There is no history without past events. In other words, one can say that the grandeur of a museum depends upon the richness of a place’s heritage and culture. Speaking of rich history, Canada is a country with stories worthy of preservation.
From the indigenous population of Canada to Canadian militancy, and wars to innovations; Canadian history has a diverse range of numerous happenings which are sustained and showcased within its museums.
The Federal Museums Act identifies nine museums as the national museums in Canada, all of which are run by the national government.
One of the most visited and famous among these is the Canadian Museum of History, which is best known for its rich and authentic narration of Canadian history.
The Canadian Museum of History is conveniently located near downtown Ottawa and is reachable by foot, public transport, bicycle, or car. It is also a 5 minutes walk from the beautiful Jacques Cartier Park.
For those of you sitting miles away from the location, you need not worry because this article will take you on a verbal tour of the Canadian museum of national history. So sit back, and get ready to explore Canada’s rich history!
About The Canadian Museum Of History
Inaugurated in 1989 in Gatineau, Quebec, the Canadian Museum of history is a towering structure that shares its knowledge of human history, archaeology, cultural studies, and ethology, with an aura of Canadian heritage running all along.
Additionally, its location offers a splendid view of the Ottawa river and parliament hill. Designed by Indigenous architect, Douglas Cardinal, the origins of the museum go back to 1856.
The architectural masterpiece serves as a representation of Canada’s history and its outstanding achievements through its collections and preservation of items that have formed the country.
There are more than 4 million items in the collection, from diverse communities across the national capital region. These are displayed in the form of exhibitions.
The exterior of the museum building is decorated with earth lodges, longhouses, paddles, and igloos. The arrangement of the windows provides natural light into the interiors of the museum, while also offering breathtaking views of the Ottawa river.
Also, the exhibit areas are separated from the curatorial wing into two wings. There are four floors in the museum building which offer over 25000 square meters of exhibit space.
This spaciousness gives visitors a sense of grandiosity.
1. Level 1
The first floor of the Canadian Museum primarily houses the Grand Hall and the First Peoples Hall, both of which contain a variety of artifacts primarily reflecting the country’s Indigenous population.
1.1. The Grand Hall
The architectural focal point of the museum, the Grand Hall contains 43 massive totem poles; the world’s largest indoor collection.
Indigenous cultural experts and the museum’s workers worked together in the development of the exhibitions. Let’s take a look at some of the primary exhibits of the grand hall.
1.1.1. The Six Houses
One of the first exhibits that will catch your eye in the Grand Hall is a collection of six housing structures located along a cedar walkway.
These were the houses that had stood in coastal communities between 100 and 150 years ago.
The exhibition of these houses was reconstructed using old images and eyewitness accounts. In this display, they are positioned facing the water, resembling a northwest coast village from the 19th century.
Each house displays its style of architecture created by the indigenous societies, from the southern to the northern coast. Collectively, the houses display the area’s multiculturalism.
1.1.2. The Spirit Of Haida Gwaii
Designed by Haida artist, Bill Reid, the Spirit of Haida Gwaii is known to be his most complex, yet best-known sculpture. The aesthetic artwork shows a canoe with thirteen passengers in it.
These passengers are a mix of human, animal, and mythical Haida beings.
The non-human pieces include the raven, the eagle, the bear family, the frog, the wolf, the dogfish mother, the beaver, the Mouse woman, and the bear mother.
Meanwhile, the human pieces onboard are the paddler, known as the Ancient Reluctant Conscript, and the chief, who sits at the top. Each figure in the sculpture represents the Haida worldview.
1.1.3. The Morning Star
Towards the end of the grand hall, you will find yourself sheltered under a domed ceiling of vibrant colors. Seven stories above the first floor is The Morning Star.
The highlight of the museum’s art collection, it is an abstract painting by the indigenous artist, Alex Janvier. The painting represents the morning star as a medium of finding direction, specifically toward unity between the indigenous and non-indigenous people.
It is separated into four colors, each of which represents a period of history; from pre-contact to present times. These four colors are yellow, blue, red, and white.
The morning star is symbolized by a white circle in the center which depicts the origin of all creation. Facing parliament hill, its location displays the connection between the natives and the Canadian Government.
