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Museums & Art Galleries in Ottawa

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      21.08.2008 13:17
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      The best half-day I've ever passed in a Museum.

      Sometimes it's easy to forget how amazing the World is, and you need to marvel at some of the things we (as inventive and innovative humans) have filled it with. The Museum of Civilisation in Ottawa is the best example in North America of just that. Combining the aforementioned Civilisation part, with the Canadian Museums Post and Children (not all at once, that'd just be weird), this is an impressive collection of artefacts and displays that will leave you speechless.

      Located in Hull (funny how English place names get around), just across the Ottawa River in the Quebec region of Gatineau, the Museum sits literally opposite the Canadian Parliament Buildings.
      Very easy to reach by OC Transpo (Ottawa Carleton Public Transport) Buses, which drop outside the Museum, or by foot across the fairly long and wooden boarded Alexanda Bridge, the Museum is well placed to cater for the stream of visitors it receives, including countless school tours.

      Right: mundane bits. The Museum is open generally from 9am til 5 or 6pm, depending on Season, and usually later until 9pm on Thursdays and Fridays. Admission is a pretty reasonable $10 per adult, $6 per child, and $25 for 2 adults and 2 anklesnappers. As I am both unbelievably jammy and generally amazing, we turned up on Thursday at 4pm, after which time General Admission to the Museums is free. Nice.

      The Ticket price listed is for entry to either the Civilisation or War Museum (located across the River in Ottawa), and both the Childrens and Postal Museums. If you want to add the Civiliation or War Museum visits to the other three, the charge increases by $5 per adult. There is also an Imax screen which has a rotation of epic films to watch for another $5, and a final $5 (Total $20 - about £10 thesedays) will also get you into the Special Exhibition - which is currently all about those crazy Ancient Greeks, but was a History of Canadian Film Photography when we went (I think).

      The Museum has the usual paraphernalia of gift shop, brochure booth, 3 different cafés, waiting areas etc, and also rather a nice Park outside, which leads down to the River and has a Kiddies Play Area and a few nice sculptures (especially the Native Eagle type bird that hovers protectively over the play park). There are actually 2 Buildings at the Museum. The Glacier Wing, opened in 1989 is a solid, curved topped building that houses all the Museums exhibits, and sits next to the Shield Building, a stepped, flowing structure that houses the collections and conservation labs and the Admin parts of the Museum. Designed by Douglas Cardinal, there is more Copper used in the roofs than any other building on Earth, and the Manitoba limestone used as cladding actually contains fossils - it's quite impressive to walk around the outside of the building and feel the surface intricacies of the buildings.
      Also outside - on a mezzanine level outside the Shield Building - you'll find the small but beautifully arranged Zen Garden, a height of Japanese understatement and spiritual enlightenment.

      Right - enough fresh air - back inside for viewing. You start, curiously on the 2nd Floor, and take a long downscalator to the 1st Floor, which opens up into a magnificent Atrium of Totems of the First Nations - built and decorated by the various tribes that inhabited (some still live on there) British Columbia. The Salish, Haida, Tsimshian to name a few are represented here in their differing designs and beliefs in the Giant Totems, some reaching 10 metres high or more. The Hall has 15m high windows that flood the room with light that bounces off the poles and the Forest Backdrop behind - incidentally the World's largest colour photograph. The poles here are authentic and not all as garish and stylised as the ones seen in more touristy destinations.

      Behind the poles stand a connected series of longhouses, filled with artefacts from each of the Nations' heritage, the impressive long canoes, the tools they used, articles of clothing and art - a stunning display of Canada's rich heritage.

      The final piece to mention in the Hall is the amazing sculpture of the Spirit of Haida Gwaii - a small boat crammed with the legendary figures of the Haidas lore - the Raven and Eagle, Grizzly Bear, Dogfish Woman, Wolf and the Chief Kilstlaai - to name some of the occupants. The piece is about 4-5 metres from stem to stern and half as high.

      Moving on from the Hall and the longhouses, First Peoples Hall is crammed to the gills with more displays and video clips of the History of the Native Indian peoples - usually grouped together as Inuit or Dene, but comprising several dozen distinct peoples over tens of thousands of years. There is even a tiny carving of a detailed head on the head of a tiny tusk - the skills illustrated by these First Nation forebears is stunning.

      Following the Museum upwards back to Level 2 - you will find the Postal Museum, containing many many stamps, stamp mosaics, and other philatelic memorabilia, as well as the History of the Postal service in Canada, particularly the challenges of delivering to a population half that of the UK, in a country 40 times the size. Here also is the Childrens Museum (a riot of interactive displays for the anklesnappers to get involved with and a fun way to get some learning into them. They can get themselves a Travel Passport at the Bureau and follow a globe-trotting Great Adventure around the Museim. I admit to not paying too much attention here, as I was eager to get up to Level 3.

      Level 3 (as if you couldn't have anticipated!). This is where the History of Canada as a Nation is portrayed - from the Norse Settlers of the Dark Ages, through to the formation of Canada as a modern nation in the 20th Century. The first part takes in the harsh life onboard ship and the layout of an early Whaling Station, before moving onto a street scene depicting life on the Atlantic Provinces from 1600-1810, focusing on the Acadians (Francophone settlers who were displaced to Louisiana later on), and Farm life in a frontier land. The next section details Upper Canada (now the Midwest) as fur traders from the Hudson Bay Trading Company and early settlers pushed on into the remote forested and mountainous regions of the Canadian Shield and the Rockies during the 18th and 19th Century. The final section of this phase shows life from about 1840-1890, with a British Military outpost, life as a Merchant and a Maritime Shipyard, complete with half timbered hulls of ships.

