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Museums of Vancouver

Vancouver Art Gallery on Robson Square in Vancouver, Canada
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Museums of Vancouver

Vancouver has several excellent museums, including a couple of niche museums that are the best of their kind in the world. Even if you are not partial to museums, most of these are well worth visiting.

Museum of Anthropology

The Museum of Anthropology is at the top of the list. It is located on the landscaped university grounds at the University of British Columbia at 6393 NW Marine Drive, about a 20-minute drive from downtown. For an $8 fee you can gain admission to the main gallery, which houses some of the most fascinating First Nations carvings anywhere, together with one of the best classic totem pole collections in the world. There are memorial poles, house posts, doorways, bentwood boxes, and more. There is also a Bill Reid sculpture here, of a bear fishing. While among the outdoor exhibits are more poles and a reconstructed clan house.

Besides its pole collection, the museum also boasts an outstanding Reference and Research collection that consists of glass-encased exhibits from all over the world. The centerpiece here is the Kwakiutl masks exhibit, where you can see variation upon variation upon variation of the raven theme. There are also artifacts from the Inuit, Salish, Tsimshian and other tribes, as well as canoe paddles from a dozen cultures. However, most of the exhibits are not well labeled, and must be cross-referenced in the reference volumes placed near the exhibits. Some art, including the Japanese and Chinese collections, round out the displays.

Maritime Museum

Another of Vancouver's prized museums is the Maritime Museum in Vanier Park (if you are coming Granville Island or the Science Centre, it can be reached by way of the False Creek Ferries). Here, the principal attraction is the St. Roch, the first ship ever to navigate around North America, from the Northwest Passage to the Panama Canal. It’s a small, sturdy vessel, which can be boarded for close-up viewing. Also in the museum is a stellar collection of Cook artifacts: Joseph Baker’s sea chest, a telescope used on Cook’s ships and, most impressive of all, one of Cook’s own sketch maps. There is even a pirate area here for children, coupled with some special exhibits. And here, too, the admission fee is $8.

Also in Vanier Park is the Vancouver Museum, located at 1100 Chestnut St. There’s a good First Nations area, lots of stuff about when Vancouver was young, and special exhibits – a recent one explored the question of just who was the first to make it to North America: we all know it wasn’t that lost Italian, but was it the Chinese, the Vikings, or someone else? There’s a herbarium on the grounds, and also the HR MacMillan Space Centre, www.hrmacmillanspacecentre.com, which is a good place to park the kids while you look at the other stuff. In the Space Centre, there are multimedia shows, lots of rocket and science exhibits, a full-motion VR theater, with shaking chairs, 3D effects and more, and chances to find out if you have the skills an astronaut needs.

On Granville Island

Hop the False Creek Ferry from Vanier Park to Granville Island. We’ll get back to Granville later, but here in the museum section, there’s one of those private nutcase museums that we have a serious soft spot for. The Granville Island Museums, at the corner of Duranleau and Anderson,  604-683-1939, CAN $6.50 for adults, has three separate museums that focus on: fishing, model boats and trains. The fishing museum has what might be the largest collection of fishing reels in the world, as well as ingeniously displayed fishing flies in more varieties than you’d think possible. The model boat museum displays, well, model boats. But these aren’t like the kits you bought when you were a kid. These are lovingly detailed, scale models, and proof that if you don’t watch TV, you have plenty of time to do other stuff. Finally, upstairs is the model train museum, which has literally thousands of different cars, and a really cool running layout. Check out the detail on the trees.

To continue your museum tour of Vancouver, hop back on the False Creek Ferry over to Science World, 1455 Quebec St. It’s the building that looks like a big golf ball. Your CAN $12.75 admission gets you three floors of science experiments, from perspective and optical illusions, to gravity, to bugs and crawly stuff. There are regular shows and demos throughout the day, and your biggest problem once you get here will be hauling your kids back out. There’s even a White Spot restaurant on the grounds, so you never have to leave once you’re here.

Science World and the Vancouver Art Gallery 

From Science World, you can hop on the Sky Train to go downtown, or walk a few blocks over to Chinatown for the Sun Yat-sen Classical Chinese Garden, 578 Carrall. This is an oasis of quiet (except when the tour buses roll in) in the middle of the otherwise bustling Chinatown district. Built in 1985, the gardens recreate a classic Chinese landscape courtyard garden. The idea is, from any angle of viewing, you should see an entirely different perspective and landscape. There are daily tours that can explain some of the features, but we think it’s a little nicer to just show up and hang out solo for a while. CAN $7.50.

Hop on the Sky Train again to downtown for the last museums on the list. The Vancouver Art Gallery, 750 Hornby (at Robson),   604-662-4719, CAN $11, has frequently changing displays of world-class art. We were here for one that put paintings by Georgia O’Keefe, Emily Carr, and Frieda Kahlo side by side. There’s a reasonable permanent collection, and some of the annoying, mediocre stuff that gets passed off as modern art – video terminals displaying static and dead cows, that sort of thing. It’s a good idea to ask what’s going on before you pay, as the frequently changing shows can mean not a whole lot will be on display sometimes.

A couple of blocks away, at 848West Hastings, 604-689-8700, is the Pacific Mineral Museum, a small gallery of rocks and gems. There’s a good shop on the ground level, and upstairs are some really pretty, shiny rocks. If you like this kind of thing, you’ll really like this kind of thing. CAN $4. 

Last updated June 12, 2011
Posted in   Canada  |  Vancouver
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