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Annual Report 2019–2020


Message From the President and CEO

Portrait of a smiling man seated in a red armchair, wearing a dark suit, white shirt, red tie and glasses

Mark O’Neill, President and Chief Executive Officer

Serving as a reliable source of authentic information and experiences is at the core of everything we do at Canada’s national history museums. It is, in fact, one of the primary ways in which we earn public trust — an unparalleled asset for a museum. All our activities are guided by our commitment to functioning as both a trusted resource for accurate information on Canada’s human and military history, and as a centre for excellence in research. We also remain keenly aware of the fundamental reasons that museums exist: to research, collect, exhibit and engage. These factors truly inform everything we do.

We have responded to these core responsibilities in a number of ways this year, through strategic artifact acquisitions, fascinating and informative exhibitions, engaging programs, innovative research and mutually beneficial partnerships, all of which were guided by the strategic directions established by the Museum’s Board of Trustees in 2015.

In the nearly three years since its opening at the Museum of History, the Canadian History Hall has surpassed attendance projections and continues to act as an important resource for Canadians seeking a candid and honest exploration of their own shared past, as well as an invaluable resource for international visitors who want to learn about Canada’s rich and diverse history. During this period, the Museum was proud to have had the opportunity of hosting a number of high-profile special events in the Hall — with guests that included Canadian and international dignitaries — allowing us to highlight the Hall’s engaging content and invite visitors to come face to face with the unique stories, objects and experiences presented as part of the exhibition’s storyline.

Strengthening Indigenous relations and fostering partnerships with communities from around the country remain top priorities for our institution. We continue to work closely with Indigenous communities to find innovative ways to ensure that their important histories and cultures are seamlessly woven throughout the Museums’ content. This year, we undertook a groundbreaking partnership with the Peskotomuhkati Nation at Skutik, working with its members to purchase and care for a collection on their behalf, until it can eventually be transferred into the community’s permanent care. We also continue to look for ways to improve and expand upon the RBC Indigenous Internship Program, which works to support upcoming museologists in developing their careers while at the same time providing staff at our Museums an opportunity to learn from the interns and about the diverse communities and cultures they represent.

The Museums presented a number of special exhibitions that offered visitors fascinating glimpses of numerous topics, from the little-known history of Neanderthals to first-hand testimonials shared by renowned Indigenous architects in UNCEDED – Voices of the Land, an exhibition project led by Douglas Cardinal, architect of record for the Museum of History. Highland military history was offered up at the War Museum, exploring the enduring links between ancient Gaelic warriors and modern-day Highland regiments in Canada, and The Wounded presented visitors with an unflinching and brutally honest look at the struggles and hopes of Canadian veterans injured in recent years.

At both Museums, cultural activities and programs connected audiences with fascinating Canadians and provided an opportunity for dialogue on a range of subjects over the year. Programs such as the series An Evening With… at the Museum of History featured conversations with remarkable Canadians, while the popular World at War lecture series at the War Museum continued to offer audiences a chance to hear from a range of experts who brought unique insights to discussions on important topics from our military past.

The Museums were proud to have embarked on a great number of partnerships this year, including several of national scope, which illuminate events and issues that we must never forget. These included a ceremony for the tabling of the Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, and a ceremony and concert for Truth and Reconciliation. Both took place at the Museum of History. The Museum was also the venue for the 2019 Federal Leaders’ Debates — selected as such because of its mandate to enhance Canadians’ knowledge of the people, places and events that shape the country’s identity. The Museum was extremely proud to have been the site of this important event. The War Museum was the site of a number of highly significant events as well, including the National Holocaust Remembrance Day Ceremony in partnership with the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem, an event which the Museum is honoured to host on an annual basis.

Research will always be one of the key tools that the Museums use to stay front-of-mind for Canadians, engaging in projects that expand our collective knowledge of this country and its people. This year’s projects included work related to several important archaeological sites, as well as work on upcoming Museum-led exhibitions. Both Museums are also currently undertaking major oral history projects, collecting first-hand accounts from veterans and other notable, fascinating Canadians, including industrial designer Karim Rashid and Indigenous former Olympian Sharon Firth. These oral histories allow us to share important Canadian stories through the authentic voices of those who lived them.

Along with organizations around the world, many of our Museum initiatives and ways of working have been impacted by the unprecedented situation caused by COVID-19. The closure of our Museum sites in March affected planned timelines and approaches for a number of projects and exhibitions, including the presentation of the highly anticipated Queens of Egypt exhibition, the renewal of the Canadian Children’s Museum, and plans for commemorating the 75th anniversary of VE Day. While timing and formats may have to be adjusted, as always, Museum staff have been exploring innovative ways to ensure we continue to deliver important stories and projects to Canadians.

Looking back over the past year, I would like to express my appreciation and gratitude to all those who support the Museums in various ways. These include our Board of Trustees, advisory committees, donors and sponsors, Museum Members, dedicated volunteers and all those who continue to engage with the Museums through on-site visits, travelling exhibitions, partner networks and through our virtual channels. Every exhibition, publication, program, event and research project undertaken by our Museums is done on behalf of Canadians who share a passion for learning more about our collective past, and your support is invaluable to all we do.


Mark O’Neill
President and Chief Executive Officer