here is what you just read being spoken in Old English (the text that you see in the video are the lines above written in Old English):

As you can see (and hear) from the video above, Old English really isn’t anything like Modern-Day English at all, though it may be the root of our current language.

If you are interested in leaning more, I suggest reading Introduction To Old English by Peter S. Baker, and picking up a version of Beowulf in it's original form. I like the version by Bruce Mitchell and Fred C. Robinson. 

Pin Me!

What is Old English?

Reads For The Road: "The Rise and Fall of The Dinosaurs" by Steve Brusatte

by Lindsay Shapka in , ,

Did you know that T Rex lived ONLY in the western part of North America? That there were pygmy dinosaurs living on islands in what is now Europe? And that most dinosaurs had feathers?! 

What we know about the age of the dinosaurs has changed A LOT since I was in school, which became very apparent when I started reading paleontologist Steve Brusatte's book The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World.

I have been fascinated with dinosaurs for as long as I can remember (my favorite is the pterodactyl in case you were wondering) — even volunteering at the paleontology department at my alma mater to help with the cleaning of extracted fossils. So, I jumped at the chance to read an updated history on the subject! 

Brusatte, an American paleontologist, is one of the foremost researchers in the field and has created this new history of the dinosaurs through extensive research, collaboration with paleontologists around the world, and cutting-edge technology. But don't expect a dry, scientific book, Brusatte has created a page-turning history spanning 200 million years going through the evolution of dinosaurs from small, inauspicious creatures, to their dominance of the earth, to their mass extinction when a massive asteroid hit the earth in modern-day Mexico. 

Full of photos, illustrations, and fascinating stories, you are sure to be as gripped by this new history as I was! 

Related Posts

Your Guide to Visiting The Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ)

by Lindsay Shapka in , , ,

The camo-clad American soldier stood up from his seat at the front of the bus and faced us.

He waited until he had everyone’s attention and then, his voice conveying no emotion, informed us that the sparse forest on either side of the dirt road we were driving down was devoid of any signs of human activity because it was full of active landmines.

Then, pointing out the windshield he explained that the giant, thick concrete arch we were about to drive under was an anti-tank obstacle lined with dynamite.

Seeing the growing concern on our faces, he smiled, tipped his military-issued hat and said, “Welcome to the DMZ folks.”

The Freedom Bridge crossing the Imjin River is one of the few physical connections between the two Koreas. The far bank of the river is the North Korean side of the DMZ. 

We had just left the Freedom Bridge built across the Imjin River — one of the few physical connections between North and South Korea. Formally a railroad bridge, it was most recently used to transport repatriated Prisoners of War returning from the north, back to the south side of the peninsula.

We were only able to walk a few meters out onto it because our way was blocked by a chain-link fence covered in handwritten notes on strips of cloth (so the rain would not wash them away), South Korean flags, and photographs.

At the top of the high fence, a wooden cross seemed to float in the menacing, twisted barbed wire that topped the metal barrier. It had become a sort of message board created by the family and friends of those who were lost to the North Korean side when the country was separated.

The people crowded near our side of the fence crying, praying, taking photos or adding to the writing on the wall were a stark contrast to the north side of the bridge. Pushing aside some of the fabric messages, I could see through the chain link that it was eerily barren and deserted — not a soul in sight.  

South Korean's leave notes for loved ones that they lost to the North when the Korean War ended, and prayers for peace and unification. 

After giving us about twenty minutes to take it all in, we were ushered back onto the air-conditioned tour bus. Having had to adhere to a strict dress code that involved wearing pants (no holes, leather, or camo), long sleeves (t-shirts were not allowed), and closed toed shoes in the middle of a humid heat wave, made the bus a welcoming respite from the weather outside.

We drove parallel to high fences topped with barbed wire, watchtowers, and trenches lining the South side of the DMZ border — the most heavily fortified border in the world. I stared out the window at that never-ending line of fortification separating capitalism from communism until we turned and picked up our military escort who, after driving us safely under concrete lined with dynamite, was taking us to our ultimate destination — inside the DMZ.

What exactly is the DMZ?

The DMZ or De-Militarized Zone is the lasting result of the Korean War, which began on June 25, 1950, when troops from the northern part of Korea invaded the south, and continued until a ceasefire was negotiated, splitting the country in half in 1953.

The three years of fighting resulted in the deaths of more than 2.5 million people (!) with many more injured, missing, or taken prisoner.

