“Do you sell tacos?”
It’s the first week of May 2019, and Colin, Katie-pup and I are taking the little red trailer out for 5 days in Utah to celebrate our 20th anniversary. The trailer is parked outside our house for packing, and two people have come by now looking hungry, asking if we might be selling food. If we ever decide to jump ship from the Museum, I guess we’ve got a shoe-in to open up a food truck business.
So begins our flashback blog; the high desert of Utah in the shadow of the Henry Mountains seems the perfect place to cast our thoughts back to where we last left you, high and dry (actually kind of wet and soggy, but quite happy) in northern Washington, ready to cross over to Canada.
June 16, 2017, Port Angeles on the northern end of the Olympic Peninsula: Colin and I had booked a room – the only hotel stay of our entire sabbatical – near the harbor, at a place that let us leave our truck parked for the whole day. We’d opted to leave the truck Stateside and take our bikes instead, making the round trip crossing just $100 for the two of us, instead of $168 plus who-knows-what for parking when we got there.
Timing is everything. Black Ball Ferry carried us across the Salish Sea under blue skies dotted with clouds, and we arrived in Victoria’s harbor just as the Aboriginal Cultural Festival was kicking off. Members of the Songhees Nation were paddling traditional canoes (some paddling, some taking photos; one of the elders in elaborate regalia was singing, while others were decked out in high tech weather gear), and being greeted by elders of the Esquimalt Nation on the dock – whose songs in response told the Songhees Nation that they were welcomed in peace. Later, we’d see dancing by the hosting nations and eat frybread and salmon burgers from food trucks owned by aboriginal peoples of the area. Aboriginal: we learned this is the preferred phrase by the first nations people in Canada.
We visited the Royal BC Museum and found it to be quite outstanding. Over a museum career of 20 years and counting, I’ve had the chance to sample institutions across the United States and beyond. The Royal BC Museum is top notch, showing a level of honesty, inclusivity, and relevance that I rarely see.
I wept in an exhibition about Terry Fox, an athlete who lost his leg to cancer in the 1980’s and ran across Canada raising money and awareness using what, by our standards today, can only be described as the most rudimentary of prosthetics. Terry ran for 143 days and 3337 miles before he was forced to quit when cancer returned in his lungs. He remains a Canadian legend.
Family Bonds & Belonging took us on an intimate journey into the lives of Canadian families of all stripes. The exhibition began with the stories of a Lekwungen Songhee family, and juxtaposed these with those of immigrant families who came later. A family portrait from 1900 showed three fancy folk and their standard poodle. There were the two ketubot (Jewish marriage documents) of a couple who had married twice – first as two women and then, decades later, as man and woman. Next to the cake topper of yet another couple, the signage contained the line “A tiered cake might be topped with a bride and groom. Or two grooms. Marriage equality is a sign of social change.” The entire exhibition was delightful and refreshing in its acceptance and celebration of so many lives and ways of living.
“A tiered cake might be topped with a bride and groom. Or two grooms. Marriage equality is a sign of social change.”
– Family Bonds & Belonging
We wandered through the permanent collections, playing with the interactives and enjoying a moment of being on a busman’s holiday. I chose a book for my museum team written by the Royal Ontario’s CEO on how to present content that is honest, inclusive, and relevant. I charged it to my museum credit card, which was promptly rejected for suspected fraud and cancelled by the credit card company. I guess their credit bureau didn’t see the situation as honest, inclusive… or relevant.
Our day in Victoria was quickly coming to an end. With just an hour or two to go, we took a bike ride through Beacon Hill, a flower-filled, 200-acre park of twisty paths and strong historical connection for the Lekwongen people, to see a famous totem pole. In 1956, Mungo Martin, tribal chief and carver, led the carving of the world’s largest free-standing totem pole carved from a single cedar log. We stood for a while, casting our eyes upward in awe to the very top of it, 127 feet above us in the clear blue sky.
It reminded us of the Luxor Oblisk we had seen at the Place de la Concord in Paris on our honeymoon nearly two decades before, 75 feet tall and 3,000 years old. Tall columns, these odes to human presence, are just cool.
Time for a quick lemonade before boarding the ferry back to Washington, and heading back to Aunt Pat.