First Nations

Trip Start Sep 23, 2009
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Trip End Oct 09, 2009


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Flag of Canada  , British Columbia,
Friday, September 25, 2009

I was keen to visit the Museum of Anthropology, housed at the University of British Columbia. This was a light and airy museum, devoted to the local First Nations.  It was filled with carvings; serving dishes, totems, panels and bentwood boxes; some pieces were over a century old, others were modern works.  The workmanship was very detailed, and although styles varied the pieces all displayed the same power and intensity as the totems in Stanley Park.  One of my favourite pieces was an enormous wolf sugar bowl.  It was made up of three bowls, each about a metre long, and would have been used to contain sugar to give as gifts to guests at potlatch ceremonies.  In its mouth, the wolf held a huge wooden serving spoon.  It was a colourful and ostentatious carving, full of life and a bit of humour.  As well as the wolf, there were bowls in the shape of seals, bears and beavers.  Just like the wolf sugar bowl, these were used during ceremonies and celebrations.  We were surrounded by grinning mouths and sharp teeth, razor beaks, paws and claws.  Each creature had its own personality and attributes.  Eagle is wise and powerful.  Orca is the traveller.  Bear is strong and stalwart.  The raven is the troublesome one, the cause of all the mischief.  For some reason, Jim seemed to feel the biggest affinity with Raven.  I am nothing like that, of course.

The centrepiece of the museum was 'The Raven and the Clam', a sculpture by Bill Reid.  Carved from yellow cedar, it told a story of Creation.  A huge flood had covered the face of the earth.  When the waters subsided, Raven went walking along the beach.  The trickster found a clam shell, full of squirming pink creatures.  They were terrified of the light and whatever lay outside their shell.  Raven told them tales of the world's wonders, and his golden words enticed the creatures out from the clam shell's shelter.  The first humans took their faltering steps into the bright light of the world.  The sculpture was housed in a rotunda which had once been a gun tower.  An enormous skylight let light flood in to the dark space, a place constructed for death was turned into somewhere to celebrate life.  I liked the symbolism, and I liked the sculpture.

In the afternoon we went to Granville Island.  This was one of the arty parts of town, and was home to a plethora of art galleries and craft shops.  Yachts crowded the marinas, and waterfront cafes and bars looked over towards the downtown towers.  Jim and I took an Aquabus around the harbour, shopped for paper and drank British Columbian wine in the sunshine.  The evening took us to the bar of the swanky Hotel Vancouver for martinis, then on to Gas Town to explore the city nightlife. 
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