Canadian Museum of Civilization
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Canadian Museum of Civilization
Canadian Museum of History
Musée canadien de l'histoire
Canadian Museum of History Logo.svg
Gatineau - QC - Museum of Civilisation3.jpg
Former name
  • Geological Survey of Canada display hall (from 1859)
  • National Museum of Canada (c. 1910-1968)
  • National Museum of Man (1968-1986)
  • Canadian Museum of Civilization (1986-2013)
LocationGatineau, Quebec, Canada
TypeHuman and cultural history
Collection size4,000,000+ (218,000 online)
DirectorCaroline Dromaguet
Canadian Museum of History Corporation network
Corporation overview
TypeCrown corporation
Minister responsible
Parent departmentCanadian Heritage
Key documents
  • Museums Act
  • Canadian Museum of History Act

The Canadian Museum of History (CMH; French: Musée canadien de l'histoire) is Canada's national museum of human history.[2][3] It is located in the Hull area of Gatineau, Quebec, directly across the Ottawa River from Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario. The museum's primary purpose is to collect, study, preserve, and present material objects that illuminate the human history of Canada and the cultural diversity of its people.[4]

Formerly the Canadian Museum of Civilization (French: Musée canadien des civilisations), the name of the museum was changed in 2013 to the Canadian Museum of History.[4] CMH is also home to the Canadian Children's Museum.[5]

In addition to the CMH, the Canadian Museum of History corporation is responsible for the operation of two other museums: the Canadian War Museum and the Virtual Museum of New France.[3]


The CMH has roughly 25,000 m2 (6.2 acres) of exhibition space, more than any other museum or art gallery in the country. In total, the complex contains over 4 million artifacts, 1 boutique, and 3 restaurants. The museum's permanent galleries explore the 20,000-year human history of modern-day Canada, in addition to a program of special exhibitions that expand on Canadian themes and delve into other cultures and civilizations, past and present.[3][6] The museum also has organized online and travelling exhibits.[3][7][8]

With roots stretching back to 1856, the CMH is one of North America's oldest cultural institutions.[9] It is also home to the Canadian Children's Museum and CINÉ+,[3][5] and used to be the home of the Canadian Postal Museum.[10]

The museum is also a major research institution. Its staff includes leading experts in Canadian history, archaeology, ethnology, and folk culture.[6]

The Museum of History is managed by the Canadian Museum of History Corporation, a federal Crown Corporation under the Department of Canadian Heritage, and is part of the Canadian Heritage Information Network.[6][11] The Corporation is also responsible for the Canadian War Museum and the Virtual Museum of New France.[11]

The museum is a member of the Canadian Museums Association,[12] and is affiliated with the Virtual Museum of Canada.

Exhibition galleries

The CMH has roughly 25,000 m2 (6.2 acres) of exhibition space--more than any other museum or art gallery in the country--spread over 4 floors in its Museum Building.[3] It has four permanent exhibition galleries:[3] the Grand Hall,[13] the First Peoples Hall,[14] the Canadian Stamp Collection,[15] and the Canadian History Hall;[16] along with its several special exhibit galleries.

The CMH is also home to the Canadian Children's Museum, a 500-seat theatre, and CINÉ+, a 295-seat 3D movie theatre.[3][5]

Grand Hall

Grand Hall

The Grand Hall on the building's first level is the museum's architectural centrepiece. It features a wall of windows 112 m (367 ft) wide by 15 m (49 ft) high, framing a view of the Ottawa River and Parliament Hill. On the opposite wall is a colour photograph of similar size. It captures a forest scene and is believed to be the largest colour photograph in the world.[13]

The picture provides a backdrop for a dozen towering totem poles and recreations of six Pacific Coast Aboriginal house facades connected by a boardwalk (which is often used as a stage for different events). The homes were made by First Nations artisans using large cedar timbers imported from the Pacific Northwest. The grouping of these totem poles, combined with others in the Grand Hall, is said to be the largest indoor display of totem poles in the world.[17]

The Grand Hall also houses the original plaster pattern for the Spirit of Haida Gwaii, by Haida artist Bill Reid, his largest and most complex sculpture. The pattern was used to cast the bronze sculpture displayed outside the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C.

