Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

From the Neolithic to the Modern: Three new exhibitions highlight RBCM's 2024 season

The Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibit kicks off the season on March 1, followed by Stonehenge: Ancient mysteries, modern discoveries in May, and Canadian Modern in June

Two years after closing the First Peoples ­Gallery as part of a “decolonization” ­process, the Royal British Columbia Museum says it will reopen some of the exhibits before the summer season.

Tracey Drake, acting chief executive of the museum, said a portion of the gallery has been reorganized to reflect more accurate histories of First Nations in the province.

Drake said the museum has worked with a ­committee of First Nations from across British ­Columbia to arrange and curate the gallery for an opening in about five or six weeks — in time for the busy tourism season.

The new exhibits will take up about two thirds of the original space on the museum’s third floor, and the work to build new narratives and arrange more ­accurate histories of the artifacts will continue.

The First Peoples Gallery has been closed since Jan. 1, 2022, as part of the museum’s decolonization process. The Old Town exhibit was also shuttered at the same time and some displays, like Captain Vancouver’s ship and the mining and canning-industry displays, were permanently removed.

Some of the Old Town section reopened last summer, and bringing back the large ship in some form hasn’t been ruled out.

The museum, meanwhile, started a second round of community engagement across the province, ­asking British Columbians for feedback on the museum’s ­location, content and accessibility.

In the first phase early last year, museum staff held sessions across the province to talk about the museum’s future and the physical challenges facing the building, which has seismic safety issues.

Feedback from those in-person and virtual sessions helped shape the second phase, which started with museum visitors just before Christmas. The museum set up iPad stations and QR codes to engage visitors, and staff in the museum are asking visitors to complete a 19-question survey.

Engagement will move to in-person and virtual ­sessions this year, with events in about 32 communities planned so far.

“We’re seeking understanding from the people of B.C. on how we can better respond to the needs of ­communities across the province. How can we be a better provincial museum to all British Columbians?” Drake said.

The survey focuses on four themes: location, ­Indigenous reconciliation, diversity and representation, and inclusion and accessibility.

The survey also considers reducing the focus on the downtown site and redistributing programming throughout the province via travelling, satellite or locally hosted exhibitions, or moving the museum out of its downtown location to a new site in Greater ­Victoria.

“Nothing is off the table,” Drake said.

The First Peoples Gallery opening comes on the heels of the museum announcing three new major ­travelling exhibits this season.

web1_18-2560px-mark-williams
Cover: Mark Williams of Jordan River took this ­photograph of a three-legged Arctic fox in ­Nunavut in the summer of 2022. It appears in the Wildlife ­Photographer of the Year exhibit coming to the Royal B.C. Museum starting March 1. MARK WILLIAMS VIA ROYAL B.C. MUSEUM

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Opens March 1

Now in its 59th year on tour, the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibit by the U.K.’s Natural History Museum has been a perennial favourite at the museum. It traditionally kicks off the museum’s year, but scheduling for the massively popular exhibit has been bumped to start on March 1.

It’s the 10th time the Victoria museum has hosted the exhibit of the top 100 entries.

What began in 1965 as a magazine competition has blossomed into one of the world’s most prestigious photography awards, with more than 45,000 global entries each year and a touring exhibition seen by millions. This year, 95 countries were represented among the entries.

Drake said this year’s exhibit includes two local shooters with “stunning” entries.

Garth Lenz of Victoria — a natural and industrial landscape photographer whose work has appeared in Time magazine, GEO, National Geographic Society, The New York Times, Canadian Geographic, The Guardian and Esquire — has an aerial photo of the massive Bingham Canyon mine site in Utah, the largest open excavation on Earth.

Lenz said the mine has significantly affected both wildlife and human populations, is a significant health risk and releases large amounts of toxic sulphur dioxide, lead, mercury and arsenic.

The aerial photo was shot from a fixed-wing aircraft courtesy of the environmental flying service Lighthawk on a turbulent day, he said. “As we passed over the mine the thermals, as a result of the reflected heat from the denuded landscape and the deep pit, caused the plane to be thrown about very roughly, throwing my head against the ceiling of the plane and the edge of the open window repeatedly while the camera banged into my face.”

