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From ‘Jurassic Park’ to Blue Whales, meet the Canadian who assembles priceless fossils for the world’s museums

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When Peter May is asked what he does for a living, he usually responds by saying, “I’m the local dinosaur builder.”

People tend greet his response with a puzzled smile.

“They wonder what the heck you’re talking about,” he says.

Not many people know that May’s business, Research Casting International, is renowned around the world for its work with prehistoric fossils.

“We build dinosaurs for museums throughout the world. We work with the skeletons and the bones. We mould and cast them out.”

May’s company is the one paleontologists call when they make a discovery in the field. Research Casting staff extract the specimen, and then bring it to the company’s 50,000-square-foot workshop in Trenton, Ont.

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While there, the specimen is chiseled away from rock, cleaned and strengthened. After months of this tedious work, it’s then mounted and shipped to museums around the world, such as The Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., the Beijing Museum of Natural History and the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.

“He’s the go-to guy if you want to make a dinosaur exhibit (anywhere) in the world,” says David Evans, the curator in vertebrate paleontology at the Royal Ontario Museum.

“If you’ve been through a museum in Canada, or any major dinosaur museum in the world, chances are you’ve seen a skeletal mount that was produced by Peter May’s company.”

The dinosaur fossils May’s company works with can be up to 70 million years old and are extremely delicate to work with. “You can have the hardest rock in the world with a fossil stuck into it. You’re chiseling away a very hard sandstone from around a very delicate fossil. It takes a very good touch to do that. You have to be patient,” May says.

The process takes months, if not years, to complete. Intense attention to detail is needed to mount hundreds of individual bones together to make one complete fossil display. The process is “very similar to how a jeweler sets a diamond into a diamond ring,” Evans says. “But take a skeleton that has 400 bones and produce that setting for a diamond ring 400 times on a scale of a tyrannosaurus rex.”

READ MORE: University of Alberta researchers uncover new fossil species in Italy

A sculptor by trade, May started with the Royal Ontario Museum in 1977. He saw an ad in the paper one day for a paleontological technician. “And I had no idea what that meant,” May laughs.

“I didn’t really have any knowledge of dinosaurs. I probably knew what a T-Rex was, but at the time it was the band more so than the animal,” he laughs again. “My first introduction was when I first started working at the Royal Ontario Museum.”

He spent five years working for the ROM and then was asked to help build the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller, Alta.

“I was hired there as the senior technician doing the mounting, the molding and the casting,” May says. “We had met a lot of paleontologists who came by and the exhibits were just fantastic and at that time the world hadn’t seen anything like that.”

READ MORE: Well-preserved dinosaur found in northern Alberta named after Royal Tyrrell researcher

After completing the project, May returned to the ROM In 1986. “Then I was getting calls, would I mount a dinosaur in my spare time? That was probably from my reputation from building Tyrrell. So in the evenings, I’d mount dinosaur skeletons.”

He and a couple of others worked with molds and casts. They had a drill press and a welding machine. They’d mount the skeleton for the customer, then shut things down and put the tools away.

Yet more calls would come in, so they’d set things up and work on the next project. Eventually they had so much business they didn’t need to shut down.

Now 31 years later, May and his 35 employees have completed hundreds of dinosaur fossil exhibits on almost every continent — except for one. “We don’t have a museum in Antarctica, although they do have fossils coming out of there.”

READ MORE: Dinosaur figurines, replicas stolen from Alberta’s Jurassic Forest theme park

But perhaps his most famous work isn’t in a museum at all. “I think a really good example of Peter’s influence on the world is his work for the movie Jurassic Park — the most famous dinosaur movie, and one of the most famous movies in history,” Evans says.

“That last scene in Jurassic Park, where the raptors are battling with T-Tex around a T-Rex skeleton, Peter May actually built those skeletons for the movie. Of course, that’s an iconic scene in film. And Peter had his hand in that,” Evans says.

To protect the fossils he works with — some of them are considered priceless — security in May’s facility is taken very seriously. For instance, one client has had cameras installed just so it can observe its fossils 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

READ MORE: Dinosaur fossils discovered in Saskatchewan

May showed us some of those projects that are behind closed doors, though we weren’t allowed to bring in our cameras — and we aren’t allowed to say what we saw.

His clients want their fossils under a veil of secrecy for a very good reason.

“When we have an original fossil here, it’s priceless. To find a fossil is hard to begin with. To find a fossil that’s one of a kind, is even harder,” May says.

“A lot of museums like to keep it quiet. We’ll do the work. The museum holds everything for the opening.”

One fossil in May’s warehouse that isn’t under wraps is a Blue Whale. It’s the largest mammal on earth at up to 100 feet long (30 m) and weighing 170 tonnes. The whale is currently listed as an endangered animal by The International Union for Conservation of Nature.

“They’re having a tough time,” May says. “One thing that we’re finding, which isn’t very good, is that we’re doing more and more whale skeletons for museums. Is it a sign that these animals are going extinct and they’re giving it to a company that specializes working on dinosaurs and now we’re working on modern mammals?”

And this is where May feels his work in museums has the greatest impact.

“You see the kids come walking in, just in awe. They’ll look at the Blue Whale,” May says. “Hopefully we’re inspiring children to learn more to be a part of the world and the history of the world and it becomes a part of their lives. It’s up to us to appreciate what they are and hopefully help them survive.”

