6393 NW Marine Drive, Vancouver, BC, Canada
Overall Score: B
Recommended?: Yes, although small children will not find this museum interesting.
If you’re planning a visit to Vancouver, one of the top spots to see is the University of British Columbia’s Museum of Anthropology. Established in 1949, this museum was created as a department within the Faculty of Arts at the university. Over the years, it has grown into the research and teaching treasure that it is today.
The mission of the Museum of Anthropology is “promoting awareness and understanding of culturally diverse ways of knowing the world through challenging and innovative programs and partnerships with Indigenous, local and global communities.” By collecting Indigenous art, both traditional and contemporary, the museum tells both the ancient and the more recent stories of the people and the cultures they come from.
In addition, the Museum of Anthropology sits on land within the Musqueam Territory. The Musqueam are an Indigenous people that are the oldest known residents of Vancouver. You’ll notice a great number of signs written in the Musqueam language in and around the museum.
There are several exhibits and halls within the Museum of Anthropology, including the Great Hall, the Bill Reid Rotundra (which was under construction when we visited in June 2019), various galleries, temporary exhibits, and an outdoor exhibit featuring two large houses carved by a Musqueam artist.
The Great Hall is the first large area you encounter while visiting the museum. The entire area is filled with wood carvings, totems (complete and partial), wooden feast dishes, and bentwood boxes from the Pacific Northwest.
It’s rather amazing to see the totems up close and to see the amount of detail carved within each one. The museum explained that the totems served as functional architecture (on the inside or outside of a building), were welcome signs, a memorial to remember ancestors, or were placed to display cultural beliefs.
The size of the totems are intimidating, yet inspiring. The ingenuity of the natives to create these large totems, boxes, and dishes out of wood, and by hand, is remarkable. Not only were they constructed and carved with intricate design, but the artwork and paintings are unique and yet very distinctive for the people of this area.
As the Bill Reid Rotunda area was closed, we made our way to some of the various galleries within the Museum of Anthropology. According to the museum’s website, these galleries house thousands of artifacts from the museum’s extensive collections. In the first room, we encountered shelves and shelves of baskets. Baskets of all shapes, sizes, with varying designs were featured.
In the next room, there were hundreds of masks in the native Pacific Northwest design. These wooden masks represented various animals and creatures and were used during dances and other ceremonial gatherings. All made into various sizes, these intricately detailed and painted masks were a delight to see.
In these rooms with the masks and baskets, there were also many, many drawers of various artifacts and art of the Indigenous people of the Northwest. I was surprised at just how many artifacts were housed here!
This new temporary exhibit features over 250 puppets from 15 different countries. These puppets, both old and new, show how puppets have been storytellers for hundreds of years. Whether the stories are political, satirical, or simply humorous in nature, puppets have long told the stories that humans tell others.
Within the display were interesting and detailed puppets, movies of puppet shows, modern puppets, as well as lighted walls to create your own finger puppets.
Overall, I found the museum rather informative and educational. The work that the Museum of Anthropology is doing is incredibly important, as it collects artifacts and information on arts and cultures of the world, with a special emphasis on the First Nations people of Canada. I wholeheartedly agree that the cultures and histories of Indigenous people should be saved, preserved, and shared.
What surprised me most was the contemporary art that was featured in the museum. I wrongly assumed that all of the art within the museum would have been historical artifacts, when in fact, some of the items were recently created by artisans alive today. In the photos below, you can see some items that were in the museum that confused me. Obviously, it is modern day art from Indigenous people, but I would have expected all of these items to be in their own gallery and not scattered amongst the historical items.
The museum was listed as one of the top 5 things to do in Vancouver according to TripAdvisor. Although the Museum of Anthropology was interesting, I would not have placed it in the top 5. This is definitely not a place for kids under 10, as they would likely get bored too quickly. Exhibits aren’t interactive and there is nothing flashy or exciting to hold their interest outside of the Great Hall. As there were many, many artifacts, sometimes it was easy to get overwhelmed. Rather than studying one or two beautiful items (as I do in some museums), I ended up taking a quick glance of all of them and lost interest quickly.
I was disappointed I didn’t even know about the outdoor exhibit, as I hadn’t seen any signs about it. Apparently, in the back of the museum, there is a Haida House, Mortuary House, as well as memorial and mortuary totem poles. This life-size exhibit shows off the architecture and design of the Northwest people and shows you what a village may have looked like hundreds of years ago. Why there weren’t clear signs could have been an error on my part, but I was still disappointed.
I visited the Museum of Anthropology with my husband and 2 daughters aged 18 and 15 and we stayed here for about an hour and 45 minutes. This may have partially been due to all of the renovations that were going on, but it didn’t take long for us to look around.
While you are in this area, be sure to walk around the University of British Columbia’s campus and see the university’s rose garden which is just across the street. The gardens are absolutely lovely and definitely worth a stop!
I recommend stopping by the Museum of Anthropology if you have free time in Vancouver. I just wouldn’t put it at the top of a touring list, especially if you have a young family.
Come back next week for more information on places to go and things to see in Vancouver!