Founded in 1949, and situated on native Musqueam land, the extraordinary, newly renovated Museum of Anthropology is the only attraction in Vancouver that absolutely must beseen. Designed by Arthur Erickson to echo the post-and-beam structures of Northwest Coast First Nations, it contains the world’s finest collection of carvings by master craftsmen from many of these Nations, most notably the Haida of Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands) and the Gitxsan and Nisga’a from the Skeena River region of Northern BC. Be sure to pick up a Gallery Guide at the admissions desk ($1.50). As well as providing a commentary on the exhibits, it gives a brief but excellent introduction to First Nations cultures, the stylistic differences between them and an overview of their classic art forms.
Take your time at the beginning, down the ramp and in the Great Hall, as many of the finest sculptures are here, grouped by cultural area, and informatively labelled. Most date from the early to mid-19th century, but an encouraging number are recent including several exceptional works by the late master Bill Reid, such as Bear (1963), Sea Wolf with Killer Whales (1962), and a 7.5-m inshore cedar canoe (1985). Outside, and visible from the Hall, is a Haida House complex, fronted by a collection of memorial and mortuary poles. The Museum’s highlight is Bill Reid’s exquisite masterpiece, The Raven and the First Men (1980) housed in a natural light-filled rotunda. The Multiversity Galleries make some 15,000 objects from around the world accessible to the public: overwhelming as it is, this is still less than half of the museum’s permanent collection. Then there are three or four temporary exhibits, and the extensive Koerner Ceramics Gallery. It’s hard to do all this justice in one visit, especially as a bit of energy should be reserved for the small gift shop in the lobby, which is packed with splendid books, carvings, jewellery and prints.