Friday, October 13, 2017

A Visit to the Canadian History Hall

This week I finally got myself out the door and over the river to the Canadian Museum of History. The Canadian History Hall, a three-gallery, immersive look at Canada’s past, opened July 1 of this year, on Canada’s 150th birthday and I finally checked it out. During my studies, I was fortunate enough to visit the Canadian Museum of History at a few different points for behind-the-scenes peeks at the development of the Canadian History Hall (the perks of museum studies programs!). It was remarkable to be able to see all of the plans and conceptions come to fruition. I can only imagine what it would be like for someone working on a project of that magnitude to finally see it as a completed exhibition with visitors exploring within. 

A Visit to the Canadian History Hall | kathleenhelen

The first of the three galleries is the Early Canada Gallery, beginning around 11,500 BCE up to 1763. This gallery explores the communities and nation built by the Indigenous First Peoples living throughout Canada and then the first European explorers and settlers.

Canoe in the Canadian History Hall | kathleenhelen

The galleries do an excellent job at creating an immersive experience for visitors. The first thing I noticed was the soundscapes, which shift from one to the next almost imperceptibly as you move through the galleries, and metaphorically, through time.

Canadian History Hall | kathleenhelen

I also loved the plethora of artefacts scattered throughout the exhibition. I’m most definitely a seeker of shiny things when it comes to visiting museums (and not a reader of all the text), so I loved being able to see all of the objects. I was also happy to see the artefacts scattered (in an organized manner) throughout the exhibition, in varying groups. I thought it allowed visitors the opportunity to get closer, both physically and emotionally to the objects, which I liked.

Astrolabe in the Canadian History Hall | kathleenhelen
This astrolabe has been popularly linked to Samuel de Champlain but was not capable of being as accurate as his maps. It's possible it could have been a spare, but it's more likely this belonged to a Catholic missionary.

The second gallery is the Colonial Canada Gallery, which explores Canadian history from 1763 to 1914.

St. Onuphrius Church in the Canadian History Hall | kathleenhelen
St. Onuphrius Church is a consecrated Ukrainian Catholic Church that was installed as part of the original Canada Hall. When revamping the gallery, the Canadian Museum of History kept the church in its former location and built the new Canadian History Hall around it. It's a wonderful centrepiece of the second gallery. 

The third and final gallery is the Modern Canada Gallery, which explores Canadian history from 1914 to the present. What I really loved about this gallery was how it succeeded on touching various vital events from modern Canadian history but didn’t focus too heavily on them when they’re covered in much more depth elsewhere. For example, both the First and Second World Wars are shown in this gallery, but because the Canadian Museum of War has extensive exhibitions uniquely focused on those wars, their coverage is limited. I also noticed this with the Group of Seven painters (who can be seen in more detail at the National Gallery of Canada) and Canadian immigration policies throughout the years (which can be seen in more detail at the Canadian Museum of Immigration). I thought it was necessary and right that these aspects of Canadian history be included, but also felt it was appropriately done considering those topics are more suited towards other national institutions (and our national institutions should be working cohesively to present Canada’s heritage and history, in my opinion).

The Canadian History Hall | kathleenhelen

This gallery was also where I really noticed the head on approach the Canadian Museum of History decided to take on various aspects of conflict within Canadian history. In the first two galleries, I felt like the different sides of historical conflicts were well represented, at least much more so then they have been in the past. As a very white descendent of Western European immigrants, however, I acknowledge that I am in no place to decide if all sides have been well represented or not. The third gallery, in discussing modern conflicts, touched on things like the Quebec debate on independence by showing both sides equally and when discussing Canada’s immigration policies, succeeds in not shying away from historical facts like the turning away of the St. Louis. After visiting the galleries, I definitely felt like I had gained insight into some of the differing perspectives of some conflicts that I had not had beforehand.  

Political Cartoon featured in the Canadian History Hall | kathleenhelen
A political cartoon from 1956. It seems like some conversations never really change...

I spent approximately 2 hours at the Canadian Museum of History. In that time I only visited the Canadian History Hall and I read very few of the panels in full. This is definitely an expansive exhibition that will take many more visits before I feel like I’ve thoroughly explored it, but I did enjoy my experience and I would recommend a visit to the new History Hall to all.

Gateway leading into the Canadian History Hall | kathleenhelen
The Gateway leading into the Canadian History Hall features images from various Canadian landmarks and icons. The immediate image is of Peggy's Cove in Nova Scotia.

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