Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Redpath

I recently discovered the Redpath Museum, by way of a wonderful octogenarian who volunteers at the library where I work and who also volunteers at the museum. I don't know why it never occurred to me to ferret out a natural history museum here, when they are always huge favourites of mine, but then again I am part hermit.

A couple of weekends ago I finally had a chance to visit and I loved it. So much to see and soak up, I really just did a survey for future visits. As far as museums go, the Redpath isn't huge (although the collection is still impressive), and we managed to see it in under three hours, although we did not read all of the accompanying signs... or very many of them at all actually, so busy just admiring the artifacts. Anyway, as it was snowing on that Sunday (Snowing. In May. I'll just let that sink in.) going to a museum was a perfect afternoon outing.  

The building itself is worth the visit, honestly. The front part is behind scaffolding at the moment, but once you are inside, you are wrapped up in the 19th century. Perfect creaky wooden floors, molding on the walls and ceilings... the carved posts, the railings, the display cases, the old wobbly imperfect glass. Gorgeous!

You may not even notice the backdrop though, the collection is pretty captivating. 

The foyer has a perfect undersea diorama, with sea snails, cephalopods and cridnoids. It is showing the Ordovician period, waaaaay back when Montreal was submerged and tropical (which was nearly half a billion years ago).

Other foyer highlights included a giant clam (GIANT), a giant crab (even GIANTER) and a small case for their "Montreal: Ville de Verre" exhibit, which was a few (really neat) specimens made of glass. 

The first floor also has a "Back to the Sea" hallway (it truly is a little hallway) with a little mix of old and new.That's a juvenile mink whale skeleton hanging from the ceiling, and the skeletons of a leather back turtle and a seal on the wall. That giant thing that looks like part of a ship is actually part of a whale skull (I forget which kind). On the wall opposite was an icthyosaur fossil.  
Next you go up to the second floor, which is a treasury of shells and minerals, displayed in glass & wood cases, in a beautiful, bright room.

Which is lovely, but hard to concentrate on, because you keep seeing glimpses of this guy through the doorway, into the next room: 

That room is Dawson Gallery, and it is the money room. It's got all the dinosaurs and a lot of stuffed/taxidermy-ed specimens and a guy called Bruno giving impromptu tours.
One of my favourite things was this Irish Elk skull (not Irish, or an elk, really... taxonomists are so zany) but it is a bit hard to make them out in the photo. Also very cool: suspended from the (high! blue! Versaille-ish!) ceiling was an origami pteranodon

Next you go up a flight of stairs, passing an unlikely trio: 
(I totally need to tell you that I knew what kind of gorilla that was from across the room. 
Me: "Hmmm. That looks like a mountain gorilla. A young silverback I would guess."
Adrien: "Right, whatever. It's a gorilla. Look over here at this cool thing!"
Me: "No, it's not a lowland gorilla, they're more gracile and the hair is shorter. It's definitely Gorilla beringei beringei."
Adrien: "Hey, I think there's something neat over there..."
Me: (checking little card) "I knew it! An adolescent male mountain gorilla!"
Adrien: *rolls eyes*
I haven't been in university for thousands of years for nothing!)

Finally you go up to the top floor, the mezzanine or balcony, which houses their ethnology collection. Again, it was small, but really neat. They had real mummies, ancient Grecian coins, a Buddha statue, Samurai armour, musical instruments from Africa and a few other treasures. 

I am definitely going to have to go back. It makes me wish I had paid more attention to the Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria, which we used to go to for class field trips all the time but which I didn't appreciate nearly as much then as I would now. I do remember learning about bioluminescence there though... I guess something sunk in. I'm obviously going to have to go back there too.

* The first image, of the outside of the museum, is from wikipedia, the rest are all from the McGill/Redpath website and are credited to Virginie Millien, Torsten Bernhardt, K. Dobbin.


  1. we need a field trip!

    what an interesting collection and arrangement of things... it looks really classy and together in some shots and like grandma's cluttery shelves in others

    i love your diction - especially "zany"

  2. I know! I love field trips.

    That is a good way to describe most Natuarl History museums! Part super organized science and part "whoa! I found this great stuff in the attic, I wonder what it is??"

  3. oh my goodness... is that... heaven?

  4. : ) It sure feels like it! It was very inspiring to wander around that museum. I wonder if they let writers/artists borrow little offices off of the display rooms to create natural history-inspired masterpieces?