Museum of Anthropology

University of British Columbia

Vancouver, B.C., Canada

September 09, 2000

In visiting a city as large as Vancouver (not to be confused with the island) it is sometimes necessary to make a list of things we want to see and then prioritize them. When I was younger I would hurry and try and see them all. As I have gotten more mature I have found that I enjoy taking my time and thoroughly seeing just the first two or three things on my list. Such was definitely the case with Vancouver. It is a large city filled with many ethnic diversities. We read in one brochure that they had over 1500 restaurants in Vancouver alone. One of the things that came highly recommended by a number of people was the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia. We decided that it would be a good way to spend a Sunday so we started out. Well, we ignored the many warnings we received from park personnel and other campers alike and decided to drive our truck rather than take the local transportation. Most of the streets leading into and out of downtown Vancouver were in the process of being torn up for work being done on the overhead rail line. Even on Sunday traffic went at a crawl.

We finally arrived at our destination and entered the Museum. I found out from their literature that Anthropology is the study of peoples of the world and how they organize and express human experience. I had some misgivings as to how interesting a museum such as this would be. However, once inside the presentation of the material as well as the sheer number of exhibits quickly fired up my enthusiasm. The ramp entrance to the Museum introduces the Northwest Coast collections, which include contemporary as well as older pieces. The adjacent ramp into the Great Hall introduced massive sculptures from the Northwest Coast and were grouped by general culture area. Works from Coast Salish communities - including Musqueam, Saanich, Quamichan, and Tsartlip - were located on either side at the top of the ramp. Never being one to be totally serious in any situation I had to include this carving in our pictures. (It reminded me of Bob and I playing tug-of-war with the computer or maybe doing morning sit-ups?). Actually this is a large Tsonoqua Feast Dish. Feast dishes, often made in the form of powerful legendary beings, are used at feasts or potlatches. This one represents Tsonoqua, Wild or Cannibal Woman of the Woods, who abducts children in the basket on her back. Her distinctive features are large eyes, a round pursed mouth, and sunken cheeks, all of which suggest the eerie cry she utters.
We learned that First Nations people use red cedar to carve totem poles that depict animals, spirits, and persons from family-owned stories. Only those who know and have the right to the stories can tell the meaning of a totem pole. Totem poles are raised at potlatches and other ceremonies on the North Pacific Coast where they are viewed by First Nations people as reminders of place, identity, and pride. As you can see from the picture at the left, some of their totems were definitely different from what we are used to seeing in the average totem pole.
In one of the galleries they had a special showing of sculptures by an artist by the name of Bill Reid. He did one called "The Raven and the First Men" which particularly drew my interest. The piece shown here was done with the assistance of other artists from a giant block of laminated yellow cedar. The sculpture is said to depict a moment in the ancestral past of the Haida people when Raven, a wise and powerful yet mischievous trickster, has just
found the first humans in a clam shell on the beach, and is coaxing them out of it. Bill Reid also did smaller works in gold, silver, argillite, ivory, and wood. What I liked about the museum was the fact that they included modern sculptures along with traditional ones from the far distant past.
In addition to the large pieces of sculpture situated throughout the Museum there were hundreds of glass cases which were able to display many small artifacts. These were grouped by country of origin or group of people who created them. I had never seen cases used in quite this way and it enabled you to get quite close to the pieces and yet allowed the Museum to keep them safe and preserve them for many generations to come. What I had thought might be a boring trip certainly turned out to be a very enjoyable one for me. I would certainly recommend this museum even if Anthropology isn't your forte.

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