Hidden amongst downtown’s emerald skyscrapers, the Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art is like a root that’s had its sun blocked out by tall grass.
If you’re in Vancouver it’s your duty to help let a little light in.
It starts with leaving the contemporary art to New York or Miami… and taking a trip back to a time when a different style of art ruled this land.
Our window into this world? Legendary Haida artist Bill Reid.
Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art
Let’s start with the basics.
He was a CBC radio announcer in Toronto until 24 when, out of boredom, he enrolled in a nighttime goldsmith class.
From there he trained in classic European jewelry before infusing these talents with traditional Haida art, reviving a style that had almost been stomped out by a century of colonization and disease.
His accomplishments are too broad for the scope of this article but he’s arguably Canada’s most famous “maker of things” (his prefered title).
It’s no accident then that Canada’s only public gallery dedicated to contemporary Indigenous Art of the Northwest Coast has his name.
And it’s all in downtown Vancouver.
What To See
When you step into the Bill Reid Gallery you’ll be struck by the contrasts between intricate jewelry pieces and monumental works taking up entire walls.
It’s not big by any means, but in between you should see plenty of masks, paintings, wire sculptures, and bronze work.
With the short films expect to spend between 30-60 minutes there.
It’s a must in any Vancouver itinerary.
The Main Gallery
This collection of art is mainly an archive of the life and works of Bill Reid, though it includes works from about a dozen other prominent aboriginal artists.
In all you’ll find 161 works.
Most of the items in the gallery can be previewed online.
This 8.5 meter long frieze is the gallery’s piece de resistance.
The inspiration for this masterpiece came from a common device used by Haida artists. It tells the tale of various mythical creatures exchanging power and information with their tongues.
From left to right you’ll see:
- A woman married to the Bear Prince and their twin cubs
- Nanasimget and his wife + her killer whale abductor
- The Sea Wolf who devours three whales a day
- The Dogfish Woman and her mythic dogfish
- The Eagle Prince
This work is actually on the $20.00 bill as part of a 2004 series of notes run to celebrate Canada’s history and achievements.
The gold and silver pieces found here arguably created a ‘settler population market’ for engraved indigenous art on jewelry.
You can even buy some in the gift shop.
There are 118 diamonds in the 22k gold Milky Way necklace that took Reid 10 years to create – it was his favourite piece he ever made.
It was a gift to his wife Martine who wore it to a gallery unveiling and drew particular attention from Prince Charles.
Raven and First Men Artist’s Proof
Reid’s most famous work (also on the $20.00 bill) can be found in its full-sized cedar wood version at the Museum of Anthropology.
At the Bill Reid Gallery though you’ll find a miniature gold cast version of this Haida creation myth as well as a slightly larger version made out of onyx.
The story plays out that a raven discovers a humongous clamshell on the beach with human beings protruding from it – it then coaxes the humans out and the first civilizations began.
Check out the cover photo of this article for a preview of the stunning cast version.
Bill Reid Gallery Tickets
To avoid lining up you can buy tickets in advance online using Viator – doing so is not only more convenient but helps us cover costs and time invested in the blog.
The costs are exactly the same as ticket windows.
- Adults: $13.00
- Seniors: $10.00
- Students: $8.00
- Youth (13-17): $6.00
- Under 12: free
- Families (two adult + two youth): $30.00
Buying with Viator allows you free cancellation up to 24 hours in advance.
If you’re looking for things to do in Vancouver the first Friday of the month you’ll probably want to put it at the top of that list.
Thanks to their partnership with Vancouver International Airport the gallery is free between 2:00 pm and 5:00 pm.
No need to book in advance, just show up and you’re in!
It’s possible to get free guided tours run by enthusiastic young students from the Canada Works in Heritage organization.
However, tours of the Bill Reid gallery are seasonal and run only from June to August.
The tours typically run Tuesday-Sunday between 11:00 am and 2:00 pm.
There is still no info yet on whether the tours will be running in 2020 due to COVID-19 concerns – keep your eyes peeled here for up to date information.
Location + Directions
The Bill Reid Gallery is found at 693 Hornby Street.
If you’re taking Vancouver public transportation the closest Skytrain stations are Vancouver City Centre (Canada Line) or Granville (Expo Line).
In addition, there’s a wheelchair accessible path on Georgia Street between Christ Church Cathedral and Cathedral Place.
To find out how to get to the Bill Reid Gallery consult the map below:
Bill Reid Gallery Hours
The gallery is open daily between 10:00 am and 5:00 pm.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions however the gallery is closed until further notice.
On the west side of Hornby Street you’ll find metered street parking.
As this is right in the heart of the Central Business District expect to pay about $6.00-$7.00 an hour.
There are also various parkades but the cheapest one is uncovered and can be found at 1119 Hornby Street – here it’ll run you about $4.00 an hour.
- The employees are bonafide experts on the history and the works – ask questions
- If your hotel or hostel is in the area make it your first stop
- Combine the visit with the Vancouver Art Gallery for a great lesson in contrasts
- Take advantage of free admission on the first Friday of every month between 2:00 pm and 5:00 pm
- Some of Vancouver’s best restaurants are nearby like the sustainable, west coast joint called Forage
- On a budget? Walk over to Robson Square for a ton of food truck options that won’t break the bank
- Flying home? Check out Reid’s jade canoe outside the food court in International Departures
Where is the Bill Reid Gallery?
It’s in the heart of downtown Vancouver at 693 Hornby Street.
How do I get to the Bill Reid Gallery?
You first need to take public transit to downtown. It is about 6-7 minutes walking distance from both the Vancouver City Centre and Granville Skytrain stations.
How much do Bill Reid Gallery tickets cost?
In 2020 general admission costs $13.00 with discounted admissions ranging between $6.00 (youth) to $10.00 (seniors).
When is there free admission to the Bill Reid Gallery?
There is free admission on the first Friday of every month between 2:00 pm and 5:00 pm.
When is the Bill Reid Gallery open?
It’s open daily between 10:00 am and 5:00 pm.
Is it necessary to book Bill Reid Gallery tickets in advance?
It is recommended to do so to avoid lines, plus you’ll have cancellation insurance up to 24 hours before your tour start date.
Let’s Keep the Info Flowing
I’ve detailed the Bill Reid Gallery but as always I may have missed something – so don’t be afraid to get in touch.
I’m here to answer any questions you have about Vancouver in the comments below or via the Vancouver Planner Facebook page.