Take a second look at Canadian history

March 18, 2013

History is about people. We can tell a lot about a nation by the individuals it admires or vilifies, puts on a pedestal or ignores. Double Take – Portraits of Intriguing Canadians, on display as the Canadian Museum of Civilization, prods us to take a second look at 59 Canadians we thought we knew and, in the process, reconsider who we really are as a nation.

Examining Canada’s history through the stories of individuals can be complicated. Who decides which people best represent our country? It can be debated endlessly, but the truth is that almost any combination of interesting individuals — provided they reflect our different ethnicities, languages, time periods and geographical areas — can reveal who we are collectively.

Double Take assembles more than one hundred photographs, paintings, videos and other works of noteworthy Canadians. The portraits show us who these people are, or at least appear to be, while the accompanying texts scratch the surface of each public persona to reveal less-known, sometimes whimsical details about their lives.

You may be surprised, for example, that goaltender Jacques Plante spent much of his spare time knitting. Or that Cree singer-songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie, known for her activist anthems, appeared on Sesame Street for five years.

But did you know that environmentalist David Suzuki, a third-generation Japanese-Canadian, was imprisoned at age 6 in a Canadian internment camp during the Second World War? Have you ever heard of Caubvick, an Inuit woman taken from Labrador to London in 1772 by explorer George Cartwright? She came home with the smallpox virus, which wiped out her entire community.

Would you have guessed that frontier poet Robert Service was once a banker in Scotland, or that explorer extraordinaire Samuel de Champlain beautified the City of Québec by planting rose gardens?

Taken together, the faces and facts in Double Take present a surprising yet perfectly authentic portrait of Canadian history.

The exhibition is organized by Library and Archives Canada, with additional content provided by the Canadian Museum of Civilization.

Double Take – Portraits of Intriguing Canadians is presented from March 22 to October 14, 2013 at the Museum of Civilization.