50 Reasons to Love Toronto: No. 29, The ROM’s rock, gem, fossil and meteorite clinic

50 Reasons to Love Toronto: No. 29, The ROM’s rock, gem, fossil and meteorite clinic

No. 29, We’re treasure hunters
(Image: Remie Geoffroi) 

There’s always a queue at the ROM’s bimonthly rock, mineral, gem, fossil and meteorite identification clinic. Last March, the lineup included Josette, clutching a mass of tangled-up jewels, Harvey, who carried some colourful stones, and Nancy and Joe, fossil enthusiasts in matching polar fleece vests. All were hoping for a windfall. Some people arrive with black rocks from their backyards, hoping they’ve discovered a primitive meteorite—the extremely rare, scientifically invaluable specimens that show us what our solar system looked like before the planets were formed and can fetch hundreds of thousands of dollars. Most suspected meteorites are what clinic coordinator Katherine Dunnell calls “meteorwrongs.” In one case, a construction worker with a dirt-caked pickup backed into the ROM’s loading dock, hauling a coffee table–sized find to the clinic. (It turned out to be just a common rock.) One woman, while walking along the Don River, found a limestone rock that cleaved open to reveal a perfect starfish fossil, an extremely rare discovery for this area. In keeping with museum policy, the ROM staff won’t do outright appraisals, but they will tell you when you should keep something in a bank vault. “Toronto sits atop a hidden city of unbelievably interesting things,” Dunnell says. “Our repeat customers are people who are constantly looking at the ground and searching.”