Jun 282015

Bison scene at Manitoba Museum

Winnipeg’s Manitoba Museum showcases both natural and human history
in the varied landscapes of Manitoba

A scene at the entrance to the Manitoba Museum depicts a Métis hunter on horseback closing in on a herd of bison. The scene is there to introduce the philosophical theme of the museum: the interrelationship of human beings and the natural environment.

Listed as one of the top ten attractions in Winnipeg, Manitoba, the Manitoba Museum galleries reflect the heritage of Manitoba. Visitors to the museum travel through millions of years as they go from north to south across Manitoba’s landscape. The galleries showcase both natural history and human history. A recent visit to the museum reminded me of the diversity and variety of landscape within Manitoba.

The Discovery Room is the first gallery one encounters. It contains exhibits which change every six months. I’ve often wondered how archaeologists determine the way ancient peoples live and how close their depictions are to what really happened. One panel of information in the Discovery Room caught my attention. It said that archaeologists face a constant battle due to the perishable nature of organic materials. Only a small portion of material culture remains preserved and archaeologists try to interpret these fragments. On another panel, I found these words: “Interpreting the past requires an interdisciplinary approach. Each perspective provides a different story; the more perspectives used, the better the interpretation.” Wise words to keep in mind when touring any museum or archaeological site.

European and aboriginal influences on each other

Complementary displays showing First Nation adoption of European technology and European adoption of First Nation technology

Ancient native developments

Ancient native developments display

Rocks at Manitoba Museum

The Earth History gallery focuses on Manitoba’s geological history, traces of which remain in the fossils of the Ordovician Sea, which covered the province a half-billion years ago.

At Manitoba Museum

Insulating nature of snow

Display about snow’s insulating properties

The Arctic/Sub-Arctic gallery focuses on Manitoba’s barren northland, featuring the aurora borealis (aka northern lights), the wildlife and the traditional lifestyle of the Caribou Inuit and Caribou-Eater Chipewyan peoples. Those of us who live in the prairies in southern Manitoba sometimes forget that Manitoba is a maritime province with 654 kilometres of shoreline in the north along Hudson’s Bay. This gallery contains information about tides and Hudson’s Bay marine life.

Caribou display at Manitoba Museum

Re-enactment of the caribou autumn migration into the boreal forest

A coniferous forest covers nearly one-third (164,000 square kilometres) of Manitoba. The Boreal Forest gallery focuses on this section of the province.

At the time of European contact, the inhabitants of the boreal forest spoke dialects of the Alongkian language family. They were primarily hunters, relying on moose, woodland caribou, elk, bison, bear and smaller mammals. Fish, birds, berries, maple sap and wild rice were also staples of their diet. Mobility was important. They relied on the birch-bark canoe, snowshoes and toboggans. The Boreal Forest gallery also contains information about the impacts of hydro-electric projects and the building of the railroad on this area, impacts both positive and negative.


Reconstruction of Alongkian encampment in summer

Depiction of creating a pictograph on stone

Depiction of creating a pictograph on stone

Nonsuch replica

Nonsuch replica

In 1668, the original Nonsuch sailed into Hudson’s Bay in search of furs. That voyage led to the creation of the Hudson’s Bay Company and was instrumental in establishing commerce in western Canada. The replica on display in the Manitoba Museum was built in 1968 with the same type of wood and using the same techniques as would have been used in the seventeenth century. The replica was built in England and sailed 14,000 kilometres of salt and fresh water before reaching the museum. Visitors can board the replica and walk through the vessel.

Hudson's Bay blankets

Hudson’s Bay blankets

In 1670, Prince Rupert obtained land along Hudson’s Bay and his company, the Hudson’s Bay Company, was granted a monopoly on the fur trade in the area via royal charter. However, the fur trade in the interior had no such monopoly. In the late 1600s and early 1700s, violent battles erupted between the British and the French over control of the interior fur trade. This was followed by intense rivalry between the Hudson’s Bay Company, independent traders and the North West Company. Competition ended in 1821 when the Hudson’s Bay Company merged with its competitors. When the fur trade began to lose importance, the Hudson’s Bay Company diversified into a variety of retail goods and is still in business today. The Hudson’s Bay Company gallery tells the story of this commercial enterprise.

York boat

York boat

Several types of boat were adapted for the inland fur trade. The York boat, with a design inspired by Scottish-Norse vessels and the French bateaux, was the most widely used for river and lake travel.

