Do you remember going to museums when you were young? They were wonderful places for a kid, from the huge dinosaurs and the full suits of armour to the weapons and the stuffed animals in the zoological section. Of course nothing could beat the ancient mummies in the Egyptology sections; nothing like dead bodies to enthrall groups of kids.
In Toronto, where I spent a good chunk of my childhood, we had The Royal Ontario Museum (R.O.M.). It was a treasurehouse for kids. Including the basement, it was four stories of musty rooms filled with things from all over the world to excite the imagination and scare the willies out of you.
The R.O.M. of my memory is a lot different than the reality today. Back then it was still an old-fashioned British-styled museum with row upon row of glass-fronted display cases filled with bits and pieces of civilizations and animal life that had been collected and gathered by field workers for years.
It was where I was introduced to the fact that there were other cultures that existed in the world aside from ours. Giant statues of Buddha were down one corridor while up another flight of stairs stood the elephant-headed Ganesa. Around another corner stood Tyrannosaurus rex with wide open jaws ready to rip and tear.
Standing in the main foyer you could see the magnificent totem polls that ran from the basement to the top floor as the staircases wrapped around them. Of course these were more innocent and naïve times back then, when the words cultural theft and appropriation hadn't even entered our vocabulary.
We could look at tribal masks from the Haida and Iroquois nations without feeling the regrets we do now. Although, every time I would make it into the basement for the displays representing life in villages, a palpable wave of sadness would hit me. The frozen faces of mannequins of men and women locked forever into a tableaux of planting corn, cleaning skins, and sitting around fires were so forlorn that you almost wished you could wake them up.
But those moments were few and far between for 10-year-old children who were easily diverted by the 25-foot stuffed python on the third floor, or even better, the actual live one that was brought in for a visit. Its animated 15 feet were easily as impressive as the stuffed one's 25.