Hi Reddit! We are a group of curators and a conservator at the Manitoba Museum in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

We do work on everything from endangered prairie plants and the relationship they have with pollinating insects like bees, to collecting artifacts from the Fur Trade era, to conservation efforts on cool things like a big ship dating back to 1650 (here's Carolyn cleaning the Nonsuch).

It's #AskACurator day, so ask us anything!

Kevin Brownlee, Curator of Archaeology

Dr. Amelia Fay, Curator of HBC Collection

Dr. Diana Bizecki-Robson, Curator of Botany

Carolyn Sirett, Conservator



My Proof:

Twitter post

This is us!

EDIT We are out of here! We had a great time and we'd like to do this again sometime. Thanks for participating in our very first AMA!

Comments: 59 • Responses: 16  • Date: 

LARKit15 karma

Thank you for doing an AMA! The Manitoba Museum is one of my absolute favourite places in the city.

Here's my question: When I was a kid I remember hearing people say that the lower level of the Nonsuch used to be open to the public, but they closed it for safety reasons (and to preserve the integrity of the ship). Is that true? Do they ever open up the lower levels these days?

Side note: Back in high school (over 10 years ago now), my friends and I were shooting a movie and asked to do some scenes in the museum. We thought we'd be turned down instantly, but the administrators were amazing, and they let us film at the Nonsuch and the urban gallery. Thank you for being an awesome part of the community!

ManitobaMuseum9 karma

Aww, that's really sweet. Thank you!

We've done hold tours over the last few years but it's restricted to about once a year now. It's conservation as well as safety. It's uneven and dark, and it's not easy to get down to the hold either, unless you're a tiny little person like Carolyn.

Amelia: If you have the tiniest bit of booty, it's a problem.

Carolyn: Coming up is hard though. You hit your head a lot, and I've fallen before too and hurt my ankle checking for mice, crawling in the bunks.

YogiBarelyThere11 karma

Greetings and thanks for doing this AMA.

This question is directed towards Dr. Diana Bizecki-Robson but ther others could chime in too if you'd like.

I'm interested in the types of plants that hold medicinal value for the First nations people of the prairies. Has there been any use of psychoactive compounds within those plants? Which plants have had a demonstrated medicinal efficacy through modern scientific research?


ManitobaMuseum9 karma

Diana: That's a big question. There's... there's a plant called Bearberry that was used to stretch tobacco. I mean, there are... you can find magic mushrooms in Manitoba, they're everywhere, but I would not... they're hard to identify so if you didn't know what you were doing you could kill yourself. I would not recommend looking for them yourself.

There's a recent book, a Lone Pine publication on edible and medicinal plants based on a lot of interviews with First Nations People, an ethnobotanist was a co-publisher, and it has a lot of good information in it. I can't remember exactly, but I think it's called Edible and Medicinal Plants of Canada, came out in 2009 and you can get it on Amazon if you're interested.

Amelia: You actually might be able to get it at MEC.

whitebeaks10 karma

What's the process of conversing something? I assumed you simply left it under temperature glass/in temperature controlled rooms. What am I missing?

ManitobaMuseum18 karma

Carolyn: Oh, that's a big question. To sum up, all of our collections are kept in storage vaults, some of them are humidity/temperature controlled and we monitor them. There are no lights on unless we're in the room so nohting gets light damage, and we try to keep dust and pollutants off of them. Bugs are a big thing! Everything gets frozen when it comes in the building to kill anything off, or we have a carbon dioxide chamber, kind of a bubbly tent that kills everything. Bugs are probably the biggest problem, especially for anything organic.

Diana: For bones, we have a dermestid drawer to deflesh bones, if it's a skeleton going into the collection or something like that.

Amelia: Carolyn's a cold-blooded killer.

Coziestpigeon210 karma

I've been through the museum - it's a gorgeous building filled with heaps and heaps of information.

What are your favourite areas of the museum? Are there any areas or exhibits you'd like to see reconsidered/replaced?

