Vancouver is known for its natural surroundings. Between the city’s proximity to mountains, the rainforest, the oceans and all those natural habitats, we’re about as close to nature as an urban centre can be.
But a new exhibit at the Museum of Vancouver challenges some of our perceptions about that connection. By looking at the city’s history through a non-human historical lens, Rewilding Vancouver asks just how much European settlement has changed the area, what we’ve lost and what we’ve gained – and what the future might hold.
The exhibit does this through taxidermy specimens, 3D models, soundscapes, videos and photos. In 12 tableaux, animals past, present and future are presented in store-window-type displays. Ravens, wolves and elk recede into history as crows, coyotes and black-tailed deer settle in.
One of the more thought-provoking elements is bound to be a life-sized creation of a Steller’s Sea Cow. The large, herbivorous marine mammal was abundant in the North Pacific until the last half of the 18th century, when it was hunted into extinction.
Rewilding Vancouver was curated by J.B. Mackinnon. A local author, MacKinnon co-wrote The 100-Mile Diet and, more recently, The Once and Future World.
“The book looks at the history of nature and what it tells us about nature today and in the future,” MacKinnon said. “It roams the globe. I didn’t focus on Vancouver or B.C. or Canada, I went to Hawaii, northern Mexico, Spain, looking at what nature was like in the past. The historical version shows a natural world that is much more abundant than what we know today.”
MacKinnon suggested applying some of the ideas in the book to his hometown, and the Museum of Vancouver liked the idea.
“There are a lot of real surprises in the exhibit,” MacKinnon said.
“I think most Vancouverites will be surprised by a lot of things they’ll encounter. For instance, there were no earthworms here until the Europeans arrived, and now there are more than 20 species wriggling through the soil. They haven’t been here long enough for us to know what changes they might cause over the long term as they move into the undisturbed forest.”
The Museum of Vancouver hosts an opening night reception for Rewilding Vancouver tonight (Feb. 26). The show itself runs Feb. 27 – Sept. 1 2014, Tues.-Sun. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. and Thursdays until 8 p.m. at the Museum (1100 Chestnut Street). Admission is $8-12. For more info visit museumofvancouver.ca or call 604-736-4431.