The York boat on display at the Manitoba Museum was built for the 250th anniversary of the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1920 and was used until 1935, when it was relocated to Lower Fort Garry. It was disassembled for movement to the Manitoba Museum and put back together board by board.

York boats goods

Assorted goods that would have travelled via York boat
against a background mural depicting the loading of the boats

Narcisse Snake Pit

A reconstruction of the Narcisse snake pit in the Interlake region,
where thousands of red-sided garter snakes gather twice a year:
in early spring to mate and in early fall before cool, wet weather forces them underground

The Parklands gallery focuses on the transition zone between the boreal forest and the southern grasslands. It is home to a larger variety of life and landscapes than any other area of the province.

Manitoba Museum farm scene

Reconstruction of a farm owned by Ukranian settlers in the Stuartburn municipality


Tipi – a cone-shaped dwelling used by Aboriginal peoples in the Grasslands.

The Grasslands gallery focuses on the southern portion of the province, where bison once roamed. This is the area I grew up in and am most familiar with. Of all the regions in Manitoba, the grasslands have been most affected by human activity. A section of the museum focuses on the peoples of Manitoba and the mass immigration that occurred after 1870.

Manitoba Museum sod house

Sod house

Manitoba Museum

A reconstruction of 1920s Winnipeg, Manitoba’s capital city,
has always been one of my favourite parts of the museum

Manitoba Museum bank

Tiles and wood actually came from the old Bank of Montreal building

As I walked through the museum, sound effects helped bring exhibits to life – the sound of the loon in the Boreal Forest, fiddle music in the Métis kitchen and the whirr of sewing machines in a sewing factory in 1920s Winnipeg.

The museum covers a lot of territory and time periods. I learn something new each time I visit. There are three parts to the Manitoba Museum – the galleries I’ve given a glimpse into in this post, a science gallery and a planetarium. Admission can be purchased for all three or just one. The museum is open six days a week during the winter, closed on Mondays, and open seven days a week in the summer.

  36 Responses to “Man and Nature at the Manitoba Museum”

  1. I love museums and the Manitoba Museum sounds really wonderful. I love that they have sound effects too! But mostly, I love the whole idea of that theme…interrelationship of human beings and the natural environment. First time I’ve heard a museum being so focused on a single topic. Though, it’s a fiarly broad one. Thanks for the tour! I enjoyed the photos.

    • Jacquie, it is a fairly broad topic. And, given the different areas within the province there is a lot of information in the museum.

  2. We can spend hours in museums and the Manitoba Museum sounds fascinating. I especially liked the display that showed how the indigenous people adopted European technology while the European settlers adopted the native technology. It’s a great reminder that working together and learning from other cultures fosters respect and understanding. Anita

  3. Wow, great images. I love the tipi. Sounds like a great place to visit.

  4. Donna, once again you have given me a wonderful tour! The Manitoba Museum reminds me of the Vancouver, BC museum (which we love). If we ever get to Manitoba I will certainly have this on the must visit list!

    • I’ve never made it to the Vancouver Museum in the times I’ve visited Vancouver, although it has made it to my list of things to see there. I thought I might finally get there this May when I visited my daughter, but I ran out of time. Hopefully, on my next trip.

  5. When a museum is done right it is a great place to learn history. It sounds like they really know how to bring history to life at Winnipeg’s Manitoba Museum!

    • Marilyn, the museum does make the history interesting. There are lots of things to appeal to children as well although I don’t expect they’d be interested in all of the information.

  6. Hi Donna,

    “Interpreting the past requires an interdisciplinary approach. Each perspective provides a different story; the more perspectives used, the better the interpretation.”

    These word not only apply to history, but to everyday life. If only we could . . .

    Reading about the Hudson Bay Co. is fun, too. I wrote a feature article in Detroit Hour magazine on 350 years of its history in terms of the fur business. The very first structure built there — Fort Pontchartrain — housed a fur trading floor and was the birth of the city of Detroit.

    Thanks for taking us along on your tour of Manitoba Museum. I have great respect for anyone who visits — and really studies — their own region’s museums!


    • Josie you are so right that the words apply to life as well as history. I didn’t realize the fur industry had such an impact on Detroit. As to visiting local museum’s, I think we are often so busy with our lives we only take time to do that kind of thing when on vacation in another place, but there is usually a lot to appreciate and understand in our own region.

