Paper on Canadian Institutions: Comparison of two Museums

Public relations Paper on Canadian Institutions: Comparison of two Museums


Places and spaces have the potential of depicting identities in ways that other things cannot. Similarly, aspects such as architecture comprise an essential part of history in any nation. The Canadian nation has not been left behind in this regard. Through spaces such as museums, it is possible to clearly observe the transition from tradition to modernity within a particular society. In an article by Norman Hillmer, the history of the Canadian War Museum is described in details. The evolution from the historical war museum that stood dejected and neglected, visited only by a few people to the modern day accepted war museum is clearly described. Without focusing on particular aspects of the museum construction, Hillmer manages to clearly bring to imagination the appearance of the museum and its relationship to the present day Canadian nationality and identity. This piece of literature by Hillmer is an effective representation of the historical building as it gives an opinion on various key features of the museum and how they came to be.

Several other spaces exist that represent the identity and nation of Canada. Another such space is the Canadian Museum of Civilization. This space provides an identity of the Canadian people in a different way in comparison to the Canadian War Museum. The objective of the present essay is to compare the two spaces with regards to various aspects such as the national representation, identity and management aspects. Representation of national identity is one of the key features shared by the two institutions.

The two museums each represent the nation in different perspectives. While the Canadian Museum of civilization focuses on the heterogeneity of the Canadian communities as the motivation for its development, the Canadian War Museum focuses on the Canadian military past as an objective for national identity. Through various aspects of the two museums, the Canadian identity is clearly put across. Both museums represent the national identity through architecture as well as through the contents exhibited therein. In the Canadian Museum of Civilization, the key objective of construction was to represent the diversity of the Canadian people and to give the portrayal of a peace loving community comprising of unified cultures (Hanks 341). The contents of the museum clearly send across this image. The first aspect of the museum’s contents that alludes to national identity is the transition from the traditional to the modern, an embodiment of the nation formation era during which the museum was constructed.

Additionally, the museum exhibitions from the Grand Hall to the History Hall all give different views concerning the national identity of Canada. The depiction of different cultural villages, the representation of a canoe as the structure of the grand hall and treatment accorded to individual artifacts all point towards the diversity of the Canadian cultures (Hanks 344-348). It is also possible to clearly observe the parliament hill from the Museum’s iconic view point. The use of architecture in the Canadian Museum of Civilization is also exceptional and alluding to the national identity. Through the use of architectural designs that mimic the Canadian topological features such as the great wall of the melting glaciers, the museum clearly gets people to identify the Canadian features in it. This is because, as Hanks reports, physical characteristics unique to a country are determinants of other characteristics of the country such as economic activities hence act as a unique identifier (Hillmer 357).

The Canadian Museum of War also uses architecture to represent the Canadian identity in many ways. There are however key differences between the two museums. For instance, while their presentation of national identity at the Museum of War is mainly achieved through the use of past history, the museum of civilization uses the indigenous communities and their cultural differences to attain this sense of identity. The war museum depicts Canadian history through architecture that juxtaposes smooth spaces with rough, hewn and uneven spaces. The objective of the differences in architecture is to represent Canada through a multiple lens. The rough incomplete side conforms to war and instability while the smooth and calm side represents the more peaceful Canada. The history of the country is told through pictures of critical events in the war time Canada. The architectural designs in the war museum go father to imitate the ground effects of war through the representations of destruction both inside and outside the museum building itself (Hillmer 6).

Although each of the museums uses a distinctive feature in the representation of national identity, they exclude some of the expected components. Contrary to the design objective of the Canadian Museum of Civilization, the Museum depicts a unified Canada devoid of critical cultural distinctions. The cultural village differences notwithstanding, the museum does exceptionally well in depicted Canada as peaceful and unified. This is achieved through depiction of the cultural villages without telling the histories of the different ethnic groups. This gives an image of a culturally diverse country that does not recognize the difference between the people within. The intentional exclusion of the histories of various ethnic groups focuses on the cohesiveness of the society rather than on their diversity. This can send across the message that the success of Canada as a country is linked to the performance of the nation’s citizen with regards to peace keeping. Additionally, the museum excludes ethnic differences from their exhibitions. This can be said to be for the same reason that the museum excluded the histories of Canadian ethnic groups.

