Canada Day marks the culmination of nearly 5 years of work at the Canadian Museum of History when the new Canadian History Hall, the museum’s marquee exhibition, opens to the public for the first time.
When the it was first announced in 2012 that the Museum of Civilization would be renamed the Museum of History, plans were set to completely revamp and rebrand the Canada Hall exhibit. It was time for a new Hall that could more accurately and effectively tell the story of Canada.
“There was nothing wrong with the previous hall,” says Lisa Leblanc, Director of Creative Development and Learning for the Hall. “It was a great, beloved, fabulous, immersive space. But it started with the arrival of the Europeans and ended in the 1970’s. It was sort of a ‘geographic time voyage’ through the past, so you were on the East Coast only 1000 years ago. You would never go back to the East Coast, and you moved westward as time moved forward. There were all kinds of things that made it a really great rich experience, but also things that made it a very challenging experience.”
The new exhibit will be very different, and will tell the story of Canada in a different way. Instead of one long route, where even the most diligent visitors would often get bored halfway through and lose focus, the new exhibit is broken down into three more manageable routes (earliest times to 1763, 1763 to 1914, 1914 to present), and presents multiple narratives and perspectives.
“We’re looking at 15,000 years of history. We’ve totally changed the architectural space, and the way in which we tell the stories. We’re including real objects, talking about real people, we’re developing the Hall in consultation with Canadians from across the country. We’ve really started with a blank page and looked at who Canadians are today and what they’re interested in, and really worked from there to say these are the stories we need to tell, and this is how we need to tell them.”
Portraying the history of Canada from multiple perspectives is one of the stated goals of the Hall, presenting both the good and the bad. Presenting multiple narratives and perspectives in necessary when telling the full story of Canada, especially in the age of reconciliation. Leblanc believes that by showing these perspectives, museums, such as the Museum of History, can maintain their reputation as the most trusted and impartial source of information.
“We want real people to speak in their own voices, so that we’re transparent, and we can show visitors what we know and what we don’t know. The role of the museum is to layout the evidence of the past. We want visitors to be left to interpret that past based on their own perspectives. We’re not judging the past, but we are ensuring that visitors have as much information as we are able to make available for them to make their own conclusions.”
“What these stories mean to the communities and the people that continue to be affected by them are also a part of that, and we’re able to show that evidence as well. We’re not here to advocate for a position or to judge the past. We’re here to show, to the best of our abilities, what happened, and then provide the context for those actions, and then to speak to the consequences at the time, but also what those legacies and consequences are today.”
When visitors get their first glimpse of the new exhibit, there will be plenty of stories to hear, and lessons to learn. The Canadian History Hall will give all Canadians a new way to learn about the history of this country, and hopefully, as Leblanc says, the about the importance of history itself.
“History is a part of everybody’s life. We’re a part of defining history as much as history has defined us. The decisions of the people who came before us, whether good or bad, whether we believe in them or not, they’ve shaped our world today. We, as citizens today, should be fully aware and fully committed that we shape the one we live in, not only for today, but for the people that come after us.”
The new Canadian History Hall at the Canadian Museum of History opens on Canada Day. The Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall will take part in the opening ceremony at 10am. Entrance will be free to the public July 1st and 2nd.