on November 21, 2010
The Canadian Museum of Civilisation in Ottawa (or rather, as it's over the river, in the Quebecois Gatienau) is a large and lavish anthropological museum occupying an extraordinary building designed by the Canadian architect Douglas Cardinal. The building has a prominent position on the riverside, opposite the Parliament Hill, almost as if it was making a statement about a relationship between the federal republic epitomised by the Hill and the peoples (and people) that create it, whose artefacts feature in the museum. It's a beautiful, striking building designed apparently to represent the lay of the land with the glaciers and the Canadian Shield as a prominent feature. The forms are organic, flowing; the textured stone appears warm and alive, the landscaped grounds and public artworks around add interest at close quarters without distracting from the long-distance view from the opposite side of the river. As a building, viewed from the outside, Cardinal's creation works beautifully. Inside, the cavernous (but light-filled) Great Hall is a showcase for tall totem poles and other sculptural work from the Pacific North-West, so iconic of the Canadian Indigenous art, and yet so far away from their source here on the eastern reaches of Ontario. The Hall has also replica houses of the Pacific tribes as well as a replica of Bill Reid's famous bronze (the original is at Vancouver Airport) depicting the spirits of the Haida Gwaii. Behind the hall is a series of exhibition spaces displaying various First Nations' artefacts, from huge canoes to tiny carvings, which start to give an idea of a variety of cultures, styles and peoples that use dot inhabit this land before the Europeans took the best bits of it for themselves. In addition to the Native Canadian showcase in and around the Great Hall, The Museum of Civilisation incorporates the Postal Museum (you need to be a philatelist to really find this area interesting) and the Children's Museum, which is where the little ones (i.e. kids aged approximately three to eleven) will find plenty to see and do in a series of interactive displays on various social activities (e.g. theater, trade, harbours, housing, toys and many more). The Children's Museum at the Canadian Museum of Civilisation in Ottawa is one of the best we have ever visited, and we have visited quite a few (they do tend to become a bit samey after a while, and this one stood out overall). The arts' centre was particularly good, where you could not only draw and paint but also make real clay pottery and other serious stuff.Above the Children's Museum, Canada Hall is a showcase for all things national, a sumptuous selection of tableaux from crucial phases and locations of Canadian history, from the medieval Vikings to whaling stations, French settlers in the Acadia, prairie pioneers, trappers and traders. Different nationalities and ethnicities also get their space, from the Chinese laundry to Ukrainian grain farmers to those living in the Arctic north, few in numbers but so important for the national psyche (and economy). Canadian Museum of Civilisation in Ottawa/Gatineu is a no-expense-spared showcase for the cultural and social variety that made Canada what it is. A lot of it is designed to appeal to children and young people, with hands on displays, waxwork like scenes and focus on social history and individual experiences. A casual browser will happily spend a couple of hours here (without children, that is), but you can easily make a full day out of it, especially in the summer when you can come out to have a break or a picnic lunch in the grounds overlooking the river. The catering facilities consist of a restaurant (which looks quite reasonable) and a cafeteria (which was as overpriced and mediocre as most museum facilities in the world are). Tickets are 12 CAD per adults and 30 CAD per family at the time of writing in 2010, which isn't cheap but certainly good value for what's on offer.
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