Museum attracts visitors despite construction

  • Sep. 11, 2006 5:00 p.m.

By Charlotte Tarver-While building construction carried on at the Haida Heritage Centre in Skidegate, normal operation of the Haida Gwaii Museum during the high-visitation summer months continued to be a challenge for a second summer. The museum is crowded with storage of artefacts and collections, exhibits are moved and squashed together, and parts of the building were closed. Construction noise was sometimes loud, disturbing the peace of the normally quiet museum. Despite this, visitors continued to flock to the museum to see the exhibits and to learn about Haida culture and the natural history of the Islands.
To enable the museum to remain open this summer while it was a hubbub of construction, two college students were hired and trained to give guided tours to visitors. The tours were offered twice daily, 4 days per week. Most visitors took the tour since it was included in their admission. Most days there were 12 to 15 visitors per tour. On one tour there were 31 people.
Beginning on July 3, Janine Williams and Tabitha Mearns, both from Skidegate, expertly guided visitors through the busy construction site. Tabitha and Janine’s natural poise and personal knowledge of Haida history captured people’s interest. During the hour-long tour, visitors learned much about Haida culture, the heritage centre and the six poles raised in 2003.
Beginning outside the buildings Janine and Tabitha took people past the poles and new buildings of the centre. They would stop at each pole and tell its story, a bit about the carver and how the individual carver developed his design via consultation with chiefs, elders and the clans. They explained what the future use of each “long house” behind the poles would be. Their information made the centre come alive to visitors, enabling them to see what the facility will look like when it opens in 2007.
During one tour, Janine and Tabitha spoke of how some exhibits will combine Haida oral stories and current scientific findings. Tabitha said, “According to our myths, Ice Woman told us where to go during the ice age and now scientific research confirms there were areas here with no ice.”
The guides pointed out the main house of the centre. It has a traditional-style house design but has a glass roof. This building will be the entrance and will contain the Trading House (gift shop) with an exhibit on Haida trading history. Also in the entrance area will be a display with three button blankets representing the three partners of the centre: the Skidegate Band Council, the Haida Gwaii Museum Society and Parks Canada.
Throughout their tours, Janine and Tabitha laced their interpretations with interesting and sometimes funny personal vignettes about each pole. Janine told how Guujaaw, the carver of the Cumshewa pole, picked out the tallest cedar log for his pole. His long-time friend, Jim Hart, who carved the Skedans pole, had a slightly shorter log to carve. Just before it was raised, he stuck a stick on top of his pole, making it taller than Guujaaw’s.
The tours ended in late August when Tabitha and Janine returned to college. Tabitha attends UNBC in Prince George and is majoring in psychology. Janine attends Kwantlen College in Surrey and plans to eventually become a lawyer.

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