Our unforgettable day at the Manitoba Museum
I asked a woman checking us in at the campground, “What is there to see in Winnipeg that we should not miss?” She mentioned The Forks, which we’d already seen, and then she mentioned the Manitoba Museum. She added, “But allow plenty of time because it will take you five hours to go through it!”
The Manitoba Museum did seem like a good place to learn about the province, so we took her advice and went to see it, figuring her time estimate was just an example of excessive local pride. The parking meter stamped us in at 10:45. Six and a half hours later we were on overload, moving fast through the exhibits and just stopping to glance at the highlights. Fortunately the museum closed or we’d probably still be there. The Manitoba Museum is that good!
Most museums have good stuff mixed in with the less interesting stuff. You can usually skim through the less interesting stuff and even bypass some of it altogether. But at the Manitoba Museum it’s all good stuff - so good that you find yourself reading every word of every exhibit. Not only do you want to read it all (and there is a lot to read) but you stand there thinking about it after you’ve read it. It’s diabolical.
I picture museum curators, sitting around on those Manitoba dark winter days, plotting ways to trap people and keep them standing in front of every fossil for twenty minutes. And they’ve got it figured out!
The museum is composed of 9 Exhibit Galleries, a Science Gallery and a Planetarium Theater. The Planetarium runs six different shows, repeating them throughout the day. There are two star shows and four musical laser shows. We attended an excellent star show titled The Manitoba Sky, skipped the Science Gallery in the interests of time, and spent the rest of the day in the 9 Exhibit Galleries.
The first two galleries are devoted to Orientation and Earth History, and we spent the first two hours in those two galleries alone. Exhibits focus not only on Manitoba, but on how Manitoba relates to the rest of Canada, the continent and the world. No fact or artifact is presented without context, and the fascination lies in discovering the links and interrelatedness of things. The world’s largest trilobite fossil was discovered in Churchill, Manitoba - a subtropical creature that existed where today people go to see polar bears. How and when did Churchill move from the equator to the arctic circle? Where will Churchill be in another hundred million years?
Gallery 3 focuses on the Arctic and Sub-Arctic, bringing that landscape alive through exhibits on aboriginal people, wildlife, permafrost, exploration and exploitation. Gallery 4 does the same with the Boreal Forest, Gallery 7 with the Parklands and Gallery 8 with the Grasslands. Manitoba is presented as a place so rich in history and nature that you begin to wonder why every Canadian doesn’t want to come here!
Galleries 5 and 6 are devoted to the Nonsuch and to the Hudson Bay Company. Nonsuch was a 17th century sailing ship that traveled from England to the Hudson Bay. It’s voyage was instrumental in opening the area up to trade, and to the formation of the Hudson Bay Company which is still in existence today. A life sized replica was built in England a few years ago. It was built using the same materials as the original ship, and whenever possible using the same shipbuilding techniques. It sailed to several ports in England before being shipped to Canada where it visited several ports in Canada and the U.S. before making it’s final home in the Manitoba Museum. It is an exquisite piece of craftsmanship, and a treasure of the museum. A well informed and enthusiastic docent took us through and spent a lot of time telling us about it.
By the time we got to Gallery 9 (Urban) we were out of time and turning into zombies. We were also hurrying to get out before the museum locked us in. We left the museum and drove back to camp, our minds full of all we’d seen. This day will live in our memories for a long time, and the things we learned will enrich our lives and our understanding for years to come. What more could you ask of any museum?