Perhaps the finest small museum on the island, the Museum at Campbell River has native and modern social history displays that cover the island’s past extremely well. The tour begins in the native artefacts gallery which reminded me of a Royal B.C. Museum in miniature. It has an excellent collection of tools, paddles, whistles, 20th century masks of the Kwakwaka’waku, and storage containers.
The highlight of the exhibit is a darkened room of contemporary masks of a Gwawaenuk family with audio accompaniment. As spotlights focus on creatures represented in different masks, we are told the story of a family ancestor, Siwidi. The story begins as Siwidi is dragged into the sea and at the behest of the octopus kills a number of sea monsters. Eventually, he returns home after his labours to become a great shaman. The legend has the stuff of all great myth telling and the experience makes the museum a major attraction.
At the coming of the Europeans, we learn that the area between Campbell river and Bella Coola once held 30 nations speaking five languages. After 1849, nine out of ten would die of disease. There follows the best demonstration of early government policy toward the natives (take their children from them and train the children to act like whites, at the same time, erasing native language and culture). That I’ve ever seen, summed up in the line, "If there were no Indians, there would be no Indian problem."
That is followed by exhibits on the subject of B.C. industry. Did you know that a bull puncher made more money than a skid greaser? Do you know why? The logging, sport fishing, and salmon industries are all well covered in display, artefact and story.
The visit ends in a small theatre where the visitor can select one of three films. Perhaps most interesting is an industrial short on the Ripple Rock explosion of 1958; the world’s largest non-nuclear explosion at that time took place just north of Campbell River. We highly recommend a visit to this modern, attractive building with its beautiful views to the water below. At $6 (adult 2007), it’s a bargain and it boasts an excellent giftshop with a selection of native and non-native art.