Dressed for History and more at the MOV

The Museum of Vancouver (MOV) was founded by the Art, Historical, and Scientific Association of Vancouver (AHSA), which was formed on April 17, 1894 with the objective of cultivating “a taste for the beauties and refinements in life.”

Evening Dress, Donaldson’s Vancouver, c. 1938. | Photo courtesy of Museum of Vancouver

Originally, the building was planned to only house a museum, but a generous gift by the lumber magnate H.R. MacMillan allowed the architect to incorporate a planetarium into the design. As a result, the distinctive roof was added, designed to reflect the shape of a woven basket hat made by Northwest Coast First Nations people.

To this day, the MOV has been true to his original objective. It continues to provide enjoyment and inspiration. It aims to connect the people of Vancouver to one another and expose them to the world through stories, objects, fashion and shared experiences.

Along with its permanent galleries, the Museum of Vancouver typically hosts a number of temporary exhibitions. Four temporary exhibitions are presently being showcased at the museum: That Which Sustains Us is about traditions that included Musqueam, Squamish and Tseil-Waututh cultural experts as well as environmental historians and forestry researchers; The City before the City is an exhibition featuring c̓əsnaʔəm, an important ancestral village of the Musqueam First Nation; All we Want is More presents over 70 works by Tobias Wong, the majority from the Wong Estate collection; and the visually stunning Dressed for History is a private collection of women fashion from 1750 to 2000, showcasing how people dress reveals so much about who they are, what they do and what they value.

Why museums?

Viviane Gosselin, director of collections and exhibitions and curator of contemporary culture, shares her perspective when it comes to why museums are key to understanding our lives

Dinner Dress, c. 1873. | Photo courtesy of Museum of Vancouver

“I came to the museum 13 years ago. I was interested in the historical consciousness of visitors. How do people make sense of their past and what is the meaning of a museum within that context?” says Gosselin. “Of course, a museum is only a tiny part of people’s lives. At the same time it is one of the few institutions dedicated to the learning of the past. Everyone goes to school but not everyone goes to university for 20 years. So where do they go? We watch TV, talk to our grandparents and we go to museums. When people visit a museum, how do they connect their lives with what they see?”

Gosselin believes the MOV is the perfect size to explore possibilities and to take chances. Half of the exhibitions come from sharing ideas for what the museum can do for the public. Gosselin states that they try to generate programs that connect to people’s lives.

According to Gosselin, exhibitions take two to three years to develop, including the redevelopment of the museum’s long-term gallery where she hopes visitors will indicate what they want to see and connect. The museum is also looking at environmental justice and climate injustice. In a few weeks it will be opening an exhibition called Repair and Reclaim, the Mahogany Project, which is going to be on display for a year.

“We realized that some of our exhibitions ended up being wasteful so we are now engaging the community to donate materials they do not use. As a result, many people now approach us, for example, the film industry,” she says. “The excitement of having these materials led us to call out to designers who produced prototypes for us.”

Old pieces of wood that were once taking up space and collecting dust are transformed into newly created artifacts. Several artists from around the world were invited to look at these pieces. The pieces will respect traditional methods and concepts but use new technology and new tools.

“The beauty was that materials were transformed not by the museum but by the community coming back to the museum and inspiring people to rethink their use of materials,” says Gosselin.

In 2024, the museum is planning a display called True Tribal, which is about indigenous tattoo traditions through history and inspired by motifs that were found in traditional baskets.

To know more: https://museumofvancouver.ca