  7. What a super tour of this museum. The Boreal exhibits are so reminiscent of our former home state of Minnesota (and my birth state of Michigan, too, with its Algonquin heritage). And the Hudson Bay Company related information is close to my heart, too. We attended several pow wows honoring the Voyageurs who traveled great distances on foot from points inland to rendezvous with Hudson Bay Co. reps on the shores of Lake Superior. And I could relate to the Grasslands exhibits which are so like the Dakotas in the U.S. Like you, I always wonder how archaeologists can make confident pronouncements about what they’ve found and how things were used using mere fragments. This was a fun post to read.

  8. This post brings back memories of visiting the Glenbow Museum in Calgary AB. The sod house made me smile – my mom has photos of the sod house they lived in temporarily, while getting settled in a new town in Saskatchewan during the thirties. Such a different life it was back then!

    • Susan, I didn’t realize sod houses were still used (even in only temporarily) in the thirties. I’m sure your mother had interesting stories. I’ve not visited Glenbow Museum, but it sounds as I should consider it on one of my next trips to Calgary.

  9. A fascinating museum I’d love to get to visit one day. I was particularly interested by your comments on the Hudson Bay Company, as they helped fill some gaps in what I knew from Montreal about the company. A very comprehensive and well written article!

  10. History is so interesting and this looks an amazing museum in Manitoba

    • I agree that history is interesting. There is a lot of interesting historical information at this museum.

  11. You have given me another comprehensive tour of a Museum, more than I will ever get even if I make the visit myself. I wonder how many times and how many total hours you have spent at this place, accumulating all this information. Honestly, I do not have the patience and energy. An armchair tour such as what you always give us is the best way for me. Thanks!

    • Thanks Carol. Most of the information for this article came from a 2 to 3 hour visit, but one could easily spend more time there. I’ve visited in the past (although I admit it had been years since my previous visit) and I’ve been exposed to some of the information, especially history of the area, before. It’s the kind of place where you’re likely to pick up something new each time you visit.

  12. This looks like one of those museums that require more than one visit! My husband has one of those Hudson Bay blankets that was his as a child!

    • I certainly feel you cannot take in all the information at this museum in one visit. I personally reach overload. But you can get a good feel for Manitoba history in just one visit and then, if you opportunity to visit again, pick up new bits of information in subsequent visits.

  13. The Manitoba Museum sounds like a great repository of cultural and natural history of the province. I find myself wondering how big it is and how many days/weeks one would need to do it justice?

    • Yasha, I don’t know the physical size, but the museum has 9 galleries. I think you can do it justice in a few hours visit and get a good sense of Manitoba in that time, but you would not read every detail of information. At the same time, there is also enough there to make subsequent visits interesting.

  14. The is the kind of museum I love to spend an afternoon in. Looking at objects from the past and connecting to the history is a great way to learn about the culture. The Charleston Museum in South Carolina is like this. Thanks for the comprehensive tour.

  15. The Manitoba Museum looks like a wonderful place to visit. The display looks interesting that shows how the First Nations learned from the Europeans, and the Europeans learned from the First Nations people. I see a lot of similarities between Manitoba and Alberta’s history.

    • Shelley, I don’t know a lot of the details of Alberta’s history, but I’m not surprised to hear of similarities with Manitoba’s. Next time I’m in Alberta, I will need to make a point of exploring historical museums there.

  16. Would love to visit Manitoba Museum, just the kind of place we like to visit and love the theme here on man and nature. Thanks for linking up with #TheWeeklyPostcard

  17. Hey Donna, long time no see. So glad to see you at #TheWeeklyPostcard blog link-up! The Manitoba Museum of Man and Nature seems to provide a unique journey through the province of Manitoba. I’d like to visit it someday.

  18. Museums are so wonderful for learning about our history. I loved studying Ancient History in Highschool and working out what happened and when/why – looking back on our ancestors way of living is so fascinating. I also love “Night at the Museum” and some of your Pictures remind me of the movie 🙂 Especially the Dinosaur and the Depiction of creating a pictograph on stone image. The Manitoba Museum sounds like a great place to explore – whenever we can we purchase yearly passes to places so that we can always return and look more in depth at each display.
    Your photos are so informative. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    • Thanks for stopping by. Season passes are a great idea for museums and other places in your are you’d like to visit several times.

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