After 10 years at various positions within the Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation, Mark O’Neill has now taken the reins. His love affair with our national museum of military history will surely continue as he takes on an additional responsibility, the stewardship of our national museum of social history.
Yesterday and today: the building blocks of a bright tomorrow
Is it OK for the big boss to play favourites? The question makes him smile and his answer is heartfelt: “Yes…and mine is the Grand Hall!” When he speaks about the Canadian Museum of Civilization, Mark O’Neill can’t help but wax poetic about the majestic space that embodies the national institution’s mission to preserve our heritage and build our identity.
If Mark O’Neill calls the Grand Hall ‘the most beautiful room in Canada’, it’s that he sees in it several of the same qualities that make our nation great. With its impressive dimensions (112 m long and 15 m high), its breathtaking view of the Ottawa river and the Parliament buildings and, of course, the world’s most important collection of totem poles, the Grand Hall never fails to impress and inspire.
Its curves recall the serpentine geography that has had a profound influence on our settlement of this country; its permanent exhibition illustrates the rich traditions of the west coast’s Six Nations; its monumental sculptures evoke the deep spirituality that guided this land’s first inhabitants. Its triple role as an exhibition hall, a place of gathering and a space for contemplation allows the Grand Hall to deliver a unique personal experience to each visitor.
A museum for the people and by the people
Being state-run does not suffice for a museum to truly embrace its ‘national’ character. Much more is needed. For Mark O’Neill, the term is central to his vision for the Canadian Museum of Civilization. A national museum must be able to touch each Canadian, to engage and rally us around a common identity.
But how do you ensure that a museum has an equally high degree of relevance to someone who hails from Whitehorse, or Lethbridge, or Jonquière? This is a major challenge and it is one that Mark O’Neill has promised to tackle: by working to create partnerships that assure the Museum’s presence throughout the country; by studying and preserving the heritage of all regions and time periods; by discovering events and people that have made their mark on the hearts and minds of all Canadians.
This is the lens through which Mark O’Neill has already started to contemplate the large scale national exhibition that will commemorate the 150th anniversary of Confederation in 2017. He wants to create an exhibition that is well-researched, relevant, memorable and, above all, a unifying force. It promises to be a beacon of culture, very much like the museum where it will take place.