The Canadian Museum of Nature, which maintains the largest and most representative collection of biological specimens from across the country, has received a $4-million donation to help advance its biodiversity research, the museum announced on Thursday.
The donation, from mining entrepreneur Ross Beaty of Vancouver and his wife, Trisha, a physician, is the largest in the Ottawa museum's history. It is also directed entirely behind the scenes rather than toward display galleries or other visible spaces that are more typical focal points of museum philanthropy.
"This really is aimed at the science," said Mark Graham, the museum's vice-president of research and collections.
A portion of the donation will underwrite a new state-of-the-art cryogenic facility at the museum's research and collections centre in Gatineau, Que. The facility will allow for the long-term preservation of frozen tissue samples and genetic material from a wide range of plant and animal species that the museum continues to acquire as Canada's national facility for natural history.
The museum will also use the funding to digitize its vast collection of Arctic specimens, making the data more accessible to scientists in Canada and abroad. A third aim of the gift is establishing a permanent postdoctoral fellowship at the museum that will create a position for scientists who focus on species at risk.
A geologist by training who made his fortune in the mining sector, most notably as a founder of Pan American Silver Corp., Mr. Beaty has a history of supporting environment- and green energy-oriented projects. He also funded the Beaty Biodiversity Museum at the University of British Columbia.
"Museums are vital," Mr. Beaty said, both for the scientific exploration of biodiveristy and for conveying its importance to the future of human society. "If our kids don't know anything about nature, how can they possibly protect it?"
Mr. Beaty acknowledged that while resource industries including mining are often perceived as threats to nature, it is the larger global patterns of consumption that drive biodiversity loss and where greater public awareness is needed.
"Every single person has to look at what they consume, of metals, of energy, of land, of food, to look at what causes the demand for the destruction of nature to some degree," he said.
A popular destination for Ottawa-area families and tourists, the Canadian Museum of Nature boasts 14.6 million specimens, the bulk of which are not on public display but serve as a foundation for the museum's scientific research. The museum's core collections of plants, animals, minerals and fossils were founded in 1856, initially as part of the Geological Survey of Canada.
Margaret Beckel, the museum's CEO, said she was thrilled by the research that the Beatys' donation will enable, in a domain that receives comparatively little attention from philanthropists.
"We're hoping this will inspire others to consider investing in the science behind natural history museums across Canada," she said.