In addition to its dramatic natural setting and superb selection of restaurants, Vancouver has a handful of world-class museums. Two of these are an easy walk from my recommended hotels, and the third is well worth the taxi ride.
Located across Robson Square from the Rosewood Hotel Georgia, this museum occupies a neoclassical former provincial courthouse building. It devotes most of its space to temporary exhibitions, including rotating displays of its large permanent collection, which is anchored by British Columbian painter Emily Carr. We saw a number of her brooding paintings in the Emily Carr and Wolfgang Paalen in British Columbia exhibition, displaying Munch-like scenes of decaying totem poles and ancient forests. Other temporary exhibitions included gritty and surreal street photographs by Harry Callahan, ornate and unsettling paintings and sculptures by Bharti Kher and works by Picasso that illuminate the influence of six women on his artistic development.
Vancouver Art Gallery
750 Hornby Street. Tel. (604) 662-4700
Near the Vancouver Art Gallery, this space focuses almost exclusively on masterpieces by Bill Reid, whose works reflect his Haida heritage. Like Emily Carr, he ranks among Canada’s most important artists, and the sculptures, prints and paintings in this gallery make it easy to understand why. His striking formline prints and bentwood boxes represent some of the most impressive examples of the mediums. I also loved his exquisite gold jewelry, frequently decorated with Haida repoussé.
Bill Reid Gallery
639 Hornby Street. Tel. (604) 682-3455
A contemporary structure inspired by First Nations house posts, this museum sits atop the sea cliffs of West Point Grey, a 20- to 30-minute taxi ride from downtown, on the campus of the University of British Columbia. The Great Hall alone makes the trip worthwhile, with its magnificent display of monumental totem poles, house posts, canoes, bentwood boxes and feasting dishes, many of which date from the 19th century. The museum also contains masterpieces by Bill Reid, such as his immense “The Raven and the First Men” sculpture, in addition to ethnographic objects from around the globe. Be sure to go around the back of the museum to see the arrangement of poles and houses modeled on a 19th-century Haida village. The tranquil Nitobe Memorial Garden is a five-minute walk from the museum.
Museum of Anthropology
6393 Northwest Marine Drive. Tel. (604) 827-5932