One of the most interesting places to visit at the University of British Columbia (other than the UBC Botanical Gardens, Nitobe Memorial Garden, and the Museum of Anthropology), is the Beaty Biodiversity Museum. If you have aspirations to become a biologist, anthropologist, or natural historian, or just have a general interest in living things, this green, multi-million dollar, state-of-the-art museum is definitely worth a visit.
We visited the Beaty Biodiversity Museum in 2012, less than two years after its grand opening in October 2010. Expect to spend 3-4 hours, as we did, and be prepared to do a lot of walking.
The first thing you’ll see through the glassed building exterior–before you even reach the registration desk, never mind the heart of the museum–is “the ultimate must see”: a full-assembled skeleton of a 82-foot female blue whale, suspended from the ceiling via superstrong steel wires. You’ll be passing right under her as you walk down the ramp–I got goosebumps as I marvelled at the sheer size of the skeleton and realized just how small I was compared to the largest creature in the world.
At the bottom of the ramp and just before you enter the room where the main collections are housed are several glass cubes containing the skulls of various animals. They offer a sneak preview of what you can expect to see inside the museum proper.
You can tag along with a guide (which I recommend, unless you’re extremely knowledgeable about the subject matter, although the interpretive signs help a bit), or explore at your own pace once you’re into the main collections area.
As per the official website, there are over 500 exhibits and thousands of pullout drawers and cabinets containing often formaldehyde-preserved specimens of all sorts of flora and fauna–everything from invertebrates (land/air/sea), to herbs and plants, insects, fish, and fossils. The bottom floor shows a geological timeline, which you can walk through and learn about the lifeforms present in each era, from Paleozoic to Mesozoic to modern day (take your time!)
On some floors, at your feet (literally) will be glass “tiles” embedded into the ground that show flora (a great example of really using every square inch to educate!) The other exhibit within the Beaty Biodiversity Museum that’s worth exploring at a very leisurely pace is the huge floor-to-ceiling glass exhibit that shows a very extensive collection of stuffed and mounted animals (elk, tigers, bears, pigeons, and more) donated by a private collector.
It was quite sad to see animals like the passenger pigeon, which no longer exist. You learn that, despite the dazzling range and diversity of life that has existed on earth, ultimately all forms of life are extremely fragile and precious, and we continuously exercise our ability to impact it positively or negatively, consciously or subconsciously.