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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‘Business as usual’ for Dorel Industries after terminating go-private deal

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MONTREAL — Dorel Industries Inc. says it will continue to pursue its business strategy going forward after terminating an agreement to go private after discussions with shareholders.

« Moving ahead. Business as usual, » a spokesman for the company said in an email on Monday.

A group led by Cerberus Capital Management had previously agreed to buy outstanding shares of Dorel for $16 apiece, except for shares owned by the family that controls the company’s multiple-voting shares.

But Dorel chief executive Martin Schwartz said the Montreal-based maker of car seats, strollers, bicycles and home furniture pulled the plug on a deal on the eve of Tuesday’s special meeting after reviewing votes from shareholders.

“Independent shareholders have clearly expressed their confidence in Dorel’s future and the greater potential for Dorel as a public entity, » he said in a news release.

Dorel’s board of directors, with Martin Schwartz, Alan Schwartz, Jeffrey Schwartz and Jeff Segel recused, unanimously approved the deal’s termination upon the recommendation of a special committee.

The transaction required approval by two-thirds of the votes cast, and more than 50 per cent of the votes cast by non-family shareholders.

Schwartz said enhancing shareholder value remains a top priority while it stays focused on growing its brands, which include Schwinn and Mongoose bikes, Safety 1st-brand car seats and DHP Furniture.

Dorel said the move to end the go-private deal was mutual, despite the funds’ increased purchase price offer earlier this year.

It said there is no break fee applicable in this case.

Montreal-based investment firm Letko, Brosseau & Associates Inc. and San Diego’s Brandes Investment Partners LP, which together control more than 19 per cent of Dorel’s outstanding class B subordinate shares voiced their opposition to the amended offer, which was increased from the initial Nov. 2 offer of $14.50 per share.

« We believe that several minority shareholders shared our opinion, » said Letko vice-president Stephane Lebrun, during a phone interview.

« We are confident of the long-term potential of the company and we have confidence in the managers in place.”

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Anglais

Pandemic funds helping Montreal businesses build for a better tomorrow

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Many entrepreneurs have had to tap into government loans during the pandemic, at first just to survive, but now some are using the money to better prepare their businesses for the post-COVID future.

One of those businesses is Del Friscos, a popular family restaurant in Dollard-des-Ormeaux that, like many Montreal-area restaurants, has had to adapt from a sit-down establishment to one that takes orders online for takeout or delivery.

“It was hard going from totally in-house seating,” said Del Friscos co-owner Terry Konstas. “We didn’t have an in-house delivery system, which we quickly added. There were so many of our employees that were laid off that wanted to work so we adapted to a delivery system and added platforms like Uber and DoorDash.”

Helping them through the transition were emergency grants and low-interest loans from the federal and provincial governments, some of which are directly administered by PME MTL, a non-profit business-development organization established to assist the island’s small and medium-sized businesses.

Konstas said he had never even heard of PME MTL until a customer told him about them and when he got in touch, he discovered there were many government programs available to help his business get through the downturn and build for the future. “They’ve been very helpful right from day one,” said Konstas.

“We used some of the funds to catch up on our suppliers and our rents, the part that wasn’t covered from the federal side, and we used some of it for our new virtual concepts,” he said, referring to a virtual kitchen model which the restaurant has since adopted.

The virtual kitchen lets them create completely different menu items from the casual American Italian dishes that Del Friscos is known for and market them under different restaurant brand names. Under the Prasinó Soup & Salad banner, they sell healthy Greek options and their Stallone’s Sub Shop brand offers hearty sandwiches, yet the food from both is created in the same Del Friscos kitchen.

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Downtown Montreal office, retail vacancies continue to rise

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Some of downtown Montreal’s key economic indicators are heading in the wrong direction.

Office and retail vacancies in the city’s central core continued to climb in the fourth quarter of 2020, according to a quarterly report released Thursday by the Urban Development Institute of Quebec and the Montréal Centre-Ville merchants association. The report, whose first edition was published in October, aims to paint a socio-economic picture of the downtown area.

The survey also found office space available for sublet had increased during the fourth quarter, which may foreshadow even more vacancies when leases expire. On the residential front, condo sales fell as new listings soared — a sign that the downtown area may be losing some of its appeal to homeowners.

“It’s impossible not to be preoccupied by the rapid increase in office vacancies,” Jean-Marc Fournier, the former Quebec politician who now heads the UDI, said Thursday in an interview.

Still, with COVID-19 vaccinations set to accelerate in the coming months, “the economic picture is bound to improve,” he said. “People will start returning downtown. It’s much too early to say the office market is going to disappear.”

Public health measures implemented since the start of the pandemic almost a year ago — such as caps on office capacity — have deprived downtown Montreal of more than 500,000 workers and students. A mere 4,163 university and CEGEP students attended in-person classes in the second quarter, the most recent period for which figures are available. Border closures and travel restrictions have also brought tourism to a standstill, hurting hotels and thousands of local businesses.

Seventy per cent of downtown workers carried out their professional activities at home more than three days a week during the fourth quarter, the report said, citing an online survey of 1,000 Montreal-area residents conducted last month.

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