A visit to the Canadian National Patriarchy Museum

Last Thanksgiving, I decided to abdicate; I went to Victoria, BC for a long quiet weekend alone. I took myself out to high tea instead of Thanksgiving dinner. It was lovely.

To get to Victoria, I took the Clipper, which is a very nice three-hour ferry ride. It leaves from the north side of the Seattle waterfront at 8am, though, and I was told to be there by 7am. Because I’m me, that meant I needed to be there by 6:45am at latest, in case of traffic or unforeseen delays, and because of the Seattle transit system, that meant I had to take the bus that got me there at 6:10am (because it was either 6:10 or 6:50), which meant I had to leave at 5:40am, which meant I got up at 5:15am. Well, actually it meant I woke up at 5am and then got out of bed at 5:15am. And again, because I’m me, I went to sleep the night before at about 2:30am. Sooooo by the time I got to Victoria at 11am, I wasn’t thinking suuuuuper clearly, and I hadn’t eaten yet.

I couldn’t check into my Airbnb until 3pm when the host got off work, so I decided I’d have a nice little walk and get lunch. I had done some cursory research online on the ferry, but not in extreme detail because I kept losing reception, so I knew that a) Victoria was small; b) the walk from the ferry terminal through downtown to my Airbnb involved about two turns, so there was no chance I’d get lost; and c) the Royal British Columbia Museum was right near the ferry terminal. Crucially, the museum was between the ferry terminal and the lunch area of town, so I decided (obviously) to put Art first and make that my first stop. Also, museums usually have a coat room, so I could leave my carryon there and wander around looking at art unencumbered. Perfect!
After leaving the ferry (or “deboarding” as the captain put it, even though “disembarking” is a perfectly good word), I headed in the direction I’d planned, dazzled by late November sunshine, which was extra sparkly because I was hungry and half asleep. After a block or so I looked over, and saw the museum. And what a museum! It was massive, and ornate, and pretty much everything a museum ought to be. I could hardly wait to look at all the amazing art it surely had to contain.
This is only part of it; it’s much bigger
The grand entry staircase was shut because it had a giant Christmas tree in it, but that was ok; the side staircase was open, and it had a uniformed greeter at the door. How nice! As I got closer (after walking up the surprisingly long gated driveway through the grounds), I noticed that the greeter had a sidearm, but I was hungry, so I didn’t really think too much of it. I hauled my carryon up the steps and stopped at the top because the greeter put his hand on the door as if to open it, but then he didn’t. Instead, he (in a very polite Canadian way) asked me some questions.
“Where are you from? What brings you here? Would you like to go inside? Will you be taking the tour?”
“…Seattle! Oh, just in town to visit for the weekend. Yes please, I’d love to! Is it open? No thank you, I don’t need a tour, I’ll just wander around on my own if that’s alright. Is there a place I can check my bag?”
“Oh yes, you’re welcome to come in and explore, no need to take the tour, but the next one is at 1pm if you’re interested. No. You’ll need to keep your bag with you.”
“…Um, ok… sounds good!”
What a nice, friendly greeter. It seemed maybe a little odd, but I was tired, and it’s Canada, they must have different museum customs here… lalala.
So in I went, and started to wander through. My first priority was finding the bathroom, so although I did make it through about half of the first floor before I figured it out, that counts as a slight defense, I think….

First slow thought: “Hmmm, I wonder where the galleries are? Most of the doors are shut and I don’t see signs. And no one offered me a helpful map of the exhibits, that’s odd.”

Second thought: “There sure are a lot of portraits in the halls! Maybe this floor is more of a portrait gallery, and the main art is on the upper levels. Hmmmm. Wow, there are so many pictures of old white dudes.”
Whole lotta old white guys
After about eight minutes and half of the first floor, it dawned on me, but I had to consult the map on my phone to be certain. I wasn’t in the Royal British Columbia Museum. Oh no. I was in Parliament.
Exhibit A: museum (has gift shop)
Exhibit B: not a museum (has armed guards)

But hey, I was already in there. And it was a pretty building. And there were sooooo many portraits, some with explanatory notes, and no other tourists roaming around, only staff members, going in and out of doors that said “Staff Only”. So I decided to continue my viewing as scheduled, and pretend I was in a museum, since it kind of was, in a way. I gave myself a self-guided tour of the Canadian National Patriarchy Museum:

The portraits of old white dudes go back a long way;
the beards get longer the further back you go
A side hallway had portraits of young white dudes before they
grew their beards and became old white dudes
Some of the later portraits exhibit the use of color photography,
while others prefer the classic look
I really appreciate that the guy on the lower left went for the
crazy backdrop, instead of the boring solid color
A lady! She’s helpfully wearing pink so you can differentiate.
Map of the galleries
They have a space for live performance; more and more common
in museums these days
They also have some documentation of past performances, which is always
helpful for live art



Showing different seating configurations for past performances
Historic elevator doors, or chamber of secrets?!
A recreation of a classic religious altar is a high point of the
cultural portion of the exhibit. Although the society is
patriarchal, they worship a maternal figurehead


Toward the end I was really tempted to tuck my carryon in a corner and go incognito among the staff in order to explore the behind-the-scenes areas, but I know what happens if you leave a piece of luggage unattended in parliament. I didn’t want to get arrested, or cause a national incident, or have all my clothes for the weekend blown up.

Instead, after I finished my tour, I went next door (across the grounds and a street) to the ACTUAL museum, where I had another, smaller surprise when I remembered that there are such things as museums that aren’t art museums, and this was one of them. It did, however, have a coat check, and a really lovely and detailed exhibit on the native languages and cultures of the Pacific Northwest that was beautifully and respectfully put together. Well done, Canada, even if your governmental history is just as white and bearded as ours.

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