A few months after the image was created, Lenz said, two landslides, 95 minutes apart, destroyed a massive section of the mine, resulting in the largest non-volcanic slide in North America’s modern history and producing enough debris to bury New York City’s Central Park 20 metres deep and triggering 16 small earthquakes.

Mark Williams of Jordan River has two photos in the exhibit. One portrays an Arctic Fox backlit by the sun, whole the other is a dramatic drone shot of five belugas surfacing among fragments of sea ice.

Both of Williams’ photos were captured in Nunavut during the summer of 2022 while he was working as a guide at Arctic Watch Wilderness Lodge on Somerset Island.

Williams, who is currently aboard a research vessel in the Antarctic, told the CBC he hopes the photos help people relate to Arctic species affected by climate change.

web1_stonehendge-sun
Opposite page: The sun sets at Stonehenge in southern England. The ancient monument consists of an outer ring of vertical standing stones, each around four metres high, 2.1 m wide, and weighing around 25 tonnes, topped by connecting horizontal lintel stones. Inside is a ring of smaller bluestones. MUSEUMS PARTNERS

Stonehenge: Ancient mysteries, modern discoveries

Opens May 10 and runs to January 2025

Scholars and visitors to Stonehenge on English’s Salisbury Plain have long been puzzled by the prehistoric monument

But after years of excavation and ground-breaking advances in science and archaeology, scientists are closer than ever to understanding Stonehenge. The exhibition opening May 10 at the Royal B.C. Museum features more than 400 ancient artifacts and uses cutting-edge scientific research to answer questions about the mysterious World Heritage Site.

Museums Partners, which brought Angkor to the museum last year, said Stonehenge visitors will leave the exhibition with new insights into what Stonehenge meant to the people who built it and what it means to the world today.

Original objects from the site in southern England include stone tools, antler picks, cremated human remains, pottery from Neolithic long barrows and gold and bronze burial objects from the Amesbury Archer and Bush Barrow Man

There are also “hands-on” elements such as interactive tables, touch screens, videos, slide shows and digital animations for kids. Multimedia displays will explain connections between Stonehenge and movements of the sun and moon, solstices and eclipses.

Scientists say the new understanding of Stonehenge is built on evidence recovered not just from site but from the surrounding landscape and elsewhere in Britain. The people who built Stonehenge were among Britain’s earliest farmers, living 4,500 to 5,000 years ago — about 200 generations ago.

The exhibit, which is on a world tour and coming to Victoria from Denver, Colorado, was developed in co-operation with the UCL Institute of Archaeology, Wiltshire Museum, the Salisbury Museum, English Heritage and The National Trust.

web1_modern---bonnie-henry-shoes
Dr. Bonnie Henry shoe, designed by John Fluevog, from the ­Canadian Modern exhibit. PAUL EEKHOFF, ROYAL ONTARIO MUSEUM

Canadian Modern 

Opens June 28

Canadian Modern explores some of the country’s best-known designs in electronics, ceramics, fashion and furniture, featuring more than 100 objects.

From Clairtone’s Project G stereo and the first Blackberry to John Fluevog’s footwear — think the shoes designed for COVID fighting provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry — the exhibition showcases examples of culturally significant, limited-edition and mass-produced objects designed and crafted in Canada, and the stories behind them.

Inspired by everything from pop culture and the Swinging Sixties to Canada’s natural landscape and the Space Race, Canadian innovation was embraced by global markets, putting the country’s designs on the world stage. according to the Royal Ontario Museum, where the exhibit originates.

Whether it’s fashion, furniture, jewellery, electronics, or ceramics, each object tells a story — some new, some nostalgic — and the exhibition invites visitors to take a fresh look at everyday objects, the ROM says.

Designers including Alfred Sung, Michael Massie, Hugh Spencer, Jeremy Laing, Jeff Goodman, Karin Jones, Michael Fortune and Daphne Odjig are represented. Interviews, advertising and digital media in the exhibition provide greater context

“Expect to be surprised by how creative Canadians have been,” said Drake, adding some of the Royal B.C. Museum’s own artifacts will be added to the show.

dkloster@timescolonist.com