Located at the end of the Grand Hall, by the river, is a 19 m (62 ft) diameter dome. On the dome is the 418 m2 (4,500 sq ft) abstract painting known as Morning Star.[18] The painting, by a Dene Suline artist named Alex Janvier with the assistance of his son Dean, was completed in four months in 1993.

First Peoples Hall

Spirit of Haida Gwaii, plaster original

Also on the Museum's first level, this permanent exhibition narrates the history and accomplishments of Indigenous peoples in Canada from their original habitation of North America to the present day.[19] It explores the diversity of the First Peoples, their interactions with the land, and their ongoing contributions to society. The Hall is the result of a groundbreaking, intensive collaboration that occurred between museum curators and First Peoples representatives during the planning stages.

Chronicling 20,000 years of history, the hall is separated into three larger zones:

"An Aboriginal Presence" looks at Aboriginal cultural diversity, achievements and prehistoric settlement of North America. Included are traditional stories about creation and other phenomena told by Aboriginal people such as Mi'kmaq Hereditary Chief Stephen Augustine who recounts the beginning of the world in the Creation Stories Theatre film.

"An Ancient Bond with the Land" examines the relationship between Aboriginal Peoples and the natural world.

"Arrival of Strangers - The Last 500 Years" examines Aboriginal history from the time of European contact to today. It examines early relations, the Métis, the clash of Christianity and Aboriginal beliefs, intergovernmental relations, the introduction of a wage economy, and post-World War II political and legal affirmation and civil rights. It also features a ten-minute video about sustaining Aboriginal culture, and introduces visitors to Native art.

The Quilt of Belonging in the museum's collections, the largest work of textile art made about Canada

Canadian History Hall

The Canadian History Hall is a permanent gallery dedicated to Canadian history that encompasses both the third and fourth floors of the museum, formerly home to the Canada Hall and the Canadian Personalities Hall and meant to be more comprehensive, inclusive and engaging than its precursors. It opened on July 1, 2017, in celebration of the 150th anniversary of Confederation.[20]

Notable artifacts


The museum was designed by Douglas Cardinal, a famous Aboriginal architect educated at the University of British Columbia and the University of Texas at Austin. The museum complex consists of two wings, the public and curatorial wings, surrounded by a series of plazas connected by a grand staircase. Naturalized park areas connect the museum and its plazas to the Ottawa River and nearby Jacques Cartier Park.[22]


The home of the museum from 1881 to 1910 was the Geological Survey of Canada Building
The Victoria Memorial Museum building housed the museum from 1910 to 1989
The museum's facilities since 1989

The origins of the Canadian Museum of History (CMH) can be traced back to the Geological Survey of Canada (GSC), which accumulated not only minerals, but biological specimens, and historical and ethnological artifacts.[23]

Between 1854 and 1856, following the GSC's successful exhibit for the 1855 Universal Exposition in Paris, a federal government committee recommended expanding the GSC's work to include a large, well-staffed museum. As result, on 16 May 1856, the Province of Canada passed an act that, among other things, allowed the GSC to establish a Geological Museum open to the public. This display hall, set up in Montreal, marked the beginning of the CMH.[23]

On 22 May 1868, the federal government declared the GSC Museum collection to be "a collection for the whole Dominion of Canada." In 1881, the GSC and its museum moved to a former luxury hotel in downtown Ottawa. In 1896, the Royal Society of Canada (RSC) petitioned the federal government to construct a new building for the so-called "National Museum," as well as suggesting that the museum's mandate be broadened to include industrial and artistic material.[23]

On 27 April 1907, the GSC became a branch of the newly-created Department of Mines.[23] In 1910, upon recommendation from Franz Boas, the anthropologist-linguist Edward Sapir was appointed as the first anthropologist in the newly formed anthropology division of the museum. Soon after, anthropologists Diamond Jenness and Marius Barbeau were hired. That same year, the museum was moved into the brand-new Victoria Memorial Museum Building on Metcalfe Street in downtown Ottawa. (The National Gallery of Canada also occupied half a floor in the building.)

