Rick Mercer hosts a well-liked weekly news/human interest/comedy show on CBC television. My favourite part of the program is his walking rant, filmed in a colourful back alley in the fashion district of Toronto. Known as Graffiti Alley, it is a lane that runs parallel to Queen Street West, just west of Spadina and I was always curious about it. The backs and sides of many buildings are covered in murals, tags, and random images that frequently change as artists replace old work with new, or find another empty corner to fill. I finally had a chance to see it for myself, although it was an extremely cold day (minus 20 degrees C) and my iPhone shut down after about a dozen photos. So I didn’t get to tape my own rant.
In contrast to this street art is an institution that is celebrating its 100th anniversary – the Royal Ontario Museum, or ROM for short. It has expanded many times over the years and is now one of the largest museums in Canada with four floors stuffed with exhibitions and artifacts from across the country and around the world. In addition to the usual descriptive panels are signs that tell curious facts about the museum, like the voracious collecting appetite of the first museum director, which movies were filmed in the museum, which authors featured characters with a connection to the museum, and more.
The museum also features “pop-up” exhibitions, and the one that caught my eye was a small display focused on the recent discovery of the HMS Erebus, one of the long lost ships of the Franklin exhibition. Franklin and his crew were looking for a way through the northwest passage and got caught in the ice, wintered, split up, and eventually all was lost. Burial sites and artifacts have been found over the years along the shores of islands in the area, but until now the whereabouts of either ship was unknown.
One of the first artifacts divers saw and retrieved was a bell, a key piece of equipment and one that survived it’s deep sea burial because it was made of solid brass. To the causal viewer, you might think you are looking at the bell itself, but on view is a replica. Not a cast or molded imitation, but the product of 3D printing. Fascinating, my first face-to-face encounter with a product of this new technology.
So maybe the museum is 100 years old, but the old dog is clearly still learning new tricks!
Speaking of new tricks, selfies with the Douglas Coupland exhibition is encouraged, and instructions are offered on the hashtags to use. So of course I had to take one!