On the other hand, the Canadian Museum of War has excluded key aspects of the holocaust. From the initial stages of the museum’s development, there had been issues regarding what needed to be included and what was not. Most of the complaints arose from the veterans who claimed that some of the pictures depicted of war did not represent Canada effectively as the peace keeping nation that it is intended to be. However, these claims were refuted by the proponents of the war museum on the argument that although the Canadians are generally peace loving, the wars were an essential path in the development of Canadian history and thus cannot be ignored (Hillmer 7). Some of the aspects that the veterans wanted to exclude from the Museum include a picture of a “Canadian soldier holding a baton to the neck of a Somali boy” (Hillmer 7).

However, the exhibition of the picture was supported by the argument that it stands for a new Canada, one in which such unfortunate events have no place. In addition to this, it was also argued that despite the event being unfortunate; it did occur and thus forms an essential part of history (Hillmer 8). This can only be taken to imply the distinguishing role played by national history in the construction of national identities. At the end of everything, the only war aspect excluded were images of the holocaust. In addition to this, the final exhibitions at the Canadian Museum of War have no representations of the peaceful regimes, probably sine the objective of the museum was to provide lessons that can be inherited as part of crucial museum history. Initially, in the previous buildings that housed the Museum of war and which formed the basis for the need for reconstruction, the message of a peaceful military was eminent (Hillmer 2-3). However, the new museum excluded this aspect probably due to the fact that the roles of the Canadian military constantly shifted between peacekeeping missions and the tumultuous war times.

The use of the two museums is almost similar in various aspects. First, the government takes control of most of the operations within each of the museums. This is through delegation of duties since the two institutions are both national institutions. Secondly, it the operation of each of the institutions, there are those authorized by the Canadian government to act as the facilitators of the museum operations. However, there are also differences between the two museums in that while the Canadian war museum is managed as a peace monument, the Museum of Civilization is managed as monument of Canadian diversity. This implies that the facilitators have to be well conversant with different parts of Canadian history. Those in charge of the War Museum have to understand the Canadian history with regards to war involvement from the pre- war periods, through the Second World War to the contemporary times. On the other hand, the facilitators of the Canadian Museum of Civilization must maintain an understanding of the diverse national cultures to be capable of effectively representing the national institution to the outside world.

Through the various design aspects and components, each of the museums completely captures the attention of the users and manages to maintain a sense of connectedness to the users. Despite the differences between the two museums, each of them manages to effectively connect to the users through various unique features. The Canadian Museum of Civilization depicts the Canadian culture and distinctive features of Canadian identity. Visitor to the museum can clearly recognize features of Canadian nationality such as diversity in cultures through various exhibitions and architectural presentations. In this way, the visitors get to feel connected to the Canadian space they visit. The connection between the diversity and the cohesion of the Canadian people brings about a feeling of nostalgia and a certain longing for the nation’s past that is unadulterated by new cultures. In addition to this, the museum exhibitions and structural design also combine aspects of native and European Canadian cultures (Hanks 357). The inclusion of both aspects appeals to the innate conscience of both subgroups of Canadians hence creating the connection between the space and the people. The structural design that incorporates key features of the Canadian landscape also creates a sense of identity and connectedness to the land and to the people. The ability to link the space to the host country creates a sense of belonging for the locals and a sense of real Canadian experience by the visitors. This makes it possible to draw visitors and maintain their loyalty and connectedness.

On the other hand, the Canadian War Museum also manages to create an impressive connection without so much using the architecture but through what it represents. By portraying the two sides of Canadian history, i.e. the military perspective and the peaceful side of Canada, the space utilizes juxtaposition to accurately connect to the emotions and feelings of visitors. In this way, the museum manages to create a feeling of abhorrence of the past misdeeds and the enjoyment of the present peaceful moments in Canada. Through the museum, one can clearly connect to the uselessness of war and thus appreciate the feeling of peace. The exclusion of various peace representations of images also helps to maintain connection to the users due to the recognition of the blindfolding effects of peace images. Through concentration on war rather than peace, the museum achieves its design objectives and clearly brings users to the experience of war. Moreover, the connection clearly creates the impression of the importance of history in the appreciation of the present moment.

Works Cited

Hanks, Laura Hourston. Nation, City, Place: Rethinking Nationalism at the Canadian Museum of Civilization. In: Windsor Liscombe, R., ed. Architecture and the Canadian fabric. Vancouver, British Columbia: University of British Columbia Press. 341-362

Hillmer, Norman. The Canadian War Museum and Military Identity of an unmilitary People. Canadian Military History 19.3(2010).