The Spirit of Haida Gwaii-bill-reid-gatineau-quebec-museum-of-history

Canadian Museum of History goes forward

Canadian Museum of History gatineau quebec

The First Peoples of Canada’s totem poles create a stunning exhibit in the Grand Hall at the Canadian Museum of History. It was called the Museum of Civilization until recently. (Julia Pelish/

Story by Bruce Sach Writer

GATINEAU, QUEBEC — The Canadian Museum of History. The Canadian Museum of Civilization. Now, which one is it?

Before you get all upset about the name change, just hold your horses. Yes, we’re talking about Douglas Cardinal’s masterpiece-of-a building located in Gatineau, Quebec. You know, the one with the best view of the Ottawa’s Parliament Buildings.

If it was your favourite national museum before, it will probably remain so. And if you’ve never been to it, you must make a go for it.

And, accompanying the name change (officially made in 2013), other changes will occur. As Patricia Lynch of the Canadian Museum of History stated, in explaining the rebranding, “There will be more emphasis on preserving and presenting Canadian history, while continuing to explore world civilizations and cultures.”

Lynch explained that in the former Canadian History Hall, the permanent exhibits allowed for a glimpse of early Canada through vignettes, crossing from east to west, in chronological order, allowing for only a snapshot of each area and era. As an example, in Quebec’s case, only the era of New France was touched on and no mention was made of important recent developments such as those brought on by the Quiet Revolution of the 1960s and ’70s.

Museum’s Deeper View of Canada

The new Canadian History Hall (not slated to open until the nation’s 150th birthday on July 1, 2017), will cover Canada from pre-colonial times, relating 13,000 years of our history. Various periods will be presented through multiple perspectives. It will be inclusive and artifact-rich, the museum promises. Furthermore, Lynch says, “More up-to-date technologies will be involved, something the contemporary visitor expects to see.”

The reassuring news is that the Grand Hall, the First Peoples Hall, the wildly popular Children’s Museum and the IMAX Theatre will not change.

The outstanding view of the Grand Hall, as seen from near the exit of the IMAX Theatre, has not changed since the opening in 1989 of Cardinal’s architectural gem. This view is still just as good as it was 25 years ago. The Grand Hall, along with the unique shape of the museum, , is the most memorable recognizable iconic image that Canada has gained from this museum, regardless of its name. Not to be missed are iconic statues by Bill Reid, Robert Davidson and the brilliant “Morning Star” painted in a dome by Alex Janvier.

In the Grand Hall is the world’s largest indoor collection of totem poles. My seasoned guide pointed out a bevy of details that I never would have noticed otherwise, like the fossils in the Tyndall stone, and the large columns in the form of stylized paddles that point upward, a symbol of peace.

The Spirit of Haida Gwaii-bill-reid-gatineau-quebec-museum-of-history

The moving sculpture “Spirit of Haida Gwaii” by Bill Reid is on display in the Grand Hall at the Canadian Museum of History. (Julia Pelish/

This is the hall where the huge totem poles from the west coast measuring between 10 and 12 metres high have gazed over the great space since the museum’s opening. Each tell a story. Behind the stage is a 15-metre-long Haida canoe carved, like the totem poles, from one piece of wood. Seeing it laid out gives another perspective on the sheer size of these creations.

The First Peoples Hall will also not change. It gives a full overview of native cultures to Canada, using real artifacts, including a moosehide coat said to have been worn by Louis Riel, and a carved narwhal tusk from Kimmirut, Nunavut, explaining an Inuit legend. More masterpieces in the form of paintings by Norval Morrisseau and Daphne Odjig can be viewed here.

As we await the opening of the redone Canadian History Hall, the museum continues its tradition of unique exhibits in the five galleries designed for temporary exhibits.

These include: a “Centimental Journey,” the history of the Canadian penny, ending June 26, 2015; “Canada’s Titanic — the Empress of Ireland,” ending April 6, 2015; and “1867 — Rebellion and Confederation,” ending January 4, 2016. Watch for an exhibit this spring that is presented by a consortium of the Canadian Museum of History, the Field Museum in Chicago and the National Geographic Museum in Washington, D.C. Its title: “The Greeks – Agamemnon to Alexander the Great.”



Address: 100 Laurier Street, Gatineau, Quebec (see map below)
Telephone: 1-819-776-7000 or 1-800-555-5621 (toll free)
IMAX Theatre Schedule:
Children’s Museum:
Hours – Until March 15, 2015:
Monday-Wednesday and Friday-Sunday: 9:30 am to 5 pm
Thursday: 9:30 am to 8 pm
Prices: $13 for Adults, $20 if you buy tickets for Canadian War Museum as well.


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