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The Bytown Museum mixes fire and ice this Winterlude

By Jared Davidson on February 5, 2016

Photos courtesy of the Bytowne Museum.

Photos courtesy of the Bytowne Museum.

The Bytown Museum is one of the oldest structures in its vicinity, no small claim for a building flanked on either side by Parliament Hill and the Chateau Laurier. Though those stately buildings house plenty of history, they are all predated by the structure that became the Bytown Museum (commissioned in 1927) by nearly one-hundred years. All, that is, except the Library of Parliament, which survived the fire of 1916, a fire that pretty much levelled the rest of the Hill.

CaS_tCZUAAEZDLKIt’s that fire that serves as the focal point of the Bytown Museum’s new temporary exhibit Forged in Fire, which opened on January 29th to coincide with the beginning of Winterlude. Because nothing says Winterlude quite like a towering inferno engulfing politically significant landmarks.

Of course, the real reason is that this year marks the 100th anniversary of the fire. That date fell on the 3rd of February, but Forged in Fire will run all the way until October 31st.

The fire won’t be the only thing on offer at the Museum during the festival. There will be snowier activities to take part in, like a snow carving demonstration and paper snowflake making workshops. The snow carving will take place on Saturday the 6th of February, and will be a recreation of the Victoria bell, which rang to warn Parliament of the spreading fire.

Plus, throughout Winterlude, the admission price for the Museum will be $2, down from its usual $6.50. That price makes it a pretty easy family outing, especially if you’re already downtown to enjoy what Winterlude there is this year. And if the warm weather (possibly a curse brought by the 100th anniversary of the fire?) kills the Winterlude spirit, at least you’ll learn something inside the museum.

Grant Vogl, Collections and Exhibitions Manager for the museum, feels that the Bytown Museum is in great position to tell the somewhat-untold story of the fire. The museum has access to an enormous collection of photos and documents that give people a real sense of the event, something that a tour of Parliament can only hint at.

Because nothing says Winterlude quite like a towering inferno engulfing politically significant landmarks.

“I think it’s been touched on in other places,” said Vogl. “We’re telling different aspects of the story.”

Though the fire is the focus of the exhibit, visitors also learn about the founding of Parliament after Ottawa was declared the capital, and view pictures of the original Peace-Tower-less buildings. There is also a photo of Barrack Hill without the Parliament Buildings, a sight that is distinctly strange.

“For most people, it’s very odd to see that area without the Parliament Buildings,” said Vogl. “They almost assume they’ve always been there.”

One final touch in the exhibit is a selfie station where visitors can dress in period garb and have a photo taken with a life-size photo of The Duke of Connaught, the Governor General of Canada during the fire.

With so much going on at such a little, and very old, building, the location makes a great family outing this Winterlude. Selfies, snowflakes, snow carving, and, of course, fire. If one of  those items seems out of place, it’s probably the selfies.

The Bytown Museum is open during Winterlude Thursday through Monday 11am–4pm. The ice carving demonstration mentioned above will take place from 12pm-4pm on Saturday February 6th. Admission to the museum is $2 during Winterlude. Forged in Fire runs from now until October 31, 2016.