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Annual Report 2018–2019


Message from the President and CEO

Mark O’Neill

Mark O’Neill
Photo by Francois Ozan

While our role as caretakers of the past is undeniable, change and innovation are in fact also certainties in the museum world. Because we reflect the communities we serve, we must keep pace with changing ideas, priorities and expectations. As Canada evolves, the Museum must not only adapt how it produces and delivers content, but also re-examines the content itself as new information comes to light.

Over the past year, the Canadian Museum of History and the Canadian War Museum have proven both nimble and responsive in meeting and exceeding the expectations of today’s audiences. This was certainly true of the Canadian History Hall, which remains one of the Museum of History’s most popular spaces and has welcomed over 650,000 since opening in July 2017. Given that Canada’s national narrative is constantly evolving, the Hall has already adapted by allowing new information and artifacts to be presented in various displays. This year, we are also well into planning for a completely reimagined Canadian Children’s Museum, so that it can continue to provide families with the engaging, accessible and dynamic experiences they have come to expect from this Museum. Public consultations began in October 2018, and a dedicated team was put in place this year to deliver the new Canadian Children’s Museum by 2021.

At the Canadian War Museum, energies have been similarly focused. At the end of this fiscal year, we closed out a multifaceted four-year commemoration of the First World War Centenary, with a range of special exhibitions, unique social media campaigns, and public conferences featuring high-profile experts. Staff have also been working with the Munnings Museum in England on a presentation of paintings by First World War artist, Sir Alfred Munnings, drawing primarily from our own outstanding Beaverbrook Collection of War Art.

The Museum is now immersed in planning for an extensive slate of programming around the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, which will include a number of special exhibitions and programs to highlight this important anniversary and its connection to Canadian history.

One of our major priorities continues to be nurturing our relationships and fostering close collaboration with Indigenous communities across the country, on programs, research, exhibitions and other forms of partnership. A key initiative during this period has involved bringing the multimedia exhibition UNCEDED – Voices of the Land to Canada. Developed by renowned architect Douglas Cardinal and his team, UNCEDED explores the innovations and stories of some of North America’s top Indigenous architects. Presented at the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale, it was the first exhibition of Indigenous architecture ever presented at the event.

It was a great privilege to travel with Mr. Cardinal to Venice for the opening, where it immediately became clear to me that this was an exhibition that needed to be shared with all Canadians. The Museum of History has created an internal team to work with Mr. Cardinal and his staff and, when UNCEDED opens here in May 2019, it will mark the first time a project from the Architecture Biennale is to be presented in this country. Thanks in large part to the leadership of Jean-Marc Blais, Director General of the Museum of History, and the dedicated work of his team, Canadians will soon have the opportunity to experience firsthand what may be the most important expression of Canadian Indigeneity ever presented in an exhibition outside this country.

Telling Canada’s regional stories, and connecting to Canadians where they live, is equally important to our Museum. One of the ways we do this is by providing a platform for unique online exhibitions through the Virtual Museum of Canada (VMC). During this fiscal year — taking into account feedback we have received from stakeholders — we began working on a major revamping of the VMC funding structure and interface, making it easier than ever for regional museums, cultural organizations and historical societies to share important stories with Canadian and international audiences.

Beyond these special projects, both Museums continue to offer outstanding exhibitions which connect to our collective past. At the Canadian Museum of History, we opened Medieval Europe – Power and Splendour, a dazzling exhibition featuring some of the finest objects from the collection of the British Museum. The Museum also presented Notman, Visionary Photographer, an exhibition from the McCord Museum which profiles the life and career of one of Canada’s most successful early art entrepreneurs.

At the War Museum, the exhibition lineup included The Last 100 Days, which explored the harrowing final months of the First World War, and the heroic efforts of Canadians to bring the costly conflict to an end. Equally moving was The Wounded, an exhibition featuring the work of photojournalist Stephen J. Thorne in an exploration of war’s physical and psychological scars.

There is also much to look forward to as we head into a new fiscal year. At the Canadian Museum of History, the major international exhibition Neanderthal, developed with the Musée de l’Homme in Paris, will offer a fresh take and help dispel myths on our oft-misunderstood human cousins. At the Canadian War Museum, Highland Warriors will look at the roots of some of Canada’s most iconic regiments, and upgrades to ongoing exhibitions will add to our narratives on recent conflicts and Canada’s Victoria Cross recipients. We are confident that our upcoming exhibition lineup will offer something for everyone.

The Museum is grateful for the many donations received this year. One in particular that I would like to highlight was a generous gift from Dr. James Fleck, Chair of the Board of Trustees for the Museum. This gift was recognized through the naming of the Margaret and Jim Fleck Family Hub in the Canadian History Hall. I think the naming of this central gallery space is a fitting tribute, acknowledging the important role that Dr. Fleck played in supporting the creation of this monumental project.

As we look back over the year’s achievements, and towards the opportunities for the upcoming year, I would like to express my sincere appreciation to all those who continue to contribute to the successes of our two Museums. Thank you to our sponsors, donors and partners, as well as to our staff and volunteers for their dedicated work, and to the Board of Trustees for their invaluable guidance and leadership. I also extend my appreciation to the Government of Canada for the ongoing funding that enables the Museums to each fulfill their role as stewards for this country’s varied and diverse history.


Mark O’Neill
President and CEO
Canadian Museum of History