"Stuffy" is not a word in the Museum of Anthropology’s vocabulary. Though the space itself may not be all too large, it’s what’s inside that counts, or in this case, what’s in and around the museum that warrants it consideration as the top anthropology museum in North America.
Located on the tip of the British Columbia University and just a short walk to the water, the surrounding environment lends the museum a secluded, rustic feel that further enhances the effect of totems seen around the front and back of the MOA. As you step in you’ll immediately be drawn to the Great Hall, which houses a stunning collection of totems and statues from the Haida and other Northwest Coast natives. The high ceilings accentuate the re-creation of the longhouses these people built that were supported by thick, load-bearing poles. This impressive room resembles a big, oversized trophy case of a fanatical collector - I could easily see Bruce Wayne buying this wing to add to his mansion. Given my affinity for slightly macabre work, I stood rapt with curiosity at Jim Hart’s "Wasco", a squat, devilish looking piece. Legends say that the wasco was an ocean-dwelling creature of great strength that was blamed for the disappearance of Haida people that came up missing. Aw, c’mon, it’s so cute, who cares if it murders people?
Over to the right is the Gathering Strength wing, highlighting the work of Mungo Martin, or Chief Nakapankam. He helped keep alive the culture of the Northwest Coast First Peoples, and played a major role in the preservation of their monolithic carvings. I really liked how in this exhibit they featured some modern day natives’ work and talked about how they were keeping alive their cultures’ traditions such as loom weaving.
Another unique feature to the museum are the Research Galleries, a veritable maze of masks, arrows, etc that another place might have stored in the basement. Instead, they’re on display, stored in cases and drawers that the public can poke and prod through (mostly). As you emerge from this area, you’re bound to see Bill Reid’s much ballyhooed "The Raven and the First Men".
Don’t let your museum tour stop inside the building. Saunter around the back for amazing mountain views and to check out a few more totem poles. A short rain had fallen while I was inside, and afterwards the mist about the mountains and fresh smell in the air lulled me into complete relaxation. Liron and I then discovered a sharply declining trail that emptied out onto a secluded beach, part of neighboring Pacific Spirit Park. With hardly anyone around except a few fishermen, we walked out to some rocks that stretched into the water and just chilled for a bit. If you can manage the hike back up, make sure you find your way down here. Just be careful on the way down - it was a little muddy from the rain.