What better artistic inspiration is there than the natural world? I had the very fortunate opportunity to wander the halls (and drawers) of the Beaty Biodiversity Museum, located in Vancouver, Canada, on the campus of the University of British Columbia. It's a unique collection of over 500 natural history exhibits from both the local Canadian province, and beyond. What makes exploring the Beaty so unique can be found in its unofficial title, as "the best collection of weird things in drawers." To put it simply -- your own curiosity will curate your experience, as you navigate through literally millions of specimens. This is an ecologically Jaunty must-see the next time you're in Vancouver, BC.
Your breath is immediately taken away, the moment you walk into the Beaty, as you're greeted by their rare blue whale exhibit that hangs in the main entrance hall. One of only 21 blue whale skeletons on display in the world, this is from a female blue whale that had died and washed ashore on Prince Edward Island, along the eastern shores of Canada. The skeleton was eventually moved to BC, and underwent years of cleanup and articulation before being able to be displayed quite impressively at the Beaty.
From the light of day into the mysterious, darkened halls below, their permanent collections include specimens organized by tetrapods (mammals/birds/amphibians/reptiles), herbs/plants, marine invertebrates (crustaceans/mollusks/sponges), fish, insects, and fossils. While some of the larger specimens are displayed in large glass cabinets, the real gem of the Beaty is that the majority of the specimens are in numerous drawers, all over their categorized hallways.
Your curiosity is encouraged. Open ALL the drawers. Seriously -- go nuts. I did. They're not clearly marked, at least from what I could tell, and other than the collection theme you're in, you literally have no idea what you'll find, which is absolute joy. Parrots? Fish? Bugs? Every drawer feels like a treasure awaiting to be discovered. I found delicately preserved edible fruits and vegetables in one drawer...
... And a bag of dried seahorses in another drawer! Specimens are labeled, with interesting facts and the role this plant or creature has on the ecosystem as a whole. The seahorse drawer was particularly interesting because they had samples of packaging from countries that actually eat seahorses for medicinal purposes.
There are fossils everywhere, even underfoot. Heavy glass displays are set into the floor, so you're literally walking over prehistoric fish and dinosaur bones. This is definitely a kid-friendly place, but don't feel like you need to have kids to enjoy it -- I could easily get lost in these hallways, opening and closing drawers, for days. This place makes you feel like a kid. I could totally see creating a scavenger hunt, to find the most interesting or unusual specimens, if you go with a group.
The Beaty is such a fantastic, curious, and special place -- it feels beautifully haunted with a sense of the diversity it encompasses, and there's a mischievous delight in the ability to explore all the specimen drawers. The permanent collection is worth visiting, but they also have special exhibitions -- I fell in love with artist Karen Yurkovich's work being displayed in the current Herbarium Project (May 16-Aug 24), where specimens have been recreated in gorgeous paintings. They put a lyrical artistic narrative on the beauty of the natural world. Even though the specimens you discover and admire are no longer living, they fill you with a vibrant sense of curiosity, as you explore the Beaty's "weird things in drawers."
Jaunty Fine Print: Photos of Beaty Biodiversity Museum by Denise Sakaki