Canada's largest teaching museum, and arguably Vancouver's only truly world-class cultural institution, the Museum of Anthropology began life in the 1920s in the basement of the UBC library. Designed by Arthur Erickson in 1976, the current building is an ingenious amalgam of concrete and glass, modeled to reflect the West Coast's traditional wooden post-and-beam structures. Look through the soaring glass walls of the Great Hall and you'll see some of them in the re-creation of two Haida longhouses in the museum's grounds. These windows allow the Great Hall's dazzling range of aboriginal sculptures, totem poles, feast dishes and masks to be admired in natural light. You are encouraged to touch some exhibits, notably Bill Reid's cedar bear and sea wolf.
Bill Reid is considered the museum's most important artist, and his influence is strongly felt, but the museum also showcases carvings from First Nations communities of the Pacific Northwest. Even before you get inside you pass two imposing figures by Musqueam and Nuu-chah-nulth artists, and the magnificent 1976 wooden doors are by four Gitxsan woodworkers. Collections from Africa, Asia and Central America sometimes sit strangely with the local artifacts, but the museum's visible storage is another treasure trove, allowing the public to browse through 13,000 objects.