The museum is on the University of British Columbia campus and shares the low, west coast architecture of many of the surrounding buildings. It is, first of all, a beautiful building, but most of all, it houses an amazing collection of artifacts, many of which are examples of exceptional artistic skill. ($9 adult, 2007) The first objects that you encounter are large totems, house posts, and entrance posts, generally 19th century. Once past that initial visual impact; however, there is so much more.
There is a fascinating display on the revival of traditional Northwest indigenous art, particularly the contributions of Mungo Martin who spent his later years restoring totems. The museum occupies a site where the Musqueam tribe practiced their weaving skills; those skills have been revived and examples and stories are on display.
Many of the artifacts are housed in drawers and represent far more than the Northwest, although the research collection of native art, masks, and weaving from the area is remarkable. There are also extensive collections of Chinese, Japanese, and African pieces. The catalogue system looks a bit daunting, but once you try it, it is remarkably simple to find the provenance of any article that takes your fancy; it is also efficient if you are interested in a certain culture or art form. It may be possible to see a special exhibit; at the time of our visit, there was an exhibit called "The Village is Tilting", which featured masks and costumes from Malawi.
The pride of place in the museum is the Bill Reid Rotunda. It contains a number of works in different media by the Haida artist, but they pale in comparison to the beautifully set "The Raven and the First Men". (Raven found the first man in a clamshell after the flood. He cajoled them into coming out to enjoy the world.)
Walter Koerner enjoyed a long association with the museum and was pleased to be able to place his extensive collection of 600 ceramic pieces dating between 1500 and 1900 in it. The Koerner gallery is, essentially, the additional bonus to your visit. It is completely different from the other collections, but the late renaissance work is extremely interesting. The museum makes for a great visit.