Shake Up: An exhibition to mark seismic upgrades at MOA

The Eagle Halibut pole by Oyai (Nisga’a), made circa 1860, being inspected by MOA Conservation staff in the summer of 2018 in preparation for the Great Hall seismic upgrades | Photo by Kiel Torres

The Museum of Anthropology (MOA) is at the start of an extensive seismic upgrade project to protect the iconic Great Hall and preserve the invaluable Northwest Coast Collection for generations to come. Shake Up: Preserving What We Value is a brand new exhibition designed to coincide with the upgrades and provide visitors with the chance to learn about earthquakes from a variety of viewpoints.

Very quickly after we learnt that we had the opportunity to upgrade the Great Hall for earthquake protection, we got excited about sharing what was going on at the museum and amplifying the messages beyond the protection of the architecture and of our historic building and the collections,” explains Jennifer Kramer, curator of the Pacific Northwest collection and co-curator of Shake Up.

The exhibition is set to open in four phases over the coming months and will include an array of exhibits including infographics, interactive interviews and performances, contemporary artworks and live earthquake tracking. There will also be the opportunity for the public to view parts of the totem pole restoration process as the exhibition develops.

“We are using different perspectives to bring attention to something we all know in the back of our heads,” says Jill Baird, Curator of Education at MOA and co-curator of Shake Up. “So many of the earth scientists we’ve spoken to say there’s a pretty confident history marked on the land that every 300 to 500 years there’s a massive earthquake on the West Coast of North America, and we’re getting close to that as the last one was in 1700. So maybe it is time to be prepared.”

Be prepared, not scared

MOA is not taking any chances and will be employing a team of experts in structural engineering and construction to sensitively preserve the museum’s architecture and collections housed within.

“We’re showing the process of the museum getting prepared so that the audience can think about what they need to do to get prepared,” says Kramer.

Kramer identifies earthquake-
prone cities as a global issue. The Northwest Coast of British Columbia sits on the Ring of fire along with Chile, New Zealand, the Pacific Islands, Japan, Alaska, California.

“We are all in this together and so it is everyone’s duty to come together to be prepared, not scared,” she says.

Indigenous knowledge component

The Earthquake mask is by John Davis (‘Nakwaxda’xw), before 1939 and is part of the MOA Collection. | Photo by Jessica Bushey

Baird and Kramer have worked collaboratively to include a variety of perspectives and knowledge bases in this exhibition, which will include include historical First Nations accounts of seismic activity.

“One of the most important messages that we want to get across to Indigenous communities is that we are caring for their cultural heritage,”
explains Kramer. “We have an area [of the exhibition] that we are calling the Indigenous Knowledge Component, which is a series of films, songs and translations that talks about various ways of thinking about earthquakes and tsunamis from three different First Nations areas in British Columbia.”

In January 2019, an earthquake mask from MOA’s collection by John Davis will be on display accompanied by a short video of a similar Kwakwaka’wakw earthquake mask being danced at a potlatch. There will also be two large First Nations artworks displayed on the hoarding being used to block off the Great Hall. One by Tim Paul (Hesquiaht) and the other by Haida artist, tattooist and curator Kwiaahwah Jones.

“To be featured at MOA is a dream come true,” says Jones. “I lived in Vancouver for about half of my life, and whenever I got homesick for Haida Gwaii, MOA was the place I would go. All the poles at MOA were actually cut down by Bill Reid and my grandfather and his uncle. So it feels like a beautiful way to connect to my ancestors and to the greater people.”

Jones’s artwork depicts a wasgo, a supernatural being resembling a two-finned sea wolf who’s skinned by a man from Skidegate village in order to take on supernatural powers. It is his competitions with other supernatural beings that are said to have won him the power of holding up Haida Gwaii.

“I wanted to depict a wasgo to keep it simple and to talk about the strength of the supernatural in our world and who holds up our land,” says Jones. “I think the Indigenous view really beautifully combines science and spirit and I think we’ve done it quite well for a long time, and so it is exciting that wonderful places like MOA feature them with such integrity and profound respect. I hope people visiting MOA will leave this exhibition with a sound sense of the sophistication of Indigenous cultures.”

For more information about the exhibition, please visit