Showcasing beautiful carved, wooden sculptures made by north-west coast First Nations people and a vast collection of artefacts from other indigenous communities around the world, the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia can't fail to impress.
Housed in an award-winning building designed by renowned Canadian architect, Arthur Erickson, in 1976 the museum is Canada's largest teaching museum with an international reputation for excellence in exhibitions, research, teaching, programming and collections management. It attracts more than 130,000 visitors a year.
'The Raven and the First Men' sculpture by Bill Reid at the Museum of Anthropology, Vancouver
It is easy to see why it is so popular with visitors. Entering through the lobby you are channelled down a ramp on either side of which are wonderful carved wooded sculptures, chests and other large pieces made by the Coast Salish people, many of which were originally inside First Nations' cedar plank houses where they supported roof beams or decorated interior or exterior walls.
You descend into the Great Hall, which is flooded with daylight from the 15m high glass walls, looking out over the Haida House complex outside. Giant totem poles and house posts from the mid-19th century dominate this space, where the carved faces of bears, frogs, eagles and wolves star out at you; symbolic figures, partly human, reflecting the myths of the First Nations people and the honour and prestige of their human carvers. Also on display are cedar dugout canoes used for fishing, travelling and whaling along the Pacific coast.
Leading off this major exhibition space are the Multiversity Galleries where you can browse a treasure trove of more than 16,000 objects from around the world. Displayed in glass cases and in pull-out drawers, this vast array includes masks, utensils, ornaments and even a basketwork motorbike from Indonesia. These collections are often used for university research purposes and computer terminals dotted around the galleries provide additional imagery as well as audio and video information about the various objects.
Separating the Great Hall and the Multiversity Galleries is the Bill Reid Rotunda, the centre piece of which is my favourite sculpture of the whole collection. 'The Raven and the First Men' depicts a legend from the ancestral past of the Haida people when Raven finds humans in a clam shell on the beach. Carved from a giant block of laminated yellow cedar, the sculpture was created in 1980 by Bill Reid, a Canadian artist of American/Haida heritage.
If you aren't already overwhelmed by the wealth of indigenous artwork and craftsmanship on display, you can take a look at the Haida Houses and totem poles outside, which were constructed in the early1960s to emulate those in a 19th century Haida village.
Books, jewellery, prints and artwork by Northwest Coast and indigenous artists from around the world can be found in the museum's shop and if you find yourself in need of light refreshment, there is also a cafe on site.