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View from Tyra's mouth. Waterpark in foreground, Badlands on the horizon.
View from Tyra's mouth. Waterpark in foreground, Badlands on the horizon.

Tyra: World's Largest Dinosaur

Field review by the editors.

Drumheller, Alberta

What inspired a town of 8,000 to build the largest dinosaur on earth?

The World's Largest Dinosaur towers over normal-size trees.
The World's Largest Dinosaur towers over normal-size trees.

Drumheller, Alberta, sits at the edge of Canada's Badlands, rich in fossils. Tourists traveled to the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology (on Drumheller's western edge) to view its Tyrannosaurus rex skeletons -- but when they drove to the Museum they bypassed the town. Corey Campbell, head of the local Chamber of Commerce, wanted to change that. He thought that a big, replica T. rex would draw people into Drumheller. He also wanted to make it -- unlike some other giant things in Alberta -- an attraction that people would pay to visit, with an admission-only stairway inside its belly, up to an observation platform in its mouth.

Bruce Dalen, who ran a waterslide company in nearby Calgary, read about the dinosaur project and gave Corey a call. "They had this idea that they would build it out of concrete," Bruce said. "I said, 'Corey, the way to build this is out of fiberglass. It would be cheaper and faster and the detail would be better. And with fiberglass we could make it bigger.'" Bruce's company got the job.

Alberta's Badlands: where T. rex fossils are found.
Alberta's Badlands: where T. rex fossils are found.

Red-tinted dinosaur gullet leads to the toothy observation deck.
Red-tinted dinosaur gullet leads to the toothy observation deck.

Broc Smith, son of a Disney artist, was hired to be the dinosaur's chief designer. Scientists were brought in as consultants, as was Dr. Philip John Currie of the Tyrrell Museum. "They spent a lot of time helping us get it right," said Bruce -- which, it should be mentioned, was difficult because the dinosaur was to be a both a paleontologist-pleasing T. rex and a gravity-defying impossible T. rex, six times larger than Nature intended it to be, with the skeleton of a skyscraper, a built-in staircase, and a mouth that could hold a dozen paying tourists.

From a 14-inch-high model, the dinosaur was scaled up to towering-dino size in an aircraft hangar in the Philippines, cut into pieces ("Chopped it up like a loaf of bread," said Bruce), then shipped to Drumheller and reassembled onto a structural steel framework. It was the largest human-made animal on earth, 86 feet high and 151 feet long, exceeding both Claude Bell's California dinosaurs and Wisconsin's giant muskie, the previous size champs. Bruce was especially proud of its appearance. "That thing," he said, "is exactly what a T. rex looks like."

Since its dedication on October 13, 2000, the dinosaur has been visited by over two million people, who pay to walk up a metal staircase in its red-tinted gullet, which is decorated with prehistoric-era murals and simulated fossils, for an aerial view of the Drumheller splash park and water tower. Open year-round, the dinosaur has stood impervious to Drumheller's roasting summers, as well as to frigid winters that would have killed a T. rex even as large as this one. Standing in the breezy, wide-open mouth at 30 below zero in February is not for wimps, but people do it. Several marriage ceremonies have been performed in the dinosaur's elevated jaws.

Whoo-hoo, dinosaur!
Whoo-hoo, dinosaur!

While the T. rex was under construction, it acquired two unofficial names: "Millie" (for millennium and million dollars, its estimated cost) and "Dino 2000." Drumheller ignored them and simply called the dinosaur "The World's Largest Dinosaur" for decades. Then in 2020 the Chamber of Commerce announced that the public would choose the dinosaur's name, and then announced that the winning name was "Tyra." Three years later, when we asked members of the Chamber what names had placed second and third, no one knew, and all of the records had been lost. "The executive director couldn't even find them," we were told apologetically.

Corey Campbell left the Drumheller Chamber and became a Canadian distributor for Dippin' Dots ice cream. Broc Smith moved to China, and Bruce Dalen's company, now named Waterfun Products, went back to building waterslides. "It was a monstrous job and we didn't make a ton of money," said Bruce of the dinosaur, "but we wanted to prove that we could do it."

Tyra: World's Largest Dinosaur

Address:
60 1 Ave W., Drumheller, AB, Canada
Directions:
On the east side of Hwy 56, just south of the bridge across Michichi Creek.
Hours:
Daily summer 9-9, otherwise 10-5:30. Closed Tu-W in Jan-Feb. Lit at night. (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
Phone:
403-823-1331
Admission:
Adults $5.
RA Rates:
The Best
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

Towering Miner, Quirky MuseumTowering Miner, Quirky Museum, Drumheller, AB, Canada - < 1 mi.
30-Foot-Tall Jesus of the Dinosaurs30-Foot-Tall Jesus of the Dinosaurs, Drumheller, AB, Canada - 1 mi.
Drumheller's Little ChurchDrumheller's Little Church, Drumheller, AB, Canada - 4 mi.
In the region:
Drumheller Hoodoos, Drumheller, AB, Canada - 9 mi.

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