TORONTO — Travel Edge Group Owner and CEO Jeff Willner and his wife Stacey Madge have donated $5 million to the Royal Ontario Museum to fund a new 10,000-square-foot permanent gallery that explores the beginnings of life on Earth.
Travel Edge is now a $600 million luxury travel agency with 13 offices in Canada, the U.S. and Bermuda. The Travel Edge Group also includes the $170 million luxury tour company Kensington Tours, specializing in international private guided travel.
Kensington Tours will be developing a special series of trips in conjunction with Parks Canada, to showcase the world-class Canadian fossil sites that contributed significantly to the new gallery.
Willner joined the ROM Board of Governors in October 2017.
The $5 million donation will help establish the Willner Madge Gallery, Dawn of Life. The gallery will trace the story of life from its earliest beginnings, about four billion years ago, to the emergence of the first dinosaurs and mammals, and will complement the James and Louise Temerty Galleries of the Age of Dinosaurs and the Reed Gallery of the Age of Mammals on the second floor of the ROM.
“I’m very pleased to join other leadership donors and the ROM in telling the story of life on Earth through this exciting new gallery –the first of its kind in North America,” says Willner. “This is a story for all people, told from a uniquely Canadian perspective, which will help us understand not only our past, but also the world we’ll live in tomorrow.”
Adds ROM Director & CEO, Josh Basseches: “We are very grateful to ROM Governor Jeff Willner and his wife, Stacey Madge, for their transformational gift. Every part of the Earth’s story – our shared history – is written in the rocks of Canada. The Willner Madge Gallery, Dawn of Life will inspire people to marvel at how life evolved on our planet, and to do so through a lens that is distinctly Canadian in physical origin.”
The Willner Madge Gallery will interpret and showcase hundreds of specimens drawn mainly from the ROM’s early life fossil collection, many of which have never been on public display before. The story of life’s origins will be illustrated with a range of scientifically important specimens originating from Ontario and across Canada, most significantly from the renowned Burgess Shale in Yoho and Kootenay National Parks (British Columbia).
The Gallery will also feature specimens from other Canadian UNESCO World Heritage Sites including Joggins Fossil Cliffs (Nova Scotia), Mistaken Point (Newfoundland and Labrador) and Miguasha National Park (Quebec).
Visitors to the ROM can currently check a preview display of the Willner Madge Gallery, Dawn of Life on the museum’s second floor. Construction of the permanent gallery is slated to begin in 2019 with an anticipated public opening in 2021.