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As a young woman, Betsy Nicholls wrote to Roy Chapman Andrews (the man credited with inspiring Indiana Jones) about breaking into the field of Paleontology.

"Thank goodness you are a girl," Andrews wrote back. "What the world needs is more girls with the charm and ideas such as you have."

Nicholls would go on to prove Andrews correct.

Her career would take her around the world (including Morden where she helped lay the groundwork for the Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre) eventually becoming the leading authority on Mesozoic marine reptiles.

Nicholls was honoured on Saturday at the CFDC's 2nd annual Gala, an event to honour the past and scientific background "that set our trajectory" Executive Director Peter Cantelon explains.

Since 1971 the CFDC has come to hold over 1100 specimens.

Opened in Morden, the centre is set in a region rich with marine fossils thanks to the Cretaceous saltwater ocean that once existed over what would become Southern Manitoba, drawing the curiosity of Nicholls.

Guest speaker, and storied researcher and professor in his own right, Dr. Tony Russell described the contributions and role Nicholls had in the creation of the CFDC.

cfdc2Kevin Campbell (far right) presents the award to the Nicholls family

In the 1970's Nicholls made her mark after excavating a plesiosaur in Southern Alberta.

In the 1980's she undertook PhD studies in Morden cataloguing and identifying hundreds of specimens in the Pembina region.

Together with local residents and educators Henry Isaak and Don Bell, put Morden on the map in Paleontology, and sparked the idea for a local museum.

Never afraid to get her hands dirty or travel to remote locations Nicholls' methods would go on to set the standard for excavation and making sense of the findings.

"Mom was a remarkable woman," Kat Nicholls says, adding one of her earliest memories was going on a fossil hunt.

"It was both an honour and very sad in a way because she died so young," Kat says. "I think she would've been very proud."

Betsy passed away in 2004.

To remember her, the CFDC announced this weekend the creation of the Betsy Nicholls Award, one that will be presented annually at future galas to individuals for outstanding contributions to Paleontology.

Kevin Campbell, Chair of the CFDC, explains the museum wouldn't exist without Nicholls.

He says honouring her contributions together with Nicholls family was a moving experience.

"They were just so thankful, you could see it was very heartfelt," Campbell says. "We knew she deserved it."

cfdc1Guest speaker Dr. Tony Russell (far left) told the story of Betsy Nicholls life and work, "a slender woman with a core of steel... and a drive to discover the world that was." Her inspiring work put the CFDC on the path to where it is today

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