Re-branding the Canadian Museum of Civilization

Today’s announcement regarding upcoming brand changes to the Canadian Museum of Civilization (CMC) speaks to a change in how history is interpreted at Canada’s federal museums.  As my recent post on National Conceptions of History in Museum Settings noted, the CMC has never been a museum focused solely on the history of Canada.  Rather, the CMC has always had an anthropological focus and many of the blockbuster style exhibits that are at the CMC focus on the history of cultures outside of Canada.

This re-branding is to coincide with the 150th anniversary of confederation which will occur in 2017.  It has been noted that exhibits will predominately focus on the monarchy, major milestones, and military history of Canada.  Considering Ottawa is already home to the Canadian War Museum, this focus on military history seems a bit strange.

The proposed changes see the CMC being renamed as a Canadian Museum of History and refocusing the content of the museum to more Canadian topics.  Some CMC staff have expressed concerned about the potential that “Canadian history stories that will be the subject of research and exhibitions will be identified by politicians across the Ottawa River rather than the museum’s own experts.” [1]  The CMC currently operates under its own independent mandate without the influence of political forces.  It will be interesting to see if the objectivity and freedom of interpretation remains in this new incarnation of the museum.

The actual announcement occurred after speculation, cries of politicization and complaints were running wild throughout the media and twitterverse.  The remarks of Heritage Minister James Moore and Museum president Mark O’Neill attempted to address some of these concerns.  O’Neil maintained that the museum would continue to host international exhibits.  Some of these international exhibits will be housed in the space that is presently home to the Canadian Postal Museum.  The current re-branding plan includes the dismantling of the postal museum, with it’s contents possibly being relocated. This relocation may be part of the new plan to link Canada’s network of museums with the Canadian Museum of History, with the aim of increasing accessibility.

All potential political motivations aside, the Museum of History is seeking input from Canadians about the content of the new museum.  By the looks of the new “My History Museum” site the CMC will be holding online and in person consultations about defining Canadian moments, important arfitcats, and influential Canadians.  I like the idea of crowdsourcing aspects of museum exhibits, and ideally this crowdsourcing venture will be paired withed strong curatorial insight.

It will be interesting to see how the $25 million dollar re-branding and renovation project unfolds.  I’m sure there are Canadians on both sides of the argument — some wishing to see a more Smithsonian National History style museum and others wishing to keep the CMC in it’s current state. Personally, I really hope this process allows for great attention to be paid to Canada’s diverse past, including the history of Canada’s Indigenous peoples and residential schools.  Though, I suppose if nothing else, the publicity surrounding the re-branding has the potential to draw attention to history education, museums, and the public history field in Canada.