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8 Empty labs

The ROM we have known and loved for generations is in decline. Ontarians need to know what has been happening behind closed doors and what must be done to reverse the situation. Before documenting the facts, I need to establish my qualifications for making this case.

During my 32--years as curator of vertebrate palaeontology at the ROM, and professor of zoology at the University of Toronto, I published 46 scientific papers, eight science books, and named nine new animal species. At university I taught undergraduate classes, a marine biology field course, and supervised doctoral students. For my contributions to palaeontology I was awarded Honorary Membership to the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology. I was also recognised by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada for “important research achievements.”

After retiring, my visits to the museum were few and far between. After an interval of a few years, I paid a visit last fall. I was shocked and deeply disturbed at what I discovered. Walking down empty corridors, I saw once--bustling labs and curatorial offices that were now deserted. Where had everyone gone?

When I eventually saw some familiar faces, they had similarly disturbing accounts of working at the museum under the bureaucratic leadership of the director, Josh Basseches. With his background in art, this was the direction he was taking the ROM, with little regard for curatorial endeavours. With his authoritarian team of upper management, an inhospitable work environment now existed.

I returned home feeling completely depressed.

Two months later I had to return to the museum to drop off some books. It was midday on a Monday and, after making the delivery, I went for a walk around the galleries.

The floor I was on was devoid of visitors, or guards, which seemed odd. Changing levels to another deserted floor I realized the museum was closed. The Covid closures belonged to the recent past, so what on earth was happening?

Hurrying to the staff entrance I spoke with the guard on duty. He explained that upper management had decided to close the museum on Mondays, to reduce costs. In all my years of working at the ROM it had never closed its doors, except during the major renovations of 1980-82.


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