In the case of Vancouver, stunning geography dominates any sense of history. Yet, you can’t know someone simply by staring; you need to talk with them, to learn where they’re from. Being from British Columbia, I thought I knew Vancouver. A recent trip to the Museum of Vancouver (MOV) exposed my presumption.
Prompted by the gift of two free passes, Leanne and I thought the MOV might be a reasonable way to occupy our kids on a dreary February afternoon. To our delight the MOV greatly exceeded this humble goal. Its fascinating and interactive displays take you decade-by-decade through the city’s history (our kids loved the 60s dress-up clothes!). The exhibits draw attention to the unique ethos of Vancouver as both very British and significantly Asian. Although this bi-dentity led to tragic failures of interaction, such as anti-Asian riots and the internment of the Japanese during WWII, Vancouver’s maturing multicultural DNA is not a recent “cosmetic” addition.
I found it interesting to see how deeply the protest culture of the 1960s burrowed into what had been a very conservative city. For example, the lack of freeways in Vancouver (a fact much-lamented by many American students!) is not due to negligent city planners but resistant citizens. Such “protest power” birthed the international environmental group Greenpeace in 1969 (and Regent College in 1970!?). Although today Vancouver “dresses up” well to appear as corporate and materialistic as any other North American city, the counter-culture marks her soul.
The highlight of our visit came at the MOV’s temporary exhibition, Sweater Lodge UnLatched. SweaterLodge is an architectural installation, consisting of an enormous (12.2m x 26.5m!) orange fleece jacket, made entirely from recycled bottles and designed by Vancouver-based Pechet and Robb Art and Architecture. Displayed in a way to evoke First Nations architecture, this piece draws attention to the continuity between clothing and architecture as forms of shelter.