April 15, 2010

654 Field Trip: Forensic Pathology Workshop at the Vancouver Police Museum

On Tuesday, 3/4ths of the 654 crew went to visit the Vancouver Police Museum after hours for a special forensics workshop. The other 1/4 was too squeamish and doesn't like hanging out with us anyway. I learned about the VPM a few weeks ago from the local blog Vancouver is Awesome, which posted about newly created workshops for adults that include Forensic Pathology (the one we went to), Blood Spatter (for fans of Dexter), and Ballistics. I'm always on the lookout for local attractions and events a little off the beaten path since you can only visit Stanley Park and Science World so many times.

The museum is located a block north of East Hastings, just off Main Street in an old building that used to house Vancouver's original coroner's facilities including the Coroner's Courtroom, the city morgue, and autopsy facilities. Before the hour-long workshop started, we were given free time to browse the museum's exhibits, which included archive photos of the VPD in action during the 30s, old school police equipment, a wall of diabolical weapons confiscated from criminals, and more.

The workshop itself consisted of the museum's executive director Chris Mathieson walking us through the hows and whys of an autopsy, what exactly a coroner does, and numerous colourful stories regarding incidents and crimes that were actually investigated in the very rooms we were visiting (the bulk of the talk occurred in the autopsy room). Being relatively new Vancouverites, it was fascinating to hear of some of the more notorious cases in the city's history that may be more familiar to longterm residents. For example, in a 1953 case known as the "Babes in the Woods" case, the unidentified remains of two young children were discovered in Stanley Park six years after they were murdered. A display case in the museum houses actual evidence from the case: a crumpled lunchbox, a rusty hatchet (the probable murder weapon), and a forlorn shoe. Casts of the children's skulls replaced the actual skulls, which were amazingly (and creepily) on display until 1998 when a police sergeant revisiting the case used DNA testing to prove that the children, originally thought to be a boy and a girl, were actually two brothers though the case remains unsolved. There's a palpable sense of history oozing from the walls where almost 15000 autopsies were performed since it was built in 1932, including (fun dead celebrity fact) Errol Flynn who suffered a heart attack while visiting here in 1959.

Overall, this was definitely worth checking out for a little taste of CSI Vancouver-style with an engaging storyteller and informative guide in Chris Mathieson. This was actually the second round of these three particular workshops for adults (I think previously they only had workshops for school groups and such). The ones in March were a bit of a trial run and they said more would be announced if they were successful-- clearly they were! Word has spread rapidly after recent stories on both CTV and CBC news, not to mention the museum is very active in the use of social media. In fact, we found out last night that their Twitter account with 2000+ followers apparently has the second-most followers of any museum in Canada, which begs the question of how many Canadian museums have twitter accounts. But good for them anyway for having a strong internet presence.

Check out the Vancouver Police Museum:
Official Website (workshop tickets only available from their online store)

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