Interview with Canadian History Hall Directors Chantal Amyot, Lisa Leblanc and Dr. David Morrison
1) The new Canadian History Hall is the most important project the Museum has undertaken since 1989. What is your role in the development of the new hall?
Amyot: My role is to direct the project by ensuring that all aspects of the development are planned and executed as per expectations. I am therefore committed to having the new hall ready for Canada’s 150th anniversary in July 2017. This work encompasses aspects such as project management, overall museological approaches, exhibition development, design, budget monitoring and control, all with the contribution of an amazing team: a lot of fun stuff!
Leblanc: I am responsible for directing the development of the experience, how the content will be communicated with visitors. I have a team of Creative Development Specialists with a solid foundation in audience engagement, exhibition development and museological approaches. Using this rich experience, the team is working with the exhibition’s curators and designers to produce the best possible visitor experience.
Morrison: My role is to direct research and the development of content. In this I am supported by a team of historians, researchers and archaeologists, and we work closely with our museological staff in figuring out what we want to say and how we want to say it. We also work with academic and Aboriginal external advisory committees and consult with Aboriginal communities and stakeholder groups.
Director, Canadian History Hall Project
2) What was your previous role at the Museum and what place does this major project holds in your career?
Amyot: I have been at the Museum for 26 years, and have done many things. My immediate previous position was Director of Exhibitions, which prepared me well for my new tasks on this project. As Director of Exhibitions, I was responsible for managing the complex multiyear exhibition program developed by our institution and presented in Gatineau as well as across Canada and internationally.
Leblanc: I have worked at the Museum of History, and previously the Canadian War Museum, for over 15 years. I had the privilege of working on the development of the permanent exhibitions and visitor experience for the new Canadian War Museum, which opened in 2005. Before this project, as Director of Creative Development and Learning for the Museum of History, I oversaw the visitor experience for new exhibitions including, design, media production, and the development of school and public programs.
Morrison: I have worked for the Museum for over 30 years. My previous position was Director of the Archaeology and History Division. When I took on this project two years ago, it was in the anticipation of greater challenges and the desire to end my career with so major an accomplishment. I will retire when it is completed.
3) What is your vision and what do you see as your contribution to the Canadian History Hall?
Amyot: Vision is a big concept. I hope to contribute to a new and exciting presentation on the history of our country. The way we think, talk and present history changes over time. The same is true for museology. Museums are always renewing themselves and finding new ways to communicate and engage with the public. It is very thrilling to be part of such an important and meaningful project.
Leblanc: My vision for the Canadian History Hall is to provide opportunities for visitors to engage with the past, and to have a greater sense of who we are and where we came from. If we can create experiences that are fun and inspire delight, and that make the past relevant by showing history doesn’t live in black and white images, but is meaningful and has an impact on our daily lives, then we will have succeeded.
Morrison: My vision for the hall, my goal, is to tell the story of Canada – the stories of Canada – so the average museum goer can understand why it is so riveting a story, and why it is relevant to their lives today. History to a nation is like memory to an individual: without it, we have no personality, we don’t know who we are.
Dr. David Morrison
Director, Research, Canadian History Hall Project
4) What does it take to lead such a multiyear management and research project?
Morrison, Amyot and Leblanc: It takes lots of patience, time to plan, organize, communicate and establish a rhythm for all members of the team and, most of all, drive, enthusiasm and motivation. It also requires you to listen actively to all involved to make sure everyone sees the purpose of their work and the value of their contribution. There are so many aspects to consider, sequencing them correctly is always challenging. It’s also important that we keep a view of the whole, look at the long game and plan for a marathon. There is a lot to do to get to opening day, and we are always keeping an eye on the big picture.
5) What are some of your passions?
Amyot: That question is too difficult to answer: too many answers! Let’s say high on my list is the thrill of travelling. I’ve been fortunate enough to have discovered many beautiful parts of the world and of this great country. It always keeps you wanting more. Museums are a small glimpse on the world so I guess that’s why I like it so much.
Leblanc: Design has always been a passion for me. I’m am amateur enthusiast and probably drive our design teams crazy with my interest in floor plans, finishes, materials and fonts. My family is my greatest passion. There is nothing better than coming home after a busy day and shutting out the world, chatting through the highlights of their days, and being involved in their lives and the planning of their futures.
Morrison: Well, history of course is one of them. Another is cabinet-making, where I also have much to learn. Travel is also on the list, especially Canadian travel, and especially northern Canadian travel, and I’ve been all over.
Director, Creative Development and Learning, Canadian History Hall Project
6) What are some fun facts that you can share about your fellow Directors?
Amyot: David can sing along to any classic Rolling Stones song (and play air-guitar!). He is guaranteed to make you laugh at least twice a day. Lisa is curious and sharp, and she gets inspiration from all walks of life. Who knew muffin recipes could apply to the exhibition-development process?!
Leblanc: Chantal is the most focused, detail oriented, hardworking and decisive person. Her laugh is so big, it would pierce through the densest stadium crowd. It’s wonderfully infectious. David is endlessly passionate about history: the stories, the people, the stuff! He loves it all! And he is so keen on building the History Hall that he makes others around him passionate as well.
Morrison: Lisa and Chantal are two of the smartest people you’ll ever meet. Lisa loves to bake cookies and, despite her last name, she is not Acadian. Chantal loves to dance, and knows all of the collected works of Madonna.