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Objects of Intrigue: A Baby Beluga, in a Clear Glass Jar

article-imageBaby beluga specimen (all photographs by Alanna Horejda/Transcona Historical Museum)

In the Transcona Historical Museum in Canada, a little baby beluga fetus is preserved in a glass jar, along with an unidentified heart. The tiny creature is one of several artifacts that arrived at the museum from an archaeological and ethnographical collection based on specimens collected in Manitoba. 

Alanna Horejda, the museum’s curator, told us more about the museum and the little whale (which even was once serenaded by its eponymous children’s song, read to the end to listen):

Transcona today is a suburb of the City of Winnipeg, located in Manitoba, but Transcona started out as its own separate community. The Grand Trunk Pacific Railway purchased 800 acres of land in 1908 to build a railway, and then shops and people started moving to the area. An early resident of the area conducted a survey around 1910, and the population was eight men, three women, and 15 dogs. In 1912, the town was incorporated. In 1962, the town became a city, and in 1972 Transcona was amalgamated into the City of Winnipeg. The Transcona Historical Museum was founded in 1967 and opened its doors in 1968.

So how did they get the whale? Here’s what Horejda was able to dig up:

In 1970, a man named Cecil Patterson was looking to sell his extensive archaeological and ethnographical collection. He wanted the collection to stay in Manitoba (where the majority of the items were collected). The Transcona Springfield School Division No. 12 had two principals — Aleck Robson and Bernie Reid — who were excited about the collection and came up with a fundraising drive to obtain the collection. Through the extensive efforts of the students, teachers, parents, and trustees, the school division was able to purchase the collection for $5,000, or $1 per student. The collection was then loaned to the museum in June 1970 for safe keeping and display, and in 1999 the collection was officially donated to the museum by the school division. The collection contains over 3,000 archaeological items and ethnographic items, and also books (related to archaeology, ethnology, history, geology, museums, natural history) rocks and minerals, and finally our fetal beluga whale in jar. Also in the jar is a heart (although it’s unknown what kind of heart). 

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Horejda continues:

It is our mission to maintain and promote the history, stories, and community spirit of Transcona. The story behind how this collection came to the community and later the museum is how the weirdly wonderful whale fits into the museum. We use items in the collection for education programs, and a portion of the collection is on display. 

Due to the small space of the Transcona Historical Museum, the tiny beluga is not always on display, although it makes it out for their annual Halloween exhibitions. However, it was definitely the star of their 2011 Cabinet of Curiosity exhibition, during which a museum employee serenaded the jarred specimen with a rendition of Canadian songwriter Raffi’s whale lullaby:


OBJECTS OF INTRIGUE is a feature highlighting extraordinary objects from the world’s great museums, private collections, historic libraries, and overlooked archives. See more incredible objects here >