Harry Nibourg wasn't sure what to expect when he opened Canada's first permanent creationist museum to the public yesterday, so he asked volunteers to act as security guards just in case.
But there were no protesters or trouble, only about 20 people eager to see what all the fuss is about these days in Big Valley, a southern Alberta village of 350 people that's surrounded by green fields, oil-well pump jacks and cattle.
Mr. Nibourg's tiny Big Valley Creation Science Museum, which still smells of fresh paint, is crammed with material that purports to debunk evolution and prove that the universe was created by God some 6,000 years ago and that dinosaurs and humans walked the Earth together. Located about 200 kilometres southeast of Edmonton, the museum, which has attracted international media attention, has been both condemned and praised on the letters-to-the-editor pages of Alberta's two largest daily newspapers.
"I'm not surprised. It's the origin debate," said Mr. Nibourg, a 46-year-old oil-field service worker. The devout Christian built the $300,000 facility, which has a dinosaur hanging over its front door, using mainly his own money and the help of two consultants who have run travelling creation exhibits across Canada.
Mr. Nibourg said he's been bombarded with e-mails from people calling him a "pseudo-scientist" and "crazy" creationist, but he's not deterred. "Evolution is a faith, so is creation. We were not there, they were not there. Which faith fits the facts?"
The museum sits about 60 kilometres north of Drumheller's Royal Tyrrell Museum, which houses one of the world's largest collections of dinosaur bones, and Mr. Nibourg wants his 900-square-foot facility to serve as an "alternative view" of Earth history.
It is filled with everything from a "fossilized teddy bear" meant to show how quickly an object can appear fossilized, to a scroll that claims England's Henry VI can be traced back to Adam and Eve, to fossils offered as proof of the Biblical flood.
But it is a speck, compared with the massive $27-million (U.S.) Creation Museum, which opened last month in Kentucky.
That museum, which attracted 5,000 visitors and protesters on its opening day, features elaborate and slick animatronics and video displays, as well as theatres and a planetarium.
The theory of creation science is not as widely accepted in Canada as it is in the United States. Even many of Mr. Nibourg's neighbours are skeptical, but are willing to tolerate the museum, which has been in the works for more than four years.
Earl Marshall, the local reeve, helped cut the museum's ribbon yesterday, and told reporters he understood how even his presence at the opening could be controversial.
"When I was asked to be here, I was advised that maybe I shouldn't come, even by Harry himself."
However, Mr. Marshall said while he's not a "religious man," he wanted to support Mr. Nibourg. "I stick up for everybody's rights ... it's a free nation the last time I looked."
Vivian Hulley, who owns a tea shop and art gallery in Big Valley and attends church with Mr. Nibourg, said it's too bad that the creation museum and the Tyrrell museum couldn't work together. "The Tyrrell is good place, but it has its timelines all wrong," she said. "The world can't be billions of years old."
Michael Caldwell, a vertebrate paleontologist from Edmonton's University of Alberta, said the Big Valley museum is mainly garnering publicity because of the recent opening of the massive Creation Museum in the U.S.
He said Alberta's version is devoted to "biblical literalism" and is selectively presenting information that "is not science."
"There's a particular brand of Christianity that's being preached at this museum," he said. "That's all."