Thursday, 23 February 2017

CAPITAL CULTURE: THE ORIGINS OF OTTAWA'S MUSEUMS


THROWBACK THURSDAY

BY: SERENA YPELAAR

The title says it all ... this week I'm with some of my Museum Studies classmates in Ottawa, and today is our first full day in our nation's capital!

During my undergrad at the University of Ottawa, I would religiously keep Thursday evenings open so I could enjoy weekly free admission to museums in the city. It's surreal to be back at my old museum haunts as a U of T MMSt student, so I’ve decided to revisit the origins of each museum we'll be visiting. How were these key learning hubs founded, and how did they evolve into the landmarks they are today? Take a look and get acquainted with the history of these museums below.

Canadian Museum of History
Founded: 1856
Initially located at the Geological Survey Building, the Museum of History displayed minerals, biological specimens, and ethnographical artifacts. By 1910 the museum was named the National Museum of Canada and moved into the Victoria Memorial Museum. Eventually, in 1968, the museum was split into the Museum of Man and the Museum of Nature. The latter would remain in the building while the Museum of Man moved to its current location in 1989. To ensure a more gender-neutral name, the museum was rechristened the Canadian Museum of Civilization in 1986 before becoming the Canadian Museum of History under the Museums Act in 2013. The CMH operates in a shared network with the Canadian War Museum

Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Quebec. Source.
What to look for: The Grand Hall is hard to miss, as it's one of the first things you'll see upon entering. The vast canoe-shaped hall hosts a dozen totem poles, as well as the plaster cast for Bill Reid's sculpture, “Spirit of Haida Gwaii”. The forest image spanning the back wall is thought to be the largest colour photograph in the world.

National Gallery of Canada
Founded: 1880
The National Gallery was formed by Canada's Governor General at the time, Michael Douglas Sutherland Campbell, 9th Duke of Argyll. As a prominent figure in society, the Governor General even selected some of the Gallery's first paintings. As of 1882, the Gallery resided in the Supreme Court building, but it too would move to the Victoria Memorial Museum in 1911. The first National Gallery Act was passed in 1913, giving the Gallery its mandate. 1962 saw the museum move to an office on Elgin Street called the Lorne Building, and by 1988 the Gallery was in its current location on Sussex Drive.

"Maman" sculpture by Louise Bourgeois outside the National Gallery of Canada. Source.
What to look for: There's a large atrium nestled at the heart of the gallery, complete with a glimmering pool, high ceilings and skylights. It's a great place to sit and relax, or to take a quiet moment between viewing all the works. Keep an eye out for a similar garden oasis too.

Canada Aviation and Space Museum
Founded: 1964
More recently founded at RCAF Station Rockcliffe as the National Aeronautical Collection, the Canada Aviation and Space Museum was originally an amalgamation of three existing collections (National Aviation Museum at Uplands, Canadian War Museum collection, and the RCAF Museum). The museum was housed in World War II era hangars, but was moved into a triangular hangar in 1988, where it remained. A new hangar was opened in 2006 for additional storage of aircraft. The museum changed its name to “Canada Aviation and Space Museum” in 2010 shortly after reopening from extensive renovation and expansion. CASM is part of the Canada Science and Technology Museums Corporation.

WWI Sopwith Ship Camel biplane at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum. Source.
What to look for: The Ace Academy travelling exhibition allows visitors to operate a virtual aircraft in an immersive environment, using their movements to steer a digital rendering of the museum’s Sopwith Ship Camel biplane.

Bytown Museum
Founded: 1917
The Women's Canadian Historical Society of Ottawa (WCHSO) founded the Bytown Museum, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. Based on the collections of influential women in society, the museum was originally located on Nicholas Street across from the Carleton County Gaol. Today it is housed in the Commissariat building next to the Rideau Canal, between Parliament Hill and Ch√Ęteau Laurier. The Commissariat dates back to the construction of the Rideau Canal as overseen by Colonel John By, and the Bytown Museum reflects the history of Ottawa and its roots in the building of the Canal. 

The Bytown Museum, situated alongside the Rideau Canal. Source.
What to look for: I'm a bit biased because I was on the Bytown Youth Council during my undergrad, but the museum boasts a number of unique political and military artifacts on the third floor. Look for Thomas D'Arcy McGee’s death hand in the flesh – or plaster, rather – the cast follows a Victorian death mask tradition and was taken just after his assassination in 1868. Keep an eye out for the pocket bible that intercepted a bullet in WWI and saved the life of the soldier who was carrying it.


Hopefully this list was a sufficient primer on the museums we’re visiting. If you’re not with us in Ottawa this week, with any luck you’ll able to visit these institutions in the near future!

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