In any U.S. city, it would be called Totem World! Billboards hundreds of miles away would scream out its presence. But here, in the more proper land of Canada, it goes by a drier...
VANCOUVER, B.C. In any U.S. city, it would be called Totem World! Billboards hundreds of miles away would scream out its presence.
But here, in the more proper land of Canada, it goes by a drier name: Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia.
Don’t be fooled. It’s really Totem World!
The institution is a highlight in a city that’s full of highlights. Its Great Hall is as much of a scenic attraction as the ocean and mountain views that thrill visitors.
When it opened in 1976, the museum building was among the first in the world to display Indian creations not as representational artifacts, but as pieces of art.
And it did that in a big way.
Visitors stroll downhill to the building entrance, which is almost hidden behind evergreens. Inside the front door, the vista opens up.
A sloping floor leads into a world of Haida canoes, intricately carved, trunk-size boxes and a skyline studded with soaring totems, many over 100 years old. All are backlit by a giant glass wall that overlooks the sea.
The inevitable reaction: Wow.
That was the intention of Canadian architect Arthur Erickson. He designed the hall to appeal to the emotions and let the artifacts speak for themselves, said curator and university assistant professor Jennifer Kramer.
Indeed, the totems shake off any connection to the kitschy souvenirs found along the Inside Passage.
Each artifact is installed with a prayer from the Musqueam Indian band, whose land holds the museum and university.
Although visitors will be overwhelmed with the Indian exhibits, there is more to see.
In this museum, the storeroom is on display. In one wing are more than 13,000 objects for visitors to browse.
So instead of one mask from Papua New Guinea, dozens are arranged by size in simple display cases. There are also banks of storage shelves. Pull one out, and you may see dozens of shell necklaces. Open another: It’s feather headdresses from South America.
Another wing holds 600 pieces of European porcelain.
But few make it there. Most just wander the Great Hall, looking up at the totem poles that once lorded over this land.