Written in the Stone - An Architectural Tour of the Canadian Museum of Civilization


Conceiving a National Museum - THE MUSEUM AS VISION

The museum expresses the philosophies, world-view, values, aspirations, and intentions of those who shaped its form and its function. One was the architect; Douglas Cardinal's first proposal for a design for the new museum declared:

"Our future is optimistic and should be celebrated. This national treasure-house must welcome the people, teach them, inspire them and send them away enlightened and optimistic that we are progressing as human individuals and as a Nation."

Instead of designing a structure that merely houses artifacts, Cardinal created a modern artifact. It makes statements about Canada's past and present that are highly appropriate contexts for the cultures presented within the building. His vision of what the new museum should be matched well the vision of CMC's leaders.

The Canadian Museum of Civilization is both a product and a process. The process is the harmonization of the creative efforts of the architects of museum form and the architects of museum function. The product is a microcosmic reflection of the global village and, at the same time, its spiritual counterpart the universal church, celebrating the cultural achievements of humanity (especially Canadians) from the Ice Age shaman who painted the caverns at Lascaux to the Space Age wizards who plot spiritual pathways in fibre-optic cables.

During the course of the project, the museum's name changed from the National Museum of Man to the Canadian Museum of Civilization, reflecting not only an implicit broadening of the museum's mandate but also a recognition of McLuhan's concept of a global village where all civilizations meet. Unlike the United States' Smithsonian Institution, which tends to focus on the eastern seaboard, as the cradle of the nation, and the myth of the melting-pot, CMC has necessarily taken a different position on ethnicity. Canada has never been a true melting-pot of culture. CMC celebrates the diverse ethnic origins of the Canadian people within the context of a national identity. This gives CMC a stronger link to other nations than most other national museums have, while placing it in a unique position to provide world leadership in intercultural understanding. This perspective reflects Canada's image of itself as a nation which seeks to promote world peace.

Interpretive programmes - D2004-18587, CD2004-1377Interpretive programmes - D2004-18589, CD2004-1377
Interpretive programmes at the Museum provide opportunities for people from different cultural backgrounds to cross paths and interact.
© Canadian Museum of Civilization, D2004-18587 (left),
D2004-18589 (right), CD2004-1377

If Canada is not a melting-pot, it can be seen as a crossroads where valid cultural forms can be exchanged and built upon. Crossroads have important traditional roles as market-place and ritual centre. The first meets our needs to communicate with fellow humans, and the second recognizes our urge to communicate with our ancestors and our deepest-rooted beliefs. As Canada in microcosm, CMC uses the crossroads model to provide an arena in which different cultures meet for their better mutual understanding.

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