Aerial view of Horseshoe Canyon (Photo by Robert Berdan)

Aerial view of Horseshoe Canyon (Photo by Robert Berdan)

Twelve-year old boy finds dinosaur fossil at Nature Conservancy of Canada Horseshoe Canyon site

October 15, 2020
Calgary, AB


The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) is confirming the significant discovery of a dinosaur skeleton on its Nodwell property at Horseshoe Canyon, near Drumheller. The conservation area is located in an isolated pocket of Badlands amidst the Alberta prairies.

The discovery of this dinosaur on a conservation site demonstrates the need for land conservation, not just to ensure the conservation of wild spaces for future generations, but also as an opportunity to learn about our natural heritage.

The geological record of the property, made visible through erosion, represents a time interval between 71 and 68 million years ago of our planet’s history. The geological layers include sandstones, mudstones, coal seams, volcanic ash and fossils of prehistoric life, including dinosaurs. 

In July, 12-year-old aspiring paleontologist Nathan Hrushkin and his father, Dion, discovered the partially exposed bones while hiking on the conservation site. They sent photos of their find to the Royal Tyrrell Museum, who identified that the bones belonged to a young hadrosaur, commonly known as a duck-billed dinosaur.

Because fossil reports from the Horseshoe Canyon area are rare, the Royal Tyrrell Museum sent a team to the conservation site. Since Hrushkin’s find, paleontologists have uncovered between 30 and 50 bones in the canyon’s wall. The bones were removed in protective jackets made of burlap and plaster and taken back to the museum lab for cleaning and research.

All of the bones collected belong to a single specimen, a juvenile hadrosaur approximately three or four years old. While hadrosaurs are the most common fossils found in Alberta’s Badlands, this particular specimen is noteworthy because few juvenile skeletons have been recovered and also because of its location in the strata, or the rock formation. 

Estimated at 69 million years old, fossil discoveries are rare in this geological layer. The rock layer where this hadrosaur was found preserves few fossils. This hadrosaur is highly significant because it will contribute to filling the knowledge gaps about dinosaurs from that time interval.

Numerous significant fossil discoveries are made each year by the public, and this young hadrosaur is a great example. The Hrushkins are a perfect example of what to do when someone discovers fossils: take photos of the bones, record their location using a GPS or Google Earth, report the find to the Royal Tyrrell Museum and, most importantly, leave the fossils undisturbed in the ground. The latter is the most important step, as fossils are protected by law and much information is lost when they are removed from their location.

The Nodwell property is named after Leila Nodwell, who passed away in April 2000. Leila believed deeply in the importance of maintaining the canyon’s natural state and worked for many years as an interpreter, where she introduced visitors to its many unique features. In tribute to Leila’s memory, the Nodwell family purchased the 130 hectares (320 acres) that encompass the western half of the canyon, and subsequently sold the land to NCC.


“The Nature Conservancy of Canada is excited to be a part of this significant find. Connecting people with nature, in all its forms, is important to us, and we’re happy Nathan was able to test out his skills as a budding paleontologist on our conservation site. This find is a reminder that conservation is not just about protecting Canada’s landscapes for the present or the future, but also about preserving the past.” - Bryanne Aylward, Nature Conservancy of Canada, Senior Director of Conservation

“This young hadrosaur is a very important discovery because it comes from a time interval for which we know very little about what kind of dinosaurs or animals lived in Alberta. Nathan and Dion’s find will help us fill this big gap in our knowledge of dinosaur evolution.” - François Therrien, Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology, Curator of Dinosaur Palaeoecology

“I’ve been wanting to be a palaeontologist for six or seven years. I am fascinated about how bones from creatures that lived ten of millions of years ago become these fossil rocks, which are just sitting on the ground waiting to be found. My dad and I have been visiting this property for a couple of years, hoping to find a dinosaur fossil, and we’ve seen lots of little bone fragments. This year I was exploring higher up the canyon and found about four bones. We sent pictures and to the Royal Tyrrell Museum and François, the palaeontologist who replied, was able to identify one of the bones as a humerus from the photos so we knew we’d found something this time.“ - Nathan Hrushkin, aspiring paleontologist


There are many species of hadrosaur, but determining which species this young specimen belongs to will require the preservation of identifiable characteristics, such as a skull crest. As a partial skull is present among the bones, paleontologists are hoping to identify which species it is once technicians in the Royal Tyrrell Museum’s preparation lab separate the fossils from the surrounding rock.

Recovered from the Nodwell property were bones from all four limbs, hips, shoulders and a partial skull.

The Nodwell property is a Nature Destination, a network of NCC conservation sites across Canada open for public foot-access. For more visitor rules and information, please visit naturedestinations.ca

Alberta has some of the strictest fossil protection laws in the world. If you find a fossil, visit www.tyrrellmuseum.com/research/found_a_fossil or email tyrrell.fossilreport@gov.ab.ca. 


The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) is the nation's leading private, not-for-profit land conservation organization, working to protect our most important natural areas and the species they sustain. Since 1962, NCC has helped protect 14 million hectares (35 million acres), coast to coast to coast. In Alberta, 445,000 hectares (1.1 million acres) of the province’s most ecologically significant land and water have been conserved. To learn more, visit natureconservancy.ca.

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