Do you believe in dragons? Do you think that the Kraken, mermaids, unicorns, the Sasquatch, Pegasus or the Roc really existed?

Whether or not people believe, they can come face to face with these fantastical beings at the Canadian Museum of Civilization as it opens its newest exhibit, Mythic Beasts: Dragons, Unicorns and Mermaids Friday.

“Even in the age of science, we need a little magic,” exhibit curator Nicholette Prince said Thursday. “People the world over share a fascination with mythic creatures.”

While the exhibit is a first for the museum in that it has so many models, the Mythic Beasts exhibit is really about human history and culture, said Victor Rabinovitch, president and CEO of the Canadian Museum of Civilization Corp.

“Mythical beasts appear in virtually every culture in the world,” he said. “The creatures in Mythic Beasts have inspired powerful stories and a creative legacy for all humanity. They also reveal a great deal about ancient societies, the impact of migration, and human relationships with the natural world.

“Ultimately, we seek to create greater understanding and greater respect between cultures throughout the world,” said Rabinovitch. “And that’s precisely what we hope to achieve with this exhibition.”

Organized by the American Museum of Natural History, New York, the exhibit includes authentic specimens, paintings, sculptures and life-sized models.

Rabinovitch cited the Feejee Mermaid — “a creation of humankind from the 1840s that is a classic Barnum hoax,” he said — as one of his favourites.

Other creatures are connected to cultural rituals.

“The kappa was a creature that lived in the water and dragged people underwater and drowned them,” said Prince.

“Its favourite food was cucumber. So mothers would write their children’s names on cucumbers and throw them into the sea so that their children could play on the shore,” she said.

The exhibit runs through Sept. 20.