1.2. First Peoples Hall
As the name suggests, the First Peoples Hall in the Cnadaian Museum of History displays artworks relating to the indigenous population of Canada, Inuit, and Metis people, from the earliest times to the contemporary world.
These artworks include about 2000 artifacts, audiovisual exhibits, and archival documents. A blend of history and modernism, these exhibits depict the native as living in the modern world.
Sounds interesting enough to take a tour? Let’s go!
This section primarily contains mannequins which present examples of men’s and women’s traditional clothing during the summer and winter seasons.
The opening section of the hall contains 11 mannequins that showcase the developments in the diverse clothing style of the nation’s people.
This section includes fascinating pieces like regalia, skirt, leggings, and high coats, dating back to native times. For the winter season, Mannequins wearing an Amuti Parka jacket are put on display.
These were usually worn by the Inuit who moved to the region and were trying to adapt to life in the Canadian Arctic.
In cases along the rail, you will notice six varieties of mocassins, reflecting diverse clothing materials. Also on display are 11 pairs of snowshoes from across Canada.
The clothing style and materials presented here beautifully narrate the indigenous history and Canadian civilization to the visitors.
1.2.2. The Indian In Transition
Before you exit the First Peoples Hall, you will be bound to stop and marvel at a unique and large mural known as The Indian in Transition, made by Daphne Odjig.
Painted with vivid colors and bold shapes, the artwork, which stands at the end of the hall, draws attention with its striking use of spirit and animal motifs.
Completed in 1978, the painting will take you on a historical journey of the revitalization of the indigenous communities.
The painting begins by depicting the aboriginal society and moves on to show the arrival of the Europeans.
This is followed by a portrayal of turmoil, and finally painting an expression of revival and hope of the aboriginal people.
Some of the prominent characters that stand out in the painting are the thunderbird, the group of pale-skinned people, ethereal figures, the drums, and the boat.
2. Level 2
As you move toward the second floor of the Museum, three large halls displaying temporary exhibitions of striking nature, await your attention.
However, the significant attractions on this floor are the Canadian Children’s Museum and the Canadian Postal Museum.
Presenting interactive displays, these two are the most visited areas on the floor since they capture the curiosity of a diverse age of people.
Additionally, this floor is also a commercial space due to the presence of a restaurant, boutiques, and an IMAX theatre. While it sounds appealing, we indulge in these activities later.
For now, let us move toward the floor’s most primary sections!
2.1. Canadian Children’s Museum
Holding collections of about 10,000 antiques, hands-on items, and props, this gallery is primarily oriented toward an age group of up to 14 years old.
They are given an entertaining, yet educational travel experience through the present exhibitions. This allows them to gather knowledge from around the world.
Permanent exhibitions in the gallery include artwork, pictures, clothes, games, and toys. These items reflect the modern as well as historical features of children’s lifestyles.
Allowing children to interact with the items, the hands-on objects and props is an innovative part of the Children’s Museum.
The museum’s collections primarily include ethnic objects which enhance the child’s understanding of human history.
Apart from the objects, the museum holds a special activity as part of its permanent exhibition, known as “The Great Adventure”. This activity takes the visitors on an exciting around-the-world journey.
You can take your child on a trip to the Egyptian pyramid, visit vibrant markets, and have a thrilling bus ride in Pakistan, all in the Museum of History itself! Children hardly become tired.
So, matching their energy, the museum holds regular performances and activities like storytelling and music.
2.2. Canadian Stamp Collection
If you have a hobby of collecting stamps, this area is a dream place for you!
Holding a total of 3000 stamps within the gallery, the Canadian stamp collection includes every issued stamp of Canada, since time immemorial.
They cover diverse themes such as sports, economy, environment, philately, history, and culture. Additionally, it also includes interesting artifacts related to the stamps.
One of the first galleries you will notice in this section of the national museum is the Signed, Sealed, Delivered.
One of the permanent displays, this section narrates the history of the Canadian postal system through its collection of 400 objects.
Next, we move towards a hands-on section called the stamp quest. It features an interactive introduction to the stamp collections.
One of the most popular exhibitions in the area is the Reflections of Canada. Its popularity can be justified by its display of all of Canada’s and the province’s stamps that have ever been printed.
The collection amounts to nearly 2500. Next, postage stamps relating to the rural post office, the country’s images, and postal pop culture can be found as part of the temporary exhibitions.
