If you want to truly understand the Canadian Province of Alberta, a visit to the Glenbow Museum is essential. Although its archives contain about 28,000 works of art, it’s only partially an art museum.
The Glenbow’s what it is today thanks largely to Eric Lafferty Harvie whose biography on glenbow.org (History of Glenbow Museum) makes for interesting reading. His life abruptly changed in 1947 when Leduc No. 1, an exploration well, became a gusher and 55-year-old Harvie owned mineral rights. Luckily, he lived another 28 years, amassed an enviable cultural collection, changed Calgary’s face, and donated half a billion dollars to Canada. His generosity is vividly in evidence on 3 eclectic floors at the Glenbow, 130-9 Avenue, SE, Tuesday through Saturday from 9 to 5, and Sunday from 12 to 5.
On floor 4, my favorite display was “Treasures of the Mineral World”. Normally rather indifferent to large collections of minerals, I found this one engaging. Treasures had me hooked as soon as I saw Tonalite Gneiss. Discovered in the Northwest Territories in 1989 by a science team, Gneiss is 3.9 billion years old, the world’s “oldest intact crustal rock”.
Ruth and her cousin Margie were far more interested in ammolite, a radiant, multi-colored opal-like gemstone found only in Alberta.
On level 3, “Niitsitapiisini: Our Way of Life”, was beyond comprehensive about the Native Americans I had always known as the Blackfoot, but I spent far more time in “Mavericks: An Incorrigible History of Alberta.” Incorrigible is the perfect word for the spirit of featured Albertans who shaped what their province is today, like Stu Hart. Square-jawed wrestler Hart “destroyed his knees by doing a thousand squats a day”. He fathered 12 children, surely not while doing his squats, and instituted Stampede Wrestling. Hart never made it to the Olympics because World War II happened.
After seeing “Mavericks”, no one will wonder why the famous Calgary Stampede occurs here each year. Other areas have names like “Oil & Gas” and “Mounties & Mustangs”. There lots about politics, railroad development, and ranching, all people-centered.
Floor 2 is for special exhibitions. Upcoming is FAIRY TALES, MONSTERS AND THE GENETIC IMAGINATION, from September 29 to January, 2, 2013. Like Where the Wild Things Are, it looks to both scare and fascinate with “conceived fantastical humanlike animals or hybrid creatures from literature and genetic experimentation”. Sounds excellent.
One current debate is, should Glenbow become more of an art museum? Largely in storage, after all, are reportedly 28,000 artworks. But what I found so compelling here is how much I learned about both Alberta and its largest City, Calgary. I do appreciate a good painting for a couple of seconds, but I’ll never forget geologist Helen Belyea who, while searching for oil “mapped a comprehensive portion of the sedimentary basin beneath Alberta”. The whole time she was also mentoring women in an industry with a distinctly macho image.