      The construction and layout of these scenes is amazing, as different tableaux of real lives in these early environments guides you through Canada's unfolding history. Real items used at the time - from letters written in the 19th Century to tools dug up next to a remote fishing outpost detail what those forebears went through just to survive and then thrive in their new environment.

      Phase 2 of the floor takes you through specific cultures as they lived in recent Canada. From the Doukhobors (Russian migrants) in British Columbia, to the Ukrainians in Manitoba, via a Saskatchewan Grain Elevator and a Chinese Laundry - this is a colourful look at the variety of cultures that makes Canada the most diverse and welcoming nation on Earth. A two-ended nation: a series of displays here shows Canada's importance on the Pacific Rim, with an Orient facing economy and an influx of Asian migrants. A final snowy section depicts life above 60 (60 degrees North), the snowy part of Canada that's bigger than Europe and contains less than half a million people, and how communication, aircraft, and the mix of old and new cultures has changed life for the workers and peoples of the region. A new Territory called Nunavut (our land), was created less than a Decade ago - giving a greater autonomy to the vast icy reaches of Arctic Canada to its native people.

      Level 4 - the smallest of the lot - is a gallery of Canadian Personalities. Photos, artifacts and displays of historical figures in the Nation's History fill the room. Grouped into 5 sections: Inspired, Built, Governed, Fought and Founded - the gallery is an illuminating trip into Canada's past: with such figures as Champlain, Trudeau, Eaton, Wolfe and Montcalm.

      A final point - go and look in the David Stewart Salon in the corner dome of Level 3. Temporary exhibitions are placed here - and possibly my favourite bit of the whole Museum was the stunning sculpture of the totemic figure: Chief of the Undersea World - a massive stylised fish diving into the water, teeth bared, huge Dorsal Fin skyward.

      To summarise - if there's any room left for more words that is! A stunning and awe-inspiring display of massive installations and historical pieces - the Museum of Civilisation is easily the greatest treasure of a Nations's Heritage and Development I've ever come across, and I wouldn't hesitate to either recommend it to everyone, or go back again myself! The half-day I spent there was filled mostly with the sound of jaw-dropping and my camera clicking - I have at least 50 Digital Pics left after deleting the many that resulted from my terrible camera skills or tall people blocking the view!

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        17.12.2002 23:25
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        First established in 1880, the Canadian War Museum has stood at 330 Sussex Drive, between the Royal Mint and The National Gallery, since 1967. The three-storey castle-like building, which previously housed the Public Archives, commemorates Canadian involvement in conflicts ranging from the Anglo-French colonial battles and the War of 1812 through to the First and Second World Wars and recent peacekeeping operations. THE MUSEUM The cramped entrance is centred round a small ticket desk to the right of a central staircase. Pay here, collect a floor plan, and turn left for the Orientation Gallery, a long, plain space given over to pictures and text outlining the aims of the museum and Canada’s long participation in international conflicts. This sobering first room opens into a much larger space devoted to the history of New France. A Viking sword hangs at the entrance, fronting displays relating to the collision of cultures between the indigenous First Peoples and the invading Europeans. A written explanation of the Iroquois Wars, which lasted from 1609-1701, hangs alongside an original Royal Court of Arms of France, sculpted in white pine and taken to England from the Porte Saint-Louis in Quebec City when the fortress fell in 1759. Eighteenth century British muskets are displayed alongside French armour and Native tomahawks. Artefacts from Louisbourg, an important base for French fishery on Cape Breton Island that was besieged and captured by the British, include an eighteenth century hand grenade found on a beach in 1973. For an overseas visitor many of the names and places will mean little, but all are presented with helpful text and illuminating pictures. The Seven Years’ War of 1756 –1763 was undoubtedly one of the defining moments in North American history. Great prominence is given to its most famous protagonist, Wolfe, with plaster bust towering above a handwritten note from the General to a fellow officer a
        ccompanying a gift of a magnifying glass. Battle artefacts include a Scottish hilt sword and the Cross of Saint-Louis, a medal introduced by Louis XIV and awarded for distinguished service. Maps and text detailing the defining Battle of the Plains of Abraham are poignantly presented alongside the chair and chess set used by Wolfe as he waited to go into battle. Following the fall of New France, American Independence brought more than 40,000 Loyalists into Canada as refugees and another looming threat to British imperialism. The ultimately indecisive War of 1812, fought between the numerically superior US Troops and the far more organised British and Canadians, is brought to life by impressive artefacts such as the uniform, complete with bullet hole under the lapel, worn by Sir Isaac Brock when killed leading a head-on charge at Queenston Heights, medallions awarded to loyal Iroquois chiefs by the British and a reconstructed gun deck from a British vessel that patrolled the Great Lakes. King’s and Regimental colours adorn the walls above muskets, cutlasses, mortars and uniforms belonging to Lieutenant-General Henry Shrapnel, who invented the shell