The Canadian Museum of Civilization is located in Gatineau, Quebec, directly across the Ottawa River from the Canadian Parliament buildings. This summer, the museum is featuring a travelling exhibition about horses. We recently spent a day enjoying a visit to the museum, checking out the new exhibit and revisiting the permanent exhibits.
One of the most interesting things about the museum is the building itself. The museum moved to its current home in 1989. Designed by Douglas Cardinal, the building seems to flow in sweeping curves that echo its river setting and the sculpting force of water, wind and glaciers.
We began with the horse exhibit. It was quite well done, but I was a bit disappointed that, for me, it didn’t quite capture the magnetism and grandeur of these animals. Of course, as someone who developed ‘horsefever’ at an early age, and read everything about horses that I could lay my hands on, none of the information was new to me. The exhibit looks at the evolution of the horse, and how the horse has benefitted mankind as a source of power. One of the displays I especially liked was this dramatic presentation of the skeleton of a man and a horse.
I also enjoyed a presentation of sculpture by Joe Fafard. It was an effective way to bring the size and action of horses into the museum without using film media.
After seeing the horse exhibit, we toured the rest of the museum, which includes many excellent and informative displays, mostly dealing with Canadian and First Nations history. There are lots of interesting sights. This giant ‘stamp’ was made of 20,000 postage stamps and commemorates the 400th anniversary of the founding of Quebec City by Samuel de Champlain in 1608.
You can ride a camel!
Over a spiralling staircase is a giant ceiling painting entitled Morning Star. It was painted by Alex Janvier over four months in 1993.
One of the most impressive areas of the museum is the Grand Hall, which celebrates the cultural heritage of the Native peoples of the Northwest Coast. It displays the world’s largest indoor collection of totem poles.
I especially enjoyed an exhibition entitled Profit and Ambition: The Canadian Fur Trade, 1779-1821. The relationships between the North West Company, the Hudson Bay Company, and First Peoples are examined along with the role of adventurers who mapped the land. One of the latter was Alexander Mackenzie, for whom the Mackenzie river is named.
Sir Alexander Mackenzie (1764-1820) became the first white man, and probably the first person, to cross North America north of Mexico in 1793, a dozen years before Lewis and Clark. One indication of the fame he enjoyed can be judged by his portrait, which was painted by a premiere English portrait artist of the day, Sir Thomas Lawrence. His portrait was completed about 1800. You may recognize another work by Lawrence, a portrait of a young girl. It has famously been paired with Gainsborough’s earlier painting of “Blue Boy”, and is often referred to as “Pinkie”.