On 5 January 1927, the Governor General-in-Council designated the Museum branch of the Mines Department as the National Museum of Canada. In 1956, the National Museum was divided into two branches: Natural History and Human History, with the latter containing archaeology and ethnology divisions. A Science and Technology branch would be created a decade later within the National Museum. On 1 April 1968, the museum was split entirely, though remaining in the same building: the human history branch became the Museum of Man; the natural history branch became the National Museum of Natural Sciences; and the science and technology branch became the National Museum of Science and Technology.[23] In 1982, the Government of Canada announced that the Museum of Man would be moved to its own separate facility in Hull, Quebec (now Gatineau).

In response to criticisms that "Museum of Man" could be interpreted as gender-biased in light of modern sensibilities, a competition was launched in 1986 to find a new name. The National Museum of Man became the Canadian Museum of Civilization (CMC) on June 24 that year. In 1989, the museum moved into the new facility. At the time of its opening, the cost of the museum had ballooned from an initial estimate of approximately $80 million to approximately $340 million. Despite initial criticisms of the perceived Disneyfication of the museum, its enormous costs, unique architecture, and unfinished exhibits from many quarters (including the Conservative government of Brian Mulroney), the museum soon became a major tourist attraction and was embraced by different political factions as a national symbol of "a pluralistic, multicultural society."[24]

In 2005, the museum attracted 1,396,000 visitors[25] but attendance had fallen to 1.2 million in 2010.[26]

The name of the museum was changed to the Canadian Museum of History on 12 December 2013.[4][23] Opposition parties protested the $500,000 rebranding costs during a period of austerity.[27] The new name was accompanied by a change in purpose for the institution, namely an increased focus on Canadian history. Prior to December 2013, the Museums Act had established the purpose of the prior Canadian Museum of Civilization as:[28]

The purpose of the Canadian Museum of Civilization is to increase, throughout Canada and internationally, interest in, knowledge and critical understanding of and appreciation and respect for human cultural achievements and human behavior by establishing, maintaining and developing for research and posterity a collection of objects of historical or cultural interest, with special but not exclusive reference to Canada, and by demonstrating those achievements and behaviour, the knowledge derived from them and the understanding they represent.

Changes to the museum's visual identity were implemented gradually over the course of the following months.[29][4] The Museums Act was amended on December 12, 2013 to provide a new purpose for the newly named Canadian Museum of History:[29][30]

The purpose of the Canadian Museum of History is to enhance Canadians' knowledge, understanding and appreciation of events, experiences, people and objects that reflect and have shaped Canada's history and identity, and also to enhance their awareness of world history and cultures.

In 2016, the museum changed its theatre from an analog IMAX theatre with 3D capacity[31] to a Barco digital theatre, known as CINE+.[32]

Corporation and leadership

The Canadian Museum of History is operated by the Canadian Museum of History Corporation, a federal Crown corporation under the Department of Canadian Heritage, and is part of the Canadian Heritage Information Network.[6][11] It therefore reports to Parliament through the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Minister responsible for Official Languages.[11]

The corporation's mandate is defined by the federal Museums Act and is also responsible for the Canadian War Museum and the Virtual Museum of New France.[11]

The Corporation's board of trustees is "responsible for the fulfilment of the purposes and the management of the business, activities, and affairs of the corporation." The 11 members of the board are appointed by the Canadian Heritage Minister with the approval of the Governor-in-Council. In turn, the board appoints the Corporation's president and chief executive officer, who is responsible for the direction of all of the Corporation's activities.[11]

President and CEOs
Years Director
1968–1983 Dr. William E. Taylor
1983–1998 Dr. George F. MacDonald
1999–2000 Joe Geurts (acting)
2000–2011 Dr. Victor Rabinovitch
2011 David Loye (acting)
2011–2021[33] Mark O'Neill
2021–incumbent Caroline Dromaguet (acting)

Further reading

  • Christy Vodden, Ian Dyck (2006). A world inside: a 150-year history of the Canadian Museum of Civilization. Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation, Gatineau. ISBN 0-660-19558-5.


