Detailed review by TheDaz
Halifax, United Kingdom
Sometimes it's easy to forget how amazing the World is, and you need to marvel at some of the things we (as inventive and innovative humans) have filled it with. The Museum of Civilisation in Ottawa is the best example in North America of just that. Combining the aforementioned Civilisation part, with the Canadian Museums Post and Children (not all at once, that'd just be weird), this is an impressive collection of artefacts and displays that will leave you speechless.
Located in Hull (funny how English place names get around), just across the Ottawa River in the Quebec region of Gatineau, the Museum sits literally opposite the Canadian Parliament Buildings.
Very easy to reach by OC Transpo (Ottawa Carleton Public Transport) Buses, which drop outside the Museum, or by foot across the fairly long and wooden boarded Alexanda Bridge, the Museum is well placed to cater for the stream of visitors it receives, including countless school tours.
Right: mundane bits. The Museum is open generally from 9am til 5 or 6pm, depending on Season, and usually later until 9pm on Thursdays and Fridays. Admission is a pretty reasonable $10 per adult, $6 per child, and $25 for 2 adults and 2 anklesnappers. As I am both unbelievably jammy and generally amazing, we turned up on Thursday at 4pm, after which time General Admission to the Museums is free. Nice.
The Ticket price listed is for entry to either the Civilisation or War Museum (located across the River in Ottawa), and both the Childrens and Postal Museums. If you want to add the Civiliation or War Museum visits to the other three, the charge increases by $5 per adult. There is also an Imax screen which has a rotation of epic films to watch for another $5, and a final $5 (Total $20 - about £10 thesedays) will also get you into the Special Exhibition - which is currently all about those crazy Ancient Greeks, but was a History of Canadian Film Photography when we went (I think).
The Museum has the usual paraphernalia of gift shop, brochure booth, 3 different cafés, waiting areas etc, and also rather a nice Park outside, which leads down to the River and has a Kiddies Play Area and a few nice sculptures (especially the Native Eagle type bird that hovers protectively over the play park). There are actually 2 Buildings at the Museum. The Glacier Wing, opened in 1989 is a solid, curved topped building that houses all the Museums exhibits, and sits next to the Shield Building, a stepped, flowing structure that houses the collections and conservation labs and the Admin parts of the Museum. Designed by Douglas Cardinal, there is more Copper used in the roofs than any other building on Earth, and the Manitoba limestone used as cladding actually contains fossils - it's quite impressive to walk around the outside of the building and feel the surface intricacies of the buildings.
Also outside - on a mezzanine level outside the Shield Building - you'll find the small but beautifully arranged Zen Garden, a height of Japanese understatement and spiritual enlightenment.
Right - enough fresh air - back inside for viewing. You start, curiously on the 2nd Floor, and take a long downscalator to the 1st Floor, which opens up into a magnificent Atrium of Totems of the First Nations - built and decorated by the various tribes that inhabited (some still live on there) British Columbia. The Salish, Haida, Tsimshian to name a few are represented here in their differing designs and beliefs in the Giant Totems, some reaching 10 metres high or more. The Hall has 15m high windows that flood the room with light that bounces off the poles and the Forest Backdrop behind - incidentally the World's largest colour photograph. The poles here are authentic and not all as garish and stylised as the ones seen in more touristy destinations.
Behind the poles stand a connected series of longhouses, filled with artefacts from each of the Nations' heritage, the impressive long canoes, the tools they used, articles of clothing and art - a stunning display of Canada's rich heritage.
The final piece to mention in the Hall is the amazing sculpture of the Spirit of Haida Gwaii - a small boat crammed with the legendary figures of the Haidas lore - the Raven and Eagle, Grizzly Bear, Dogfish Woman, Wolf and the Chief Kilstlaai - to name some of the occupants. The piece is about 4-5 metres from stem to stern and half as high.
