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


A Change of Address - SITE SELECTION

The development of Ottawa-Gatineau, as a capital expressive of national identity and a source of national pride, is the responsibility of the National Capital Commission (NCC). One of its key strategies, has been to bring Gatineau (formerly Hull) into the capital in more than just name, to enhance the image of the capital as the symbolic centre of a nation of two official cultures.

Core Area of the Capital -  National Capital Commission
The core area of the capital. When this photo was shot the future site of CMC (at bottom right) was occupied by parkland and parking lot.
© National Capital Commission

Gatineau had been neglected while the southern bank of the Ottawa River was undergoing rapid development; it had benefited little from its nominal inclusion in the capital. Federal building in Gatineau was the solution proposed; a mix of cultural, administrative, commercial, and residential functions would avoid concentration of land uses. In the 1970s large buildings to serve the federal bureaucracy were erected in Gatineau, but there remained the need to complement them with cultural and public-oriented facilities.

A further tactic in helping to tie Ottawa and Gatineau together was the development of a ceremonial route, circling the Core Area of the capital and passing major national institutions. Key sites along the proposed route were acquired by the NCC and reserved for institutions that are essential building blocks in establishing a strong chain of national symbols, such as the Canadian Museum of Civilization. Plans for the Capital Core Area were thus the context for the decision to build a new museum.

Confederation Boulevard - CD95-722-061
Confederation Boulevard is a ceremonial route that ties together the Ottawa and Gatineau components of the National Capital. Visitors who follow its path are introduced to many of the major monuments - heritage, cultural, and political - of city and nation. Its symbolic significance makes it a prime target-area for the placement of new cultural institutions such as CMC and the National Gallery of Canada.
© Canadian Museum of Civilization, CD95-722-061

The first task of the New Accommodation project was the selection of the best architect and the most suitable site. The Canada Museums Construction Corporation commissioned a study of possible locations. It assumed that an appropriate site would be within the Capital Core Area, on publicly-owned land, linked to the intended ceremonial route, and preferably visible from both the Gatineau and Ottawa sides of the river. Five prominent sites were compared; any would have been satisfactory to hold a museum that was to be a symbol of national heritage, although in fact it had largely been pre-determined where CMC would be placed.

All of the sites lay along the envisaged ceremonial route, and most of them on the primary part of that route known as Confederation Boulevard.

Of the five sites, only one lay on the Gatineau side of the river: a former industrial site which the NCC had acquired from E.B. Eddy Company in 1972 and converted into a mix of parkland and parking. Parc Laurier was targeted as a prime site for a national museum even before the comparative site analysis. Both by the NCC, which desired a cultural institution in that part of the capital to attract tourists across the river and to make Gatineau seem more a part of the capital, and by the City of Gatineau, whose development plan (1980) aimed at making Parc Laurier an urban park with a transitional building form that would link the downtown buildings to the riverfront.

Parc Laurier was targeted as a prime site for a national museum.
© National Capital Commission
Parc Laurier -  National Capital Commission

It was a natural decision that, of the two national museums to be built, one should be on the Ottawa side and one on the Gatineau side. And since CMC had in the past attracted more visitors than the National Gallery, it was considered the better choice for the Gatineau site. When the museum site analysis showed no reason to reject Parc Laurier, its fate was sealed.

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