  1. ^ "Canadian Museum of Civilization". The Canadian Museum of Civilization. Retrieved 2019.
  2. ^ "Canada's most visited museum celebrates 150th anniversary" (Press release). The Canadian Museum of Civilization. 10 May 2006. Retrieved 2019.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h "About". Canadian Museum of History. Retrieved .
  4. ^ a b c d Butler, Don (12 December 2013). "Hello, Canadian Museum of History". Ottawa Citizen. Archived from the original on 13 December 2013. Retrieved 2013.
  5. ^ a b c "Canadian Children's Museum". Retrieved .
  6. ^ a b c d Pontbriand, Pierre, and Eli Yarhi (June 25, 2015). "Canadian Museum of History". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2011.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  7. ^ "Exhibitions | Canadian Museum of History". Retrieved .
  8. ^ "How the Canadian Museum of History brought Ancient Greece to the new world". Don Butler, Ottawa Citizen, December 6, 2014
  9. ^ Vodden, C. and Dyck, I. A World Inside: A 150-year history of the Canadian Museum of Civilization. Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation, 2006
  10. ^ "The Canadian Postal Museum is now closed". Canadian Postal Museum. Government of Canada. Archived from the original on 2014-01-21. Retrieved 2013.
  11. ^ a b c d e f "About the Corporation | About". Canadian Museum of History. Retrieved .
  12. ^ "Canadian Museum Association". Retrieved .
  13. ^ a b "Grand Hall". Canadian Museum of History. Retrieved .
  14. ^ "First Peoples Hall". Canadian Museum of History. Retrieved .
  15. ^ "The Canadian Stamp Collection". Canadian Museum of History. Retrieved .
  16. ^ "Canadian History Hall". Canadian Museum of History. Retrieved .
  17. ^ - Annual Report 1995-1996 - Research Archived March 30, 2005, at the Wayback Machine
  18. ^ "Morning Star". Retrieved .
  19. ^ "Civilization museum now the Canadian Museum of History". CBC News, Dec 12, 2013
  20. ^ "Canada's many pasts will shape its future" | The Globe and Mail, Kate Taylor. July 7, 2017
  21. ^ Moffat stick
  22. ^ "Exterior Features and Landscaping". Written in the Stone: An Architectural Tour of the Canadian Museum of Civilization. Canadian Museum of Civilization. Retrieved .
  23. ^ a b c d e f "History Timeline | About". Canadian Museum of History. Archived from the original on 2011-09-12. Retrieved .
  24. ^ Gillam, Robyn (2001). Hall of Mirrors: Museums and the Canadian Public. Banff, AB: The Banff Centre. ISBN 0-920159-85-0.
  25. ^ "2005-2006 Annual Report" (PDF). Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation. Government of Canada.
  26. ^ Gessell, Paul (October 12, 2011). "PROFILE: Talking plans with Canadian Museum of Civilization CEO Mark O'Neill". Ottawa Magazine. Retrieved 2012.
  27. ^ "Museum spends $500K on re-brand following Tory-mandated name change". Amy Minsky, Global News, July 2, 2014
  28. ^ "Section 8, Museums Act (S.C. 1990, c. 3)". Justice Laws Website. Department of Justice. Retrieved 2013.
  29. ^ a b "Bill C7: An Act to amend the Museums Act in order to establish the Canadian Museum of History and to make consequential amendments to other Acts". LEGISinfo. Parliament of Canada. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 2013.
  30. ^ "Full text of BILL C-7: An Act to amend the Museums Act in order to establish the Canadian Museum of History and to make consequential amendments to other Acts". Parliament of Canada. Retrieved 2013.
  31. ^ "IMAX Theatre with 3D capacity" (in French). Retrieved .
  32. ^ Cox, Aidan (February 29, 2016). "History Museum theatre upgrades into the future". Ottawa Citizen. Retrieved 2019.
  33. ^ "Canadian Museum of History CEO resigns after investigation into alleged workplace harassment". Retrieved .

External links

Coordinates: 45°25?47?N 075°42?32?W / 45.42972°N 75.70889°W / 45.42972; -75.70889

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