Tag Archives: Virtual Museum of Canada

Shipwrecks of Vancouver Island

The three-masted ship Carelmapu with decks awash, dragging her anchors into Schooner Cove, near Tofino, in 1915

The ‘Virtual Museum of Canada”  has been responsible for some nice online exhibits, although a lot of these are now fairly dated.  One with what we could call a “retro web design”, but some good content, is the Shipwrecks of Vancouver Island site, apparently put together mainly on the watch of the Maritime Museum of BC with help from the Underwater Archaeological Society of BC.  There are some nice videos of underwater archaeology, and other informative materials.

Site navigation, though, is much easier if you just go to the site map here — the absurdly finicky navigation does weird things like, say, means using the back button always takes you to a splash introduction screen — is a crime against the web.  Especially since museum people are involved: why such disdain for solid future-proof web design values?  This page, for example, has a nifty slider to scroll through an interactive map: but if you don’t pay attention (e.g., if you use your back button) you will always end up on a “loading XML – introduction to the database” overlay screen page which gets tired after about the third time.  The VMC should consider a legacy fund to make sure that the sites which they poured money into for a while can all be kept up to date for both content and also compliance or at least ease of use.  It would not surprise me in the slightest if the VMC had spent over $100,000 on this site — the one site of their I know something about they spent $140,000 and it is no flashier than this thing.  Almost all that money went into design and mounting of content, very little went to the content creators themselves.  If that  applied here, I think we have a right to expect more – is this site design worth $100,000?  It seems to me that, even in 2004, a competent web designer working alone, with content given by others, could have put this together in about a month.

Canadian Navy diver goes overboard in 1959 to examine the 1853 wreck of the Lord Western, near Flores Island.

Haida Archaeology at the Virtual Museum of Canada

Rodney Brown at the Cohoe Creek Site, 1998. Source: CHIN.

The Canadian Heritage Information Network (the venerable CHIN) has, via the Virtual Museum of Canada,  a small online exhibit of Haida Gwaii archaeology posted.

I hate to be all grumpy since such initiatives should be supported, but seriously – the problems with this exhibit are manifold.  First, a number of the facts are wrong, despite the content being copyrighted 2009.  They use a figure of 9,000 years for first occupation, not the figure of 12,500 which is more reasonable.  That’s more than a 30% difference.  They state it was a grassland 10,000 years ago, when the better number would be 14,000 or more. It’s written in the first person, so apparently a Haida person wrote it – but really should that be an excuse? Maybe the details don’t really matter.

So, factual errors are unfortunate.  But they also have completely crap illustrations – low resolution, poorly lit images from ethnological collections are used to represent the archaeological record.  This is misleading on a number of levels.  Archaeologists do not usually find beautifully decorated clubs, for example, and it diminishes understanding of the archaeological record and process to imply they do. Indeed, the text of the exhibit lists the following “learning outcomes:

Learning Objectives

The learner will:

  • Describe the history of Haida people revealed by archeology
  • Describe some Haida objects found in archeological excavations

As far as I can tell, not a single object “found in archaeological excavation” is shown and essentially no archaeological facts are given.

Also, all the pages, including “Haida Society since European Contact” are under the header of “Haida Ecology” which is a bit unfortunate.  Put the whole thing under “Haida history”.

It’s also regrettable that the pictures are of such poor quality, like this one of fish hooks.  I mean, this is a national institution, and the year of the web is 2009, not 1995.  People expect more and will tune out if you don’t offer them some substantial eye candy.  I think they have a right to receive it from the Ottawa heritage establishment – after all the NMC is sitting on a superb collection that most of us never get to see.

Finally, the information content is miniscule.  The whole thing can’t add up to more than 500 words and is cluttered with jargon like “Print this Learning Object” and “View the complete asset”.  What kind of robotic geek came up with that sort of bullshit management-speak? And every bit of this information has a copyright notice on it, even pictures from other institutions.  This page has SEVEN separate, identical copyright notices “© 2009, CHIN-Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.”

Memo to CHIN and the VMC:  no one wants to copy your minimalist, factually incorrect and low-resolution information anyway.  If you can’t do decent eye candy then do decent information.  If you can’t do either, then don’t try to bully me with copyright notices.

C’mon guys, you can do so much better than this, especially if your goal is to educate.  Email me, I’ll send you some pictures and fact-check your page.  No fancy consultancy charge will apply!

I just noticed this was NW Coast Archaeology blog post #100. To counteract this being so grumpy, here's a nice picture of camp life on Tanu Island.