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Timeline: Canadian Museum of Civilization

Timeline: Canadian Museum of Civilization
The Canadian Museum of Civilization at night.

Scroll down to view Timeline. Click on arrows to advance slides; click on images for larger view. All images are © Canadian Museum of Civilization. See also Timeline: Canadian War Museum.

With well over 150 years of continuous operation, the Canadian Museum of Civilization, now Canadian Museum of History, is older than Canada's confederation. Like the country itself, the museum has had lean years and good years.

The museum has undergone several name changes, reflecting changes in focus and expansion of its mandate. Its collection of more than 3 million artifacts constitutes the largest, most important holdings on Canadian society and material history.

Its evolution has been towards a broadening of scope and interests, beginning with a focus on Aboriginal societies, later expanding into research and exhibitions on the lives, communities and cultures of all peoples in Canada.

In recent years, the Museum has become a venue for presentations on world civilizations: their cultures, histories and intersections with Canada.

— Text by Victor Rabinovitch, former CEO of the Canadian Museum of Civilization and the War Museum for eleven years. He currently teaches public policy at Queens University.

The founding year. The Geological Survey of Canada receives a legal mandate to exhibit items collected from field surveys, notably natural history materials. They begin in Montreal, moving some years later to James Street in Ottawa’s Centretown for their public exhibits. Aboriginal and European settler artifacts are also displayed, and are featured in international expositions on Canada’s riches.

The first specialised museum building opens in Ottawa in what is now the Canadian Museum of Nature to house staff, collections and displays. The human-history mandate is expanded by creating an “Anthropology Division” led by international researchers.

The museum building is shut and then reconfigured into a temporary House of Commons after the great fire in Parliament.
The museum re-opens, but is challenged to continue as a low priority and low funded operation. The natural history and human history branches are formally re-named the “National Museum of Canada” in 1927.
The report of the Massey Royal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and Sciences specifically criticizes the poor funding and organization of museums and art galleries. This is seen to be part of wider problems facing Canada’s cultural institutions and policies.

The modern era begins. The federal government creates an umbrella group called “The National Museums of Canada,” with an explicit pan-Canadian role to promote exchanges, and share data, managerial and scientific expertise. Funding, staffing, education programs, and research are expanded in all heritage areas, including the now re-named “National Museum of Man.”
Design and construction begin for two national capital museum buildings: one for the National Gallery and one for the Museum of Man. Image: Prime Minister Trudeau breaking ground.
After asking for public input and conducting a contest among staff, the Museum of Man is re-named “The Museum of Civilization.” The innovative title is gender-neutral and also reflects a wider interest in Canada’s place in the ‘global village.’
Queen Elizabeth opens the new Museum of Civilization building located in Gatineau, Quebec. Although criticized for its construction budget and unfinished permanent exhibitions, the CMC’s architectural style, beautiful location and popular approach are a hit with visitors. Early years are challenging, as staff strive to complete large exhibition spaces despite cuts in funding.

Three major exhibition galleries are opened — the First People’s Hall; Canada Hall; and Biography Hall — bringing the “Canadian civilization” concept to maturity. The museum offers visitors ‘layers’ of information on history and identity: Aboriginal, social, political, and biographical. Exhibitions also focus on children around the world, postal history, and on temporary international themes. Attendance is sustained at well over 1 million visits annually.
As part of its 150th anniversary, the museum creates a National Collections Fund to renew attention to collecting historical artefacts in both the civilization and military history areas. (Active collecting had been downplayed during the previous 20 years due to construction and funding pressures.)
The federal government gives the Museum a new name and new mandate to focus predominantly on collection of artifacts and interpretation and presentation of
Canadian history.

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Current rating: 3.1 (35 ratings)
Paul Davis
28/10/2012 10:58:42 PM
When you're making up the New Museum's timeline, you can go back 14,000 years before present, as that is the oldest (so far!) wooly mammoth bone found in the Yukon that was clearly worked over by humans, found at the famous Blue Fish Caves site near Old Crow, Yukon!

All the best,
Paul Davis
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