Saturday, 25 February 2017




This past week was reading week, and rather than hibernating, Musings went on a road trip! For those of you unfamiliar with the Museum Studies (MMSt) program, every year the Museum Studies Student Association, MUSSA, hosts a class trip which is open to first and second year MMSt students. Every other year we visit Canada's capital city, Ottawa, to see what's happening in our national museums.

A foggy view of the parliament building (Photo: Natania Sherman)

This year's trip, organized by MUSSA's social chair and Musing's Museum Innovations writer Kelly Mackenzie, brought us to Ottawa in the middle of February where we had the opportunity to devote four days to experiencing the culture and unseasonably mild weather of Ottawa, Ontario.

Between us we managed to visit the Canadian Museum of History, the Canadian Museum of Nature, the Canadian War Museum, the National Gallery of Canada, the Bytown Museum and the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum.

Since Serena and Hayley already provided an overview of the museums and museum programs in Ottawa, this article will just provide a recap of some of the highlights of the trip.

February 23rd

Our first stop at the CMH in Gatineau (Photo: Natania Sherman)

For our first stop, the Canadian Museum of History (CMH), located in Gatineau, Quebec, hosted us for a variety of candid talks about some of their ongoing projects, including the upcoming Franklin Expedition exhibition, inspired by the recent discovery by Parks Canada of the H.M.S. Erebus and Terror in the arctic. We heard from the Virtual Museum of Canada about how they facilitate museum and community online projects and learned a bit about the CMH's approach to accessibility and repatriation of indigenous objects. The highlight, however, was being led on a tour of the Canadian History Hall which is currently under construction but will reopen on Canada Day. I can't wait to go back to see the finished exhibition!

Part of a behind the scenes tour of the Canadian History Hall (Photo: Natania Sherman)

After our day-long visit to the Canadian Museum of History, we had the option to visit the Canadian Museum of Nature or the Canadian War Museum. Choosing which museum to visit in our free time was much like choosing a favourite child, but I ended up visiting the Canadian Museum of Nature to take in the Reptiles exhibit and play with the interactives. All in all, a long day of successful museum-going.

February 24th

Part of the Alex Janvier exhibition at NGC (Photo: Natania Sherman)
Friday brought us to the National Gallery of Canada where we got to hear presentations from staff about their diverse career trajectories and get an inside look at past exhibit, Elisabeth Louise Vigée Lebrun. We got to learn from professionals in every aspect of the museum, from marketing and digital strategies to education and interpretation. We also received a guided tour of the Alex Janvier exhibition from the curatorial team, which provided a deeper perspective into his life and art as well as background to some of the curatorial decision-making that occurred when planning this exhibition.

Students mingling with alumni at Boston Pizza (Photo: Natania Sherman)

In the evening, all students were able to partake in an alumni networking event at Boston Pizza. It was a wonderful experience to get to meet and mingle with so many MMSt alumni working in the Ottawa region and many of us were able to make new connections and get some advice from those who have been there before us.

February 25th

Walking to the Bytown Museum (Photo: Natania Sherman)
On Saturday, the last day of our trip, we had the option to visit either the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum (CASM) or the Bytown Museum for tours of their current exhibitions. This was once again like choosing a favourite child. At the Bytown Museum, we had an amazing tour of the building and got to learn about museum management, especially for a small museum. Those who visited CASM took part in a tour of the collections facilities and current exhibitions. Then we loaded ourselves back on the bus and departed for Toronto

Key Themes from This Year's Trip 

The Sesquicentennial: Canada 150 is a major event that is bound to take over Ottawa, and a major source of funding for cultural organizations. Most of the museums we visited seemed to have some kind of ongoing renovation project related to the sesquicentennial, many of which won't be revealed until July of this year.

Reconciliation: At both the NGC and the CMH many staff members were putting a concerted effort into placing indigenous stories front and centre and trying to place them as part of a living culture within Canadian History. This meant re-evaluating some of the ways indigenous cultures had been displayed previously in their museums and making major changes to interpretive and curatorial practices.

Government: The challenges of being a national museum can impact an institution's scope and mandate as well as create bureaucratic hurdles. Many of the museums we visited had to balance politics with museology as a result of being located in the capital city and political centre of Canada.

Canada 150 logo at the Canadian Museum of Nature (Photo: Natania Sherman)

Thank you to all of the museums and museum professionals who hosted us and shared their current and upcoming projects with us. We really appreciated you taking time out of your busy schedules to talk to us and answer our questions. A special thank you to social chair Kelly Mackenzie and MUSSA for organizing the trip and making sure that everyone had a great time in Ottawa.

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