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Ottawa's Museum of History: Q&A

Ottawa's Museum of History: Q&A featured image

A Q & A with Stéphanie Fortin, Tourism and Marketing Officer for the Museum of History, Ottawa



If you have never visited before, what is the best way to describe the Museum of History?

The Canadian Museum of History is Canada’s largest and most popular museum. It tells the story of Canadians and shares their treasures with the world. In the Museum, you will discover the events, experiences, people and objects that have shaped the nation’s history. You can marvel at the world’s largest indoor collection of totem poles and explore the traditions and achievements of Canada’s First Peoples. You can tour many international special exhibitions, discover the world in the Children’s Museum and live the ultimate cinema experience at the Museum’s IMAX® Theatre.


With Canada Hall now closed for renovations, what do you recommend student groups visit while at the Museum?

Even with Canada Hall closed, you can spend many hours discovering the Museum and its exhibitions.

The Grand Hall is the architectural focal point of the Museum and houses the world’s largest indoor collection of totem poles. An integral part of the Grand Hall is the traditional house fronts of the First Peoples of the Northwest Coast. Inside the houses, you will find contemporary and historical works of art, ceremonial clothing, chiefly regalia, magnificent decorated tools and other everyday objects. At the end of the Grand Hall, there is a recreated archaeological dig, which was undertaken between 1966 and 1978 near Prince Rupert, British Columbia.

The First Peoples Hall celebrates the history, diversity, creativity, resourcefulness and endurance of Canada’s First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples. A walk through the exhibition will leave you with a better understanding of the diversity of First Peoples, of their past and continuing contributions to Canada and the world, and of their ancient bond and relationship to the land.

Still on the lower level of the Museum, you will also find the Canadian Stamp Collection, which presents every stamp issued in Canada – more than 3,000!

On level 2 (street level), you will find special exhibitions, the Children’s Museum and the IMAX® Theatre. I strongly recommend that every group visit these three world-class special exhibitions:

Terry Fox – Running to the Heart of Canada: On the 35th anniversary of Terry Fox’s heroic Marathon of Hope, relive his 143-day, cross-Canada run with this unique exhibition. Explore the deep affection Canadians have for Terry and see how his legacy continues to inspire us.

1867 – Rebellion to Confederation: On July 1, 1867, Confederation was proclaimed, capping a 30-year journey for a society in transition. Meet the people who fought, negotiated and compromised to coexist, and discover the pivotal moments leading to Canada’s birth.

The Greeks – From Agamemnon to Alexander the Great: Travel to Ancient Greece, where myth and history entwine at the dawn of Western culture. Over 500 priceless treasures chronicle 5,000 years of kings and scholars, poets and philosophers.


When will Canada Hall reopen, and what great things can we expect to be unveiled?

The new Canadian History Hall, which represents the largest and most ambitious exhibition project that our Museum has ever undertaken, is due to open on July 1, 2017, the 150th anniversary of Confederation.

The Canadian History Hall will cover approximately 4,000 square metres and will consist of three main galleries. The first gallery will cover the period from the dawn of human habitation to the British conquest of 1763. The second will cover the period from 1762 to the end of the 19th century. The third will pick up from where the second gallery ends, exploring important themes that characterize the 20th and 21st centuries in Canada.

The Canadian History Hall team has been working closely with architect Douglas Cardinal on the new galleries, which will incorporate some of the features that were part of Mr. Cardinal’s original vision for the space when he designed the Museum. One example of his vision is the use of long sightlines and open space within the new hall, representing Canada’s iconic landscape.


What is your favorite exhibition at the Museum right now and why?

My favourite exhibition at the Museum is currently Terry Fox – Running to the Heart of Canada, which tells the story of the Marathon of Hope. Terry’s courage and determination are nothing short of inspiring, and what he was able to achieve as such a young man continues to amaze me. Also, the exhibition contains some very cool artifacts, such as the van that accompanied him on his run, thousands of fan letters he received and even his artificial leg!



What is your favorite artifact in the Museum?

My favorite artifact at the Museum is the collection of totem poles in the Grand Hall. Each one is different and unique. The tall totem poles were often erected near the chief’s house, and the carved figures represented ancestral lineage stories or crests brought into a family through marriage.


The Haida canoe is also very impressive. It is 16.5 metres long, could take 5 tonnes of cargo and needed a crew of 10 paddlers and a steersman. It was made from a single red cedar log that was skillfully dug out, steamed, shaped, carved and painted to produce an elegant, efficient and seaworthy means of transportation. It is a stunning piece that you will fully appreciate when you realize that it was built by hand hundreds of years ago. 


Who is the coolest celebrity to ever visit the Museum?

We have had the privilege to host some special guests, such as US Presidents G. W. Bush and Bill Clinton, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Nelson Mandala, His Excellency the Premier of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China, as well as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, William and Kate.


If you could recommend another must-see Museum in Ottawa, what would it be?

I would recommend the Canadian War Museum. This Museum never fails to amaze me every time I visit. What touches me about the War Museum is the emotional and compelling aspect of its stories. It is not a Museum about war, but about people and the impact conflicts has had in their lives. My favourite things to do at the Museum are talking with a veteran in LeBreton Gallery and seeing the famous Teddy Bear, a small stuffed bear on display in the Museum and featured in the storybook A Bear in War.



Sneak Peek at 2015/16 Exhibitions




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