Moving on from the Hall and the longhouses, First Peoples Hall is crammed to the gills with more displays and video clips of the History of the Native Indian peoples - usually grouped together as Inuit or Dene, but comprising several dozen distinct peoples over tens of thousands of years. There is even a tiny carving of a detailed head on the head of a tiny tusk - the skills illustrated by these First Nation forebears is stunning.
Following the Museum upwards back to Level 2 - you will find the Postal Museum, containing many many stamps, stamp mosaics, and other philatelic memorabilia, as well as the History of the Postal service in Canada, particularly the challenges of delivering to a population half that of the UK, in a country 40 times the size. Here also is the Childrens Museum (a riot of interactive displays for the anklesnappers to get involved with and a fun way to get some learning into them. They can get themselves a Travel Passport at the Bureau and follow a globe-trotting Great Adventure around the Museim. I admit to not paying too much attention here, as I was eager to get up to Level 3.
Level 3 (as if you couldn't have anticipated!). This is where the History of Canada as a Nation is portrayed - from the Norse Settlers of the Dark Ages, through to the formation of Canada as a modern nation in the 20th Century. The first part takes in the harsh life onboard ship and the layout of an early Whaling Station, before moving onto a street scene depicting life on the Atlantic Provinces from 1600-1810, focusing on the Acadians (Francophone settlers who were displaced to Louisiana later on), and Farm life in a frontier land. The next section details Upper Canada (now the Midwest) as fur traders from the Hudson Bay Trading Company and early settlers pushed on into the remote forested and mountainous regions of the Canadian Shield and the Rockies during the 18th and 19th Century. The final section of this phase shows life from about 1840-1890, with a British Military outpost, life as a Merchant and a Maritime Shipyard, complete with half timbered hulls of ships.
The construction and layout of these scenes is amazing, as different tableaux of real lives in these early environments guides you through Canada's unfolding history. Real items used at the time - from letters written in the 19th Century to tools dug up next to a remote fishing outpost detail what those forebears went through just to survive and then thrive in their new environment.
Phase 2 of the floor takes you through specific cultures as they lived in recent Canada. From the Doukhobors (Russian migrants) in British Columbia, to the Ukrainians in Manitoba, via a Saskatchewan Grain Elevator and a Chinese Laundry - this is a colourful look at the variety of cultures that makes Canada the most diverse and welcoming nation on Earth. A two-ended nation: a series of displays here shows Canada's importance on the Pacific Rim, with an Orient facing economy and an influx of Asian migrants. A final snowy section depicts life above 60 (60 degrees North), the snowy part of Canada that's bigger than Europe and contains less than half a million people, and how communication, aircraft, and the mix of old and new cultures has changed life for the workers and peoples of the region. A new Territory called Nunavut (our land), was created less than a Decade ago - giving a greater autonomy to the vast icy reaches of Arctic Canada to its native people.
Level 4 - the smallest of the lot - is a gallery of Canadian Personalities. Photos, artifacts and displays of historical figures in the Nation's History fill the room. Grouped into 5 sections: Inspired, Built, Governed, Fought and Founded - the gallery is an illuminating trip into Canada's past: with such figures as Champlain, Trudeau, Eaton, Wolfe and Montcalm.
A final point - go and look in the David Stewart Salon in the corner dome of Level 3. Temporary exhibitions are placed here - and possibly my favourite bit of the whole Museum was the stunning sculpture of the totemic figure: Chief of the Undersea World - a massive stylised fish diving into the water, teeth bared, huge Dorsal Fin skyward.
To summarise - if there's any room left for more words that is! A stunning and awe-inspiring display of massive installations and historical pieces - the Museum of Civilisation is easily the greatest treasure of a Nations's Heritage and Development I've ever come across, and I wouldn't hesitate to either recommend it to everyone, or go back again myself! The half-day I spent there was filled mostly with the sound of jaw-dropping and my camera clicking - I have at least 50 Digital Pics left after deleting the many that resulted from my terrible camera skills or tall people blocking the view!
Canadian Museum of Civilization