B.C. museum shows off taxidermy collection dating back nearly a century

A new exhibition at a British Columbia museum provides an opportunity for visitors to get up close and personal with bears, cougars and even an armadillo.

Still Life: The KMA Collection, is a curated taxidermy exhibition at the Kamloops Museum and Archives. It features over 130 pieces dating back to the 1920s and, according to museum staff, it's the first time the museum's taxidermy collection has been displayed in its entirety for the public.

"We don't know the story about a lot of them but it is an opportunity to think about the ethics around how we are with animals, how we are with nature," said KMA curator Matt Macintosh.

About 40 per cent of the collection was donated by T.S. Keyes, a local taxidermist who was a founder of the museum in the 1930s. The exhibition shows how taxidermy practices have changed since then.

Douge Herbert/CBC News

According to Macintosh, today it is more common for taxidermists to stretch skins over a mannequin, but when Keyes was in the business he would use the animals' skeleton as the frame and fill the body out with sawdust and rags. The stuffing shifts overtime and, according to Macintosh, KMA wanted to showcase that bit of history so some of the animals have slightly distorted faces.

"The animals are definitely the centrepiece of the show but also we are putting on display shifts in ethics that have happened overtime," said Macintosh.

Doug Herbert/CBC News

Museum supervisor Julia Cyr said some of the animals on display are harder to look at, such as a pair of bear cubs.

"There are some things you find interesting, but a little off-putting too," said Cyr. "It was about collecting everything. It's an interesting way to look at life, at archiving life."

Doug Herbert/CBC News

One of the marquee pieces of the exhibition is a cougar that Macintosh estimates is about two metres long. There are also sheep, mountain goats, moose, deer, a wolverine, and others.

Cyr's favourite piece among what she called " the amazing specimens" is the armadillo.

Doug Herbert/CBC News

"We really wanted to treat these as objects that exist in the museum that require care, require conservation," said Macintosh, who has been vegetarian for more than 35 years.

The Kamloops Museum and Archives is located at 207 Seymour Street in Kamloops. Still Life: The KMA Collection runs until April 4.