Just when you thought the fun was over, you are greeted with performances, workshops, and fun activities like a postal pop quiz.
Testing and further enhancing your knowledge of the postal collections, the voyage through the gallery climaxes on an enthralling and informative note.
3. Level 3
Without a second thought, the major attention on this level is captured by the Canadian History Hall, also known as the Canada hall.
With its vast galleries and multiple exhibitions, the signature exhibition occupies a significant space on the floor, and in our hearts.
Also present on this floor is the museum’s most expensive artifact; the astrolabe of Samuel de Champlain. It occupies a space in the center of the David M. Stewart Lounge.
With little time and much left to see, let us enter the Canada Hall at the Canadian Museum of History and look at what it has in store for us.
3.1. The Canadian History Hall
The Canadian History Hall at the Museum of History is divided into three galleries. Each gallery represents a period of history and covers 1000 years of Canada’s past through its exhibitions.
These three sections are divided into Early Canadian History, Colonial Canadian History, and Modern Canadian History.
3.1.1. Gallery 1 (Early Canada)
This section of Canada hall covers the themes of the earliest settlements on the region’s land, the formulation of spiritual bonds by the indigenous peoples with reference to the land and the animals, the arrival of the Europeans and its outcomes, and finally the inception of permanent European settlements.
These stories are beautifully narrated through fascinating displays.
Some of the prominent displays that will catch your attention as you wander through the gallery are- North America’s oldest representation of a human face known as the first face, small animal carvings, and a historical astrolabe, among many others.
Moving forward, you will then find yourself walking along a dark-themed longhouse that is based on wars and epidemics of the 17th century.
3.1.2. Gallery 2 (Colonial Canada)
The British conquest of Canada had a deep impact on the nation’s history.
This change is displayed in the Gallery 2 of the Canada Hall, where the perspectives of indigenous peoples, British, and French settlers are reflected through the numerous exhibitions.
This section primarily covers events like the conquest, the Seven-Year War, and the beginnings of the First World War.
Some of the significant exhibits that you may find here are – a massive portrait of Thomas D’Arcy McGee, the visionary behind the 1860s confederation, the alleged revolver used in his assassination, a robe worn by the British diplomat, Hugh Richardson, and events of New France through a virtual museum.
Exhibitions that showcase the architecture of the time include a study of a British officer, a railway station, and an authentic and beautiful Ukrainian church, which is said to have been transported from Alberta!
3.1.3. Gallery 3 (Modern Canada)
As the name suggests, this section of the Grand Hall is bound to resonate the most with your Canadian identity, today.
Covering the period from 1914 to the present times, the exhibitions in this gallery showcases events of recent history; even stories that you may have lived.
One of the many epic displays that you will find here is the multiple Canadian flags along with the original, which narrates the history of the great debate on the Canadian flag.
In front of this display is Joan O’Malley’s sewing machine, which eventually produced the first maple leaf flag.
Reflecting the traditional richness of the indigenous people, you will find stunning regalia on a massive mannequin, which was originally worn and made by dancer Amanda Larocque in Vancouver during the 2010 winter Olympics.
As you roam around history, you will find your knowledge cherished, as you witness the historical events of the residential school system of India and Canada, the arrival of Syrian refugees, the cultural mix in Canada, and much more through digital tablets and interesting photographs.
4. Tickets And Timings
A verbal tour can barely do justice to the grandiosity of the historic Museum, as it demands a minimum of three hours of your attention when attended in person.
If you think affordability is a problem, you are wrong!
The prices of the tickets to the Museum of history range from $21 per adult to $19 per senior; $16 per student and $14 per child (2-12).
Free tickets are provided to the museum members, while the public can get this opportunity on Thursdays. However, this requires a timed ticket (5 pm-7 pm).
While people usually prefer online bookings, in-person bookings are available at the Box office.
Live The Moments Of History
As beings of high emotional intellect, humans have an inherent attachment to memories. Additionally, we personify them into objects to relive the moments of the past.
Today, the Canadian Museum of history serves as a venue where memory and history interact, rather than just being an institution or display of accumulated artifacts.
Thus, if you are a person planning a visit to the Canadian Museum of History, get ready to create moments of reflection, nostalgia, and pride.
Read more here.