CULTURE

Museum of Civilization to change name, focus only on Canadian history

OTTAWA — The Globe and Mail

An exterior view of the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Que. The museum will be renamed to focus specifically on Canadian social and political history. (Harry Foster)

The Harper government is set to rebrand and refocus the country’s biggest museum into a monument to the history of Canada in the lead-up to celebrations of the 150th anniversary of Confederation in 2017.

An announcement is scheduled next week that the Canadian Museum of Civilization will be renamed to focus specifically on Canadian history. The renaming signals a broader mission for the museum beyond its current anthropological focus to one that looks more seriously at Canadian social and political history. Currently, the museum highlights international exhibitions such as “Mystery of the Maya” and an upcoming exhibition on Haitian voodoo.

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The decision to include displays about the country’s major milestones is part of a continued effort by the Conservative government to reshape the country’s major symbols with a greater emphasis on the monarchy and past military achievements.

“It’s all about our shared Canadian history,” a federal source said of the upcoming announcement.

Self-described as “Canada’s largest and most popular cultural institution,” the Museum of Civilization is in Gatineau, Que., just across the Ottawa River from Parliament. It is expected to be renamed the Canadian Museum of History or the Museum of Canadian History, federal sources said.

The rebranding will be the latest initiative supported by the Harper government to place a greater focus on domestic celebrations. The government this year has marked the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812. The 100th anniversary of the Grey Cup will be celebrated later this fall.

Other events leading to Canada’s 150th anniversary will include a celebration of the Canadian Arctic Expedition of 1913-1918 starting next year, and the 150th anniversary of the Quebec and Charlottetown conferences in 2014, among others.

Sources said Ottawa will be looking to enlist museums across Canada as part of its celebration of the country’s history, with details to be announced on Tuesday by Heritage Minister James Moore and other senior federal officials.

“Our museums are the showcase of many of the treasures that we have to celebrate in our history, they are a central piece,” a federal source said.

The initiative could face resistance, however, as the Harper government has come under fire for its insistence on celebrating the monarchy and the country’s military history.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, for example, has been ridiculed for replacing two works by Quebec painter Alfred Pellan with a portrait of the Queen at the entrance of the Lester B. Pearson building in Ottawa.

The federal government has also been increasing the visibility of former Conservative leaders John Diefenbaker and Sir John A. Macdonald across the country, naming buildings, an icebreaker and an Ottawa parkway in their honour.

In addition, the government announced this week that it is renaming buildings in the honour of veterans of the War of 1812, earning a rebuke from the NDP.

Ottawa is also planning to build a monument to the War of 1812 on Parliament Hill, breaking with a tradition of having only statues of individuals on the legislative assembly grounds.

The Museum of Civilization is one of the main tourist draws in the capital region, located on Confederation Boulevard, which links the most prominent federal locations in Ottawa and Gatineau. While it has an acclaimed collection of aboriginal artifacts from across Canada, it has also been home to exhibitions from countries such as Mexico and China.

The Museum of Civilization moved from Ottawa in 1989 to a new flowing building in Gatineau designed by architect Douglas Cardinal. It was previously called The National Museum of Man.

 

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