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The Journal’s Exceptional Person of the Week: Jim Richards

Published on

Cathy Dobson

Jim Richards has been making an exceptional contribution to our community’s culture and its appeal to tourists for nearly 30 years.

He and his wife, Allison, are owners of Stones ‘N Bones Museum where their collection of 6,000 artifacts attracts as many as 15,000 visitors a year to Sarnia’s downtown.

This is no small feat.

It’s not every day that someone has a love for natural history and science so great that they invest in a world-class collection of gemstones, fossils, dinosaur bones and taxidermy from around the globe.

And it’s not every day that a collector like Jim buys a downtown building where his artifacts can be exhibited to the public.

Stones ‘N Bones Museum boasts a world-class collection of gemstones, fossils, dinosaur bones and taxidermy from around the globe. (Cathy Dobson photo)

Until you know the story behind Stones ‘N Bones Museum, you cannot appreciate the significant gift Jim and his wife Allison have given to Sarnia since 1994.

Not only have they purchased all the artifacts – they most recently bought a nine-foot blue sailfish from Mexico – they work at their museum every day. She runs the large gift shop. He hosts the tours.

“Jim is like an encyclopedia of knowledge about every artifact there,” says Mark Perrin, executive director at Tourism Sarnia-Lambton.

Jim Richards. (Cathy Dobson photo)

“His collection is unique. It’s not your typical museum. He’s done very well marketing to families and bringing bus tours in,” he said.

“It’s Jim’s passion that makes it come together,” Mark added. “A lot of the appeal is Jim himself, his storytelling and what he knows.”

While the museum has had many staff members over the years, it’s always been Jim who anchored the place. Whether it’s a small family or a crowd of school kids, he loves to usher them through the exhibits and wow them with fun facts and figures.

Stones ‘N Bones has the distinction of being #1 on Trip Advisor’s list of Best Things to Do in Sarnia. Not even Canatara Park or the Imperial Theatre enjoy the same five star rating.

“Jim was a pioneer for our area on Trip Advisor,” said Mark. “Our research shows that Trip Advisor exploded with positive reviews and photos of Stones ‘N Bones years ago, before anything else was rated in Sarnia-Lambton.”

Trip Advisor also gave Stones ‘N Bones a number of national and international awards.

Thanks to Jim, the answer to a question in the New York Times’ crossword puzzle at one time was Stones ‘N Bones, noted Sarnia Coun. Anne Marie Gillis.

She sat on the Tourism Sarnia-Lambton board of directors with Jim for several years and said he has always been good at finding innovative ways to market Sarnia and the museum.

A youngster looks on at one of the many displays inside Stones N’ Bones museum. (Cathy Dobson photo)

“You’re missing out if you haven’t been to Stones ‘N Bones,” said Anne Marie. “We always took the Communities in Bloom judges there and it was always a highlight, a real cultural addition to our community.

“You can see that Jim is so in love with what he does and he’s so generous with his time,” she said. “My children went to Stones ‘N Bones, my nieces and nephews worked there, and now my grandkids enjoy it.

“His museum has been enjoyed by generations.”

Jim, who is now in his 80s, isn’t certain what the future holds for the museum he and Allison have dedicated the last three decades to, but he’s determined to keep their collection in Sarnia.

“My reward has always been the look on people’s faces,” he said. “I love nature. What we try to do here is inspire young people to learn about the beauty of nature and the wonder of science.”

“Jim has been such an exceptional flag bearer for Sarnia all these years,” said Anne Marie. “He’s a rare gem.”

Who do you consider an exceptional person in Sarnia/Lambton? Nominate someone you know and explain why you think they should be The Journal’s Exceptional Person of the Week. Email [email protected].

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