Bill Reid and the Haida Canoe Exhibit – Held Over until March 24

Bill Reid's Black Eagle Canoe. Photo Credit: Harry Foster

Haven’t had a chance yet to check out the Bill Reid and the Haida Canoe Exhibit at downtown’s Bill Reid Gallery?  You’re in luck.  The landmark exhibition – exploring the dramatic role of the canoe in Northwest Coast art and culture – is being extended through March 24.

So what’s so important about the canoe?  In the word’s of Bill Reid himself, the artist who nearly single-handedly triggered a renaissance in first nations art in Canada: “Western art starts with the figure – West Coast Indian art starts with the canoe.”  In other words, the canoe is much more than just a means of transportation: It’s a work of art that embodies an entire culture.

The exhibit itself is a collection of sketches by Reid, as well as photos of canoe building by acclaimed photographers Phil Hersee and Robert Semeniuk, that together convey the central role of the canoe in Northwest Coast art, cultures and communities.

Bill Reid’s most famous canoe, of course, was the 15-metre war canoe Lootaas (Wave eater), which was carved from a single cedar tree in the Haida Gwaii islands off the BC coast.  Created for Expo ’86, the world’s fair held in Vancouver, the massive canoe was the first of its kind carved in the 20th century and wowed spectators.   It triggered a rebirth in canoe building across the province of British Columbia, as well as the reemergence of traditional tribal canoe journeys and festivals among first nations peoples.

The Lootaas canoe enjoyed a rich legacy.  It was subsequently paddled all the way from the Haida Gawii islands to Alaska, and it even made an honorary journey up the Seine River to be displayed in Paris’ Museum of Man.  When Bill Reid died in 1998 at age 78, the canoe was used to transport his ashes back to his ancestral home on Haida Gwaii.

The Bill Reid and the Haida Canoe exhibition runs through March 24 at the Bill Reid Gallery (639 Hornby St.).  Admission is $10 for adults. 

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