Editor’s note: In preparation for the upcoming NCPH conference in Ottawa, The Public Historian has commissioned a series of Ottawa site reviews, as it does annually for sites in our conference city. These “(p)reviews,” as we’re dubbing them, will inaugurate what we hope will be a growing partnership between The Public Historian and the Public History Commons. Further online post-conference reviews will follow later this spring; we invite readers to comment on these posts as they appear.
Canadian War Museum, 1 Vimy Pl, Ottawa. Tim Cook, Acting Director of Research; Andrew Burtch Curator of “Eleven Women Facing War” and “Khandahar: the Fighting Season;” Peter MacLeod, Curator, Pre-Confederation Canada. Open weekdays between 9 A.M. and 5 P.M., and Thursdays until 8 P.M. Free admission after 4 P.M.
Just a short walk from the Delta Hotel in Ottawa, the Canadian War Museum offers conference attendees an opportunity to see award-winning architecture and experience two photographic exhibits (one open until April 21), in addition to the museum’s expansive exhibits on war and conflict from a Canadian perspective. Visitors can easily spend four or more hours touring the galleries. Below are a few of the highlights that may be of interest to NCPH members.
The Canadian War Museum stands out on the barren land of LeBretton Flats, once covered with a thriving working-class neighborhood, felled by “urban renewal.” Now, nearly forty years later, mixed-used development is beginning to fill in the space. (Photo courtesy of Jo McCutcheon.)
The Canadian War museum moved from its earlier home in the former Archives building to a new purpose-built facility in 2005. The new museum building is a stunning piece of art designed to push visitors to consider the grim reality and devastating consequences of war. Architect Raymond Moriyama is himself a casualty of conflict; at the age of twelve his family was interned in the interior mountains of British Columbia for several years, along with other Japanese-Canadians living on the country’s west coast. He told Maclean’s magazine in 2005 that his design for the war museum began with a sketch of the tree house he built as a boy in that internment camp. The tree house was both a refuge and a place of contemplation and regeneration during a time of conflict, and Moriyama wanted to bring these elements to the design of the War Museum. The building’s low profile resembles a hideout or bunker, while the tall fin rising at the east end is reminiscent of the prow of a ship (the small windows on it spell out “Lest We Forget” in Morse code). Most of the building’s windows are on the east side, facing the sunrise – a symbol of hope – in keeping with Moriyama’s theme of regeneration. Inside, the low ceiling in the entrance hall, combined with the slanted and stark concrete walls, create a slightly claustrophobic and disorienting feeling. This is a building designed to make visitors slightly uncomfortable even before they get to the exhibit galleries. Continue reading