As a part of the ceasefire negotiations, the DMZ was created as an area of neutral territory that neither side could enter except when it was agreed upon by both governments and supervised by the United Nations. (South Korea has been a member of the United Nations since 1991).

Located only a short 55 km north of Seoul, the DMZ is 4 km wide, stretches 248 km from ocean to ocean and was once deemed to be “the scariest place on earth” by former President of the United States Bill Clinton after he visited the area himself.

Other than a small zone where diplomats and tourists can enter, the DMZ has been almost completely sealed off from all human activity for over half a century. As a result, no other place with a temperate zone climate in the world has been preserved so well. There are even rumors of tigers, thought to be long extinct from the hills of Korea, living there. Environmentalists and scientists have long been campaigning for the area to become a protected nature preserve should unification ever be negotiated.

The process of visiting the DMZ

Our bus stopped in front of a building on the outskirts of Camp Bonifas, called the Advance Camp, where approximately five thousand American and Korean soldiers are the first line of defense should there ever be an attack from the North. Almost thirty thousand American troops are stationed in South Korea at all times, living either at the camp near the border or at the larger military base located in Seoul, near Itaewon.

We were taken from the bus straight into a small lecture hall where we watched a short video explaining the strict procedures and protocols for visiting the DMZ. Being a hand talker, I was worried to learn that any gesturing could be taken as an act of aggression by the North Korean soldiers, who would have eyes on us throughout our entire visit. I vowed to keep my hands safely in my pockets next to my passport.

Once the video was over, we were handed a waiver that we were required to read and sign before we could continue past the camp. It clearly stated the following:

“The visit to the Joint Security Area at Panmunjom will entail entry into a hostile area and possibility of injury or death as a direct result of enemy action. The Joint Security Area is a neutral but divided area guarded by the United Nations Command military personnel on the one side (South) and Korea People’s Army personnel on the other (North). Guests of the United Nations Command are not permitted to cross the Military Demarcation Line into the portion of the Joint Security Area under control of the Korea People’s Army. Although incidents are not anticipated, the United Nations Command, the United States of America, and the Republic of Korea cannot guarantee the safety of the visitors and may not be held accountable in the event of a hostile enemy attack.”

Not wanting to sugarcoat anything, the video had informed us that in 1984 a gun battle had occurred at the exact location that we were traveling to when a Russian defector escaped from the North to the South.

Not one person refused to sign the waiver, and I handed mine to our escort as I got back on the bus pointed north.

The blue buildings are straddling the North Korean and South Korean border. The multi-level concrete building behind them is a North Korean structure. You can't tell from this picture, but it is covered in cameras. 

After a short drive, we pulled up to a building just outside the Joint Security Area (JSA) at Panmunjom, the only area of the DMZ that civilians are permitted to visit and the only place where I could get close to North Korea without being arrested or shot. When dignitaries are present, the area is crowded with guards and news agencies, but other than our group and a handful of visible military personnel, the area was devoid of life.

Our escort told us to follow him single file through the modern pagoda-style building that we had pulled up to. It was empty of furniture and made almost entirely of glass. We were told not to talk, take any photos, point, or wave as any of these actions could be taken as acts of hostility (of course, some jerk behind me ignored the rules and whipped out his camera as soon as he had the chance — he was promptly taken back to the bus by a very angry looking soldier).

I held my breath as we emerged silently from the glass building onto a road and was shocked to see that there were no fences or walls separating the two sides. A raised line of grey, concrete blocks that ran along the ground was all that there was to identify the border.

A view of the Korean border from inside one of the UN buildings. I am standing on the North side (the weedy side). The grey gravel is the South Korean side, and the concrete blocks down the middle are all that separates the two sides. 

On the South Korean side of the blocks, there was darkly colored gravel covering the ground — like on a walkway in a well-kept garden. On the North, was nothing but dirty cracked concrete with weeds growing out of it.

We had been warned that making any motion to step near or over the border would have resulted in lethal force being used against us by North Korean soldiers, sure to have guns trained on us the whole time.

In contrast to the large transparent structure that we had just walked through, the buildings on the North side looked like high concrete bunkers with menacing slits in the sides as windows (most likely gun ports). There were no North Korean soldiers in sight, but we had been assured (many times) that they were always there and would be watching (and probably recording) our every move.

Stepping into North Korea

Our escort led us into one of three small, sky-blue buildings that straddled the grey concrete border. A United Nations (UN) building (also called the MAC conference room), it was used as neutral territory where military meetings and peace discussions could take place. Walking around the polished central table, I took my first step into North Korea.

If I had been outside, cracked concrete would have been under my feet.

There were microphones and video cameras attached to the desks and walls and we were told they were always on, and that both the North and South Korean soldiers would be monitoring everything that we said or did in that small room.

We were told that though we were "permitted" to walk on the communist side of the room, nothing on that side was to be touched.

South Korean soldier standing in modified taekwondo stance inside the UN building. 

Inside the building with us were two South Korean soldiers standing in modified taekwondo stance with their legs shoulder width apart, arms at their sides with hands in firmly clenched fists. They were guarding the doors and ready to react if there was an attack or (more likely) if one of us had acted inappropriately.

Our guide informed us that when there were official meetings held in the UN buildings, soldiers from both sides would line up along the low grey concrete border eye-to-eye and close enough to poke each other in the stomach if they wanted to. Having heard first-hand accounts of how family and friends were unwillingly separated when the border was drawn at the time of the ceasefire, I wondered if soldiers lining up at these meetings ever found themselves face to face with a long lost cousin, brother or childhood friend.

I didn’t register how tense I had been until we were safely back on the bus driving away from the JSA and I realized that I had left nail marks in the palms of my hands.

South Korean soldiers saluting our bus as we drove away from the JSA. 

Planning your visit

NOTE: The DMZ can be visited by guided tour ONLY, at times when the threat risk is low.

  • There are a lot of sketchy websites out there advertising tours, use Korea's official tourism website to pick yours. There are details about the different sites you can visit, and a bunch of travel agencies and tour booking sites at the bottom of the page. Most tours require you to book a few days in advance, so you will need to plan ahead
  • You will have to have your passport with you for most tours — especially if you are planning on visiting the JSA. 
  • There is a dress code (as mentioned above). You will be given specific information when you book your tour, but you will have to have knees and elbows covered, have clean, ironed clothing with no tears, and have neat hair. 
  • The DMZ is essentially an active war zone, so there is no guarantee that your tour will happen — especially if tensions rise on the day that you are meant to visit. 

Related Posts

Why You Need To Watch "Hunting Nazi Treasure" On HISTORY

by Lindsay Shapka in , , ,

The eight-part investigative series Hunting Nazi Treasure (premieres Oct 24, 2017) chronicles one of the greatest thefts in history, and the epic quest that an international team of experts embarked on to locate billions in art, gold, and other treasure that was stolen by the Nazi's during the Second World War. 

What is Hunting Nazi Treasure about (and is it worth watching)?

The series takes you, with the investigative team, across four continents and 14 countries to locate valuable objects and artwork that were systematically looted by the Nazis and have been missing since the Second World War.

It also provides new insights into the motivations of top Nazi leaders like Hitler (who wanted to create the world's most spectacular art collection in his hometown of Linz) and Goering (Hitler's ruthless second who created the Gestapo and was obsessed with treasure), and explores how and why artwork and cultural artifacts are targets during times of war.

There are still hundreds of thousands of stolen treasures missing to this day — a staggering amount — including a painting by Italian master Raphael estimated to be worth upwards of $100 million, a $2 billion hoard of stolen Italian gold, and the legendary Amber Room from the Catherine Palace in Russia.

The series highlights how complicated the search for these artifacts really is. Are they sitting in someone's living room? Are they buried in a forgotten bunker somewhere? Are the at the bottom of an Austrian lake? 

The hunt finds the team searching for items hidden in caves, castles, museums, and even underwater while gaining access to Nazi dossiers, archives, and declassified intelligence reports. 

As the series premiere, "Hitler's Obsession", highlights, sometimes people might not even know that they have something of cultural significance.

A woman in America ate dinner every night in her family dining room sitting next to a tapestry (pictured above) that once hung in the dining room of Hitler's mountain retreat without even knowing that it was a significant and important piece of history. To her, it was simply decoration that her father had brought with him when he came home from the Second World War. 

Who are the investigators?

Robert Edsel — Team Leader

Author of the New York Times #1 bestselling book-turned-movie The Monuments Men, and Founder and Chairman of the Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art, Edsel is the one that identifies targets and helps to connect the investigative dots. 

He has a wealth of connections and expertise that gives the team access to the backrooms and vaults of world-famous museums, including access to original documents and photo albums made for Hitler himself! He also facilitates meetings with top law enforcement officials in Italy as well as secret contacts in Russia.

As the series unfolds, the viewer is introduced to Hitler’s grand plan to become “the curator of the German people” atop one of the world’s most spectacular art collections, and the desperate last-act by the Nazis to hide an unimaginable trove of gold, most likely in the Bavarian Alps.

“It is my hope that our program will become America's Most Wanted for culture and lead to the return of priceless objects to their rightful owners,” says Robert Edsel. “This program will present a unique opportunity to put the foundation’s extensive records and archives to use.

“George Clooney's film introduced The Monuments Men to a worldwide audience,” Edsel continues, “and now we have an opportunity to enlist the help of the public to join the hunt for some of the hundreds of thousands of objects still missing."

Conor Woodman — Investigative Journalist

Charismatic investigative journalist Conor Woodman is an eager adventurer who stops at nothing to locate the stolen items.

In the series, Woodman scuba dives off the coast of Corsica in the search for Rommel’s Gold (a treasure that fascinated James Bond creator Ian Fleming and a story that leads to an escaped Nazi in South America) and crawls into the ruins of an underground bunker where Nazi #2 Hermann Goering once kept pet lion cubs and a huge stolen art collection. 

James Holland — Second World War Historian 

Historian James Holland provides analysis and perspective to the team.

He interviews the British soldier who found Hitler’s last will and testament, and travels to Auschwitz to uncover the chilling story of the unit responsible for stealing gold from camp victims, and spotlights a Nazi looting operation in Paris, so cold and so calculated, it even included stealing children’s toys.

+ Other top experts on Nazi history from the various countries that they are searching in

More about the Monuments Men Foundation (because it's really cool)

Thrown into the spotlight recently by the movie The Monuments Men (see trailer below), according to the website, this foundation, 

"...honors the legacy of the men and women who served in the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives section, known as the "Monuments Men," and their unprecedented and heroic work protecting and safeguarding civilization's most important artistic and cultural treasures from armed conflict during World War II. Raising public awareness is essential to the Foundation's mission."

The website features a list of the most wanted works of art and documents, a tip line where you can share information on any of these pieces, and stories about recent discoveries that have been made! 

It's a fascinating organization, and if the series captures your interest, I highly recommend signing up for the Monuments Men newsletter to stay up-to-date on the latest news. 

Here's what you need to know

Premiere Date: October 24 at 10 pm ET/PT on HISTORY (full episodes will be available after airing on

Nazi Treasure Tipline: Viewers who may have a lead on a piece of looted treasure can contact 1-866-994-4287 or 

Hunting Nazi Treasure is produced by Saloon Media and BriteSpark Films (UK) in association with Corus Entertainment’s HISTORY and More4 (Channel 4).

Photos are all courtesy Hunting Nazi Treasure

Pin Me!

Reads For The Road: "The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu" by Joshua Hammer

by Lindsay Shapka in , , , ,

I'll admit it.

I definitely judged this book by its cover.

And man, oh man, did the cover make me want to read it! 

The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu and Their Race To Save The World's Most Precious Manuscripts — it sounds like a Dan Brown historic thriller!! But, the coolest thing about this book written by journalist Joshua Hammer, is that this crazy story is one hundred percent true.

Yup, you read that right. 

This is a true story about how thousands of priceless ancient Islamic and secular manuscripts were rediscovered and saved from the elements and human influence in Western Africa.

The book recounts the journey that archivist Abdel Kader Haidera took through the Sahara Desert and along the Niger River to discover these ancient texts that had been passed down in families for generations. He often found these tomes disintegrating in old trunks and had to find ways (often monetary) to convince the owners of these texts to donate them to a library he was building so that they could be preserved. 

His discoveries had shocked the Western World (who, at this point largely considered most of the history out of Africa to be oral and discounted the idea that there could be written texts), and as a result he was starting to receive grants and funding that would help with preservation and with sharing these manuscripts with the rest of the world. 

Everything was going great — and then Al Qaeda showed up. 

Using first-hand accounts from Haidera, former high-ranking officials, the American military, and first-hand witnesses, Hammer tells the captivating true story of how all 350,000 manuscripts in the collection were smuggled to safety in southern Mali under the nose of terrorists who were ready to seize and burn them, not to mention kill anyone who was caught with them. 

It's a dramatic adventure that will have you captivated from cover-to-cover!