How did you feel about all the controversy that surrounded the opening of the museum?

ManitobaMuseum13 karma

Favourite areas:

Amelia: I love the dioramas, because it makes you feel like you're in a particular place at a particular time.

Kevin: I love the mini-dioramas, because it humanizes the archeological past.

Diana: I like the Nonsuch. I like the way it smells.

As for things we'd like to replace, we're in the middle of our Capital Campaign called "Bringing Our Stories Forward," with the goal of refreshing 42% of the museum galleries. It's a $19 million museum gallery renewal project! Honestly, we'd like to give a facelift to a lot of stuff that's been here for a while, and we're really excited to get started on it.

As for the controversy, you may be confusing us with the Canadian Museum of Human Rights ;)

LARKit12 karma

I like the way it smells.

Oh man, that has to be my oldest memory of the museum; how the Nonsuch smells. Love it.

ManitobaMuseum8 karma

We actually have a Nonsuch tea and some people say the smell reminds them of the ship. We also wanted to make a candle that smelled like the Nonsuch but we haven't been able to make it happen yet!

amgirl17 karma

Where do we buy it?! Gift shop?

ManitobaMuseum8 karma

You bet! It's got kind of a smoky taste, with a hint of maple. Kind of like a Maple Lapsang Souchong.

Coziestpigeon25 karma

As for the controversy, you may be confusing us with the Canadian Museum of Human Rights ;)

Well, that's embarrassing.

ManitobaMuseum5 karma

Haha! It happens all the time.

normaniben9 karma

Hi, Is it true that on HBC blankets, the black lines on its fringe indicate how many fur pelts they were worth? 3 lines mean its a blanket worth 3 pelts, and so on.

Also, are the HBC colours of today the same as they were waaaay back when?

ManitobaMuseum10 karma

That's a common misconception, in fact they designated the size of the blanket to the value, and it was different at different posts. It wasn't standard.

Assuming you mean the stripe colours, they were one of the colour palettes they had but they're not actually as old as people think they are, haha.


whitebeaks9 karma

Have there ever been any infamous incidences of a visitor accidentally destroying a piece of history? What happened?

ManitobaMuseum15 karma

Diana: Oh! Somebody put their kid in the wolf diorama and it was crawling around crushing the lichen and was touching the wolf.

Carolyn: Somebody jumped into the wolf diorama last year and took a selfie! People have picked up mushrooms out of baskets and thrown them around, somebody picked up the entire woman from the Trappers diorama and broke her pinky.

Diana: Part of the reason we had to wall off the area in the Urban Gallery is people were stealing things.

Amelia: Even rocks! We've had to bring in extra rocks to fill things in.

Carolyn: The BEST thing I ever found on the Nonsuch, I still laugh about it, some kid left a note that said something like "Dear People of the Future, this maiden ship" ... something... and I don't remember exactly but it was signed "Person of the Past." I still have it.

IamAveryNICEperson9 karma

do you think portage and main should be opened up to pedestrian traffic at street level?

ManitobaMuseum13 karma

Amelia: Nope. It's already such a nightmare, never mind people walking around all through there.

Diana: I like the idea of an overpass. You know what I would like to see there? Old-timey photographs of what things used to look there. All four corners should have a photo of the 1920 or something, and generally most people no idea what that site looked like, historically. Also, the signage is so bad down there.

Carolyn: No. Leave it how it is. It's fine.

Kevin: Currently it's not--it's not an area that really draws you, so maybe opening it up would create more of that for people. I don't know.

ManitobaMuseum9 karma

Thank you so much everybody! We had a great time answering your questions for our very first AMA. Follow us on social media (ManitobaMuseum across the board) because we have some great exhibits coming including the launch of the brand new Alloway Hall expansion!

Have a great day! #AskACurator

LifeWin7 karma

Do you have any correspondence written or signed by your HRH King Charles II?

If so...is there anything naughty?

He was known as the Merry Monarch mostly for repealing a lot of the Puritanical nonsense of the Cromwell administration, but also because he loved the ladies

ManitobaMuseum11 karma

We do not. If anything the HBC archives might have something, but... if anyone has anything like that, we will happily take that off your hands! for science..

kinkakinka6 karma

What are your favorite restaurants in Winnipeg?

ManitobaMuseum10 karma

Amelia: Oh let me count... I'm into Clementine right now! All day brunch! I just had the Turkish Eggs yesterday.

Diana: I like Hermanos. I like those homemade chip things.

Kevin: Deer and Almond... oh never mind! Feast! I was at an event yesterday and Feast did the food, it was fabulous! And it's an indigenous restaurant, there's no beef, they had a lot of saskatoon stuff. Saskatoon vinaigrette salad, a saskatoon and cranberry punch kind of thing, and I think a saskatoon cranberry crisp for dessert, they love using local ingredients, wild rice, etc... it's delicious.

Carolyn: I've been on a Chosabi trip lately. I've been in there once a week at least.

amgirl16 karma

How many artifacts are not on display at any given time? How do you make a determination about what goes out?

ManitobaMuseum9 karma

How many artifacts are not on display at any given time?

Kevin: We have about 2.8 million specimens and artifacts, but if you take out Archaeology, that goes down a lot (by about 2.5 million) because we count every flake. So for our department it is more like 0.00001% of Archaeology is actually on exhibit, especially because a lot of the displays actually don't include a lot of Archaeological things.

Amelia: About 4% of the HBC artifacts are out on display of the 26,000 items we have.

Diana: For Natural History... less than 1%, but in the Discovery Room, we put some of those things out for display temporarily. Currently it's home to our Dino Dig. We'd like to put more stuff out on display as part of our Capital Campaign, which will raise the count significantly.

How do you make a determination about what goes out?

It has to fit in with the theme and story we want to tell. We choose the theme first and then we populate it with specimens and artifacts that tell that story.

Def-not-a-throwaway5 karma

I remember visiting the museum and seeing some items from the Hudson Bay Collection in elementary school, I think. I'm wondering if there are any interesting darker parts of the HBC history that may not have been taught in elementary school? Is there anything that shocked you as you learned more about it?

ManitobaMuseum3 karma

Amelia: Like any part of history, there's always darker parts. There's always something in the archives that makes me think.. hm! I encourage people to go check them out!

BleedingTypewriter4 karma

This is so cool, the Manitoba Museum is one of my favourite places in the city! Been visiting for close to 20 years, thank you guys for continuously inspiring people, both kids and adults, to have an interest in the world around them. Some of my favourite memories are exploring all around the Nonsuch and especially spending forever in the 1920s area and watching old black and white films. You guys do amazing work and Winnipeg loves you for it!

I have three questions:

1) How do you decide what's displayed, and for how long? I find it so interesting that there are still exhibits that take me right back to being a little kid and are exactly the same, and yet every time I go to this day there's something new. (20 years later, still learning from you guys, this is why you're so awesome!) Is it mostly monetary, is there a committee of people who decide?

2) The polar bear standing over the dead seal and the hidden group of bats in the cave used to freak me right out when I was a kid. Please tell me those are here to stay forever, I love to go to the museum and watch all the kids experience that for the first time. :)

3) I'm a bit of a typewriter enthusiast and constantly hear that museums are overrun with machines and often won't even take them. There's usually a pretty simple standard on display, but do you know what other machines the museum has hidden away?

Thanks again for a lifetime of learning!

ManitobaMuseum5 karma

Thank you so much! Everyone in the room went "Aww"

  1. We spoke a little bit about that here.

  2. We don't really plan on changing a lot of the iconic ones. Maybe reinterpret them in terms of, maybe refer back to global warming in regards to Polar Bears, but the iconic displays are likely here to stay.

  3. Amelia: I have a really cool typewriter with Cree syllabics that isn't on display!

    Carolyn: Yeah, typewriters are one that we have a lot of. Farm equipment is another. And organs!

    Diana: I still use a typewriter to label plants....