Bruce Green believes more people should know about ancient tracks – as in from hundreds of millions of years ago – on the banks of the Hay River, just above Alexandra Falls.
So he has created a booklet to help spread the word.
Stepping Back in Time tells the story of the Hay River walking-fish trackway, which features impressions in the rock believed to have been created by the fins of a large sea creature from 360-380 million years ago.
Green said his goal is to get people interested in the fossilized tracks.
“The trackway to me is almost unique in the world,” he said. “There’s only one other trackway that is done by these walking fish anywhere in the world, and that’s somewhere in Poland. So it’s pretty unique. And it’s possibly the oldest set of tracks in the world from a vertebrate animal.”
Green – an amateur naturalist with a degree in zoology and biochemistry, and a retired teacher in Hay River – doesn’t think the trackway is known as much as it should be.
“A lot of people even in town don’t know about them,” he said, noting there’s nothing at the site to indicate the tracks are there.
Green hopes there may be signage erected at some point, and perhaps even a life-sized sculpture of the animal that made the tracks, even though no one knows exactly what it looked like.
“The creature that left the tracks would have been about 30 feet long,” he said. “So if you made a life-sized sculpture in the parking lot there, I think it would draw people in to check it out, and then they could walk down and see the tracks.”
About 1,500 copies of Green’s new booklet have been printed with financial support from the Hay River Museum Society and the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment.
The booklet is expected to eventually be distributed to tourist information centres and will be available at the Hay River Heritage Centre.
Tom Lakusta, chair of the Hay River Museum Society, praises Green’s commitment to the booklet project.
“It is clear that the site we have by Alexandra Falls is very much world-class,” said Lakusta. “It hasn’t been promoted this way, and Bruce thought it would be a really good idea to try and capture information about it.”
The trackway was discovered in 2009 by a Yellowknife family exploring the area of Alexandra Falls, about eight kilometres south of Enterprise. It was initially thought they might be dinosaur tracks.
However, Dr. Don Henderson, the curator of dinosaurs at the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller, Alta., visited the site in 2012 and judged the tracks to have been made by a large sarcopterygian fish with a body length of up to six metres.
“It was the ancestor of all the land mammals,” Green said. “You know, without it we wouldn’t exist. They led into amphibians and reptiles. They all developed from these creatures.”
And he noted it is believed the walking fish was the top predator of its time.
“If they existed today in the lake, you wouldn’t go swimming,” he said. “They hunted in shallow water and they would have been ferocious. They would have torn apart anything they came across. They had big teeth on them.”
Green noted he used to think it would be amazing to find dinosaur tracks or something like that around Hay River.
“And then, all this time these were here and they’re a hundred million years before the dinosaurs,” he said of the walking fish tracks. “To me, that’s way more exciting than any dinosaur tracks.”