Friday, July 27, 2018

Canadian History

The permanent galleries at the Museum of History examine the story of Canadian history from time immemorial to the current day, organized in three sections branching off from a central space. The Canadian History Hall, as it is called, was opened up again for Canada Day in 2017 after being closed for some years for a major reworking. In the corridor leading to the entrance, the walls are covered with images of places and activities from across the country, a combination of reflective glass and white overlays making up each image. This for instance is the St. Lawrence Market building in Toronto.

The first gallery opens up with the creation story of the Anishinaabe First Nation, narrated in that language with English and French subtitles at the bottom of the screen.

This display case includes two items from 15 000- 12 000 years ago: a partial mammoth jaw and a giant beaver incisor. Their placement shows where each item would have gone on the animals, drawn onto the glass.

This is a model of a place called pis'kun (Buffalo Jump) by the Piikani peoples. A 20 metre sandstone cliff, a network of cairns, and other tactics were used by the tribe to lure the herd into a stampede over the site as part of their hunting technique.

The items within the case have contemporary reproductions outside that the visitor can touch. These copper tools date back 4000 years, and were excavated from a spot in northern Ontario along the shores of Lake Nipigon, a site called the McCollum Cache.

These items are all polar bear effigies, created by the Dorset people, a tribe of the far north who went extinct at some point before European contact (their name comes from a location where they were known to congregate, Cape Dorset on Baffin Island). They were known to have carved these effigies of the animals whose world they shared.

Here we have a case of technology bringing those long dead back to life, at least in a way. This is a display screen featuring four members of a family from four thousand years in the past, along the Pacific coast. The community of shishalh north of Vancouver worked with archaeologists from this museum and the University of Toronto when the remains of a family were uncovered. A man and a woman were buried with a wealth of stone and shell beads, and an infant and two young adult males were part of the burial, suggesting a family unit. The number of beads suggest the family had great social status. Research was carried out- the skulls were digitally scanned in collaboration with the tribe, and the faces recreated via computer to suggest what they might have looked like. Their faces shift as you look at them, blinking periodically and changing position. The remains were returned to the tribe for a reburial after research was completed, marking a different kind of archaeology.

This canoe is a recent piece, built in 2015 by Todd Labrador, a Mi'kmaq elder from Nova Scotia, done in the traditional techniques of his people, who used these for traveling, hunting, and fishing on the waters. The canoe is 5.6 metres long, and uses birchbark, ash, and spruce root as its materials. The tools used are displayed nearby.

Here we have another example of a recreation. The Inuit community at Arctic Bay collaborated with the museum reconstructing the appearance of a man who lived on Baffin Island some eight hundred years ago. Nuvumiutaq is the name he has been given, a hunter who would have been around forty when he died. Ivory tools bear the markings he made telling his story and were buried with him. Reproductions of those tools are displayed here, as the originals were returned to the tribe for repatriation. The tools include things like ice picks, knives, and bird effigies.

The ways of the First Nations, however, were soon to change, as Europeans began to come west across the Atlantic. First the Vikings, then centuries later others seeking out passages to the riches of China and India. The story of interaction between very different peoples shifted the dynamic in North America forever. This is a model of a galleon, the San Juan de Pasajes, which sank in Red Bay in the mid-1500s.

A large display here shows some of the weaponry of the era being used by Europeans and First Nations peoples.


  1. Looks like a fascinating exhibit.

  2. Interesting exhibit! Always good to learn about our nation's history.

  3. Love the fact they have reproductions you can touch.

  4.'s good to know what came first you!

  5. the stars of the critters are way cool. ( ;

  6. The cliff hunting technique sounds so horrible...but they had to eat. We do it too, I suppose, in different ways.

  7. @Linda: it is.

    @Nancy: yes, I agree.

    @Francisco: thank you.

    @Marie: it does create a different experience. They have that in several instances where the displayed item, even if it is a reproduction, is in a case, while a reproduction, often larger, is in hand's reach.

    @Tom: that's true.

    @Beth: it's a good way to introduce things.

    @Sandi: they showed more respect to that which they hunted. It's a pretty resourceful tactic.

  8. Amazing reconstruction of those Native American faces. I enjoyed seeing your Canadian history.

  9. What a fascinating place! Great post, William!

  10. I think we are one mammoth tooth away from using the DNA to bring them back. Love this exhibit.


  11. They certainly have new and wonderful ways of telling our story in modern museums.

  12. Fascinating! Looks as if the canoe was built to carry a heavy or bulky load in the center.

  13. @DJan: in the nineteenth century, a lot of museums had the good intentions of preserving artifacts of native peoples (because the cultures were in danger of disappearing), but it was also misguided. These days the effort of museums seems to have shifted, as is the case here, into a relationship of collaboration and respect, with the interests of the people involved paramount to the interests of the museum. I think that's the right perspective.

    @RedPat: thank you!

    @Janis: we could be.

    @Red: the reworking of the permanent galleries was done in precisely the right way as far as I'm concerned.

    @Revrunner: it must have been. It would have been ideal if you were coming home from a hunting trip and had a deer or two.

  14. It is an excellent exhibit.
    And an excellent post.
    : )

  15. There are certainly some very interesting exhibits here.

  16. Very impressive. This might be the museum that most fascinates me of that whole series you have done. Certainly this exhibit.

  17. What a fabulous exhibit, very impressive.

  18. Thank you for sharing these collections. The First Nation tribes seem to be advanced as far as tools and art. Amazing.

  19. @Catarina: they did well with the new direction.

    @Sharon: there are!

    @Jeanie: it's an amazing museum.

    @Bill: I certainly think so.

    @Eve: you're welcome. One of the lessons I take away from this is how amazingly complex life was here in North America before contact. Whites just thought of them all as "Indians" and gave absolutely no thought to how rich and how different their cultures were.

  20. The ingenuity of these ancient peoples....

  21. Wonderful Canadian historical post and delightful photos!

    Happy Day to you,
    A ShutterBug Explores,
    aka (A Creative Harbor)

  22. Such an interesting exhibition.

    All the best Jan

  23. Copper tools! So much interest here, William!

  24. It's good that thanks to the Inuit community knowledge the museum is richer in exhibits. The canoe is great.

  25. @Kay: it is.

    @Jennifer: First Nations cultures across the continent were infinitely complex before contact.

    @Carol: thank you!

    @Jan: I quite agree.

    @Cloudia: it's quite well displayed.

    @Klara: it's a different approach to museums, that sense of collaboration, than we might have seen a century ago.