on November 8, 2008
The Eskimo Museum is located approximately two blocks from "downtown" Churchill on LaVerendrye Street and across the street from the post office. It is a small modest building but inside it is rich with carvings and other artifacts from Northern Manitoba’s native inhabitants, primarily the Inuit.As you enter the single room museum you will see a couple of animals indigenous to the area including a wolf and polar bear cub. The outer perimeter of the room is lined with glass exhibit cases to protect the pieces, some of which are thousands of years old. Like the art of other societies, the carvings depict all aspects of Inuit culture and day to day living. Hunting and fishing are frequent subjects, as are Churchill’s star attraction, the polar bear.There was one very interesting exhibit that featured a photograph, from the early 20th century, of a man and his dogs hunting a polar bear. Dogs were used to surround and confuse the bear, and often attacked at the bear’s most vulnerable anatomical area . . . the anus. Once the dogs attack that area, the hunter would strike from the front with a spear or knife. Beneath the photo and explanation of this hunting ritual was a bone carving illustrating the hunt. Often the Inuit used whale bone or the bone of other animals such as caribou for their art. This area was also very rich in smooth black rock which was also used for carvings. Many present day artists create sculptures from the highly polished rock. In the gift shop there is one of the largest collection of pieces available for sale and for what is said to be very reasonable prices. There were two dancing bear carvings in the museum shop that were for sale for $430 each. They were beautiful in their attention to detail to bring out the personality of the polar bear which the Inuit believe to be the highest order of animal reincarnation as the polar bear is atop the animal kingdom.Our Churchill Nature Tours guide Steve told us that because of the local tourism industry, there are some artists who have become more focused on producing low cost souvenirs which lack the attention to detail and craftsmanship found pieces made in generations before them. Here at the Eskimo Museum, they are very careful to select only the best examples of the highest quality carvings by the Inuits. I would say that visitors must exhibit caution when buying carvings at other gift shops in Churchill.The Eskimo Museum was created in 1944 by Roman Catholic Missionaries who recognized the importance of preserving the history and art of the people of Northern Canada. Today they continue to serve their mission of "advancing the knowledge, understanding, and appreciation of on Northern culture and history with an emphasis on the Canadian Inuit." All purchases made from their gift shop help to further this cause. Visitors can buy apparel, post cards, carvings and other items depicting the culture and wildlife of the area.Hours of operation are limited, especially outside of the summer and bear seasons. They are closed on Sundays and all national holidays. Tour groups of more than ten should call ahead before heading for the museum, even during their normal business hours. More information may be obtained, to include hours of operation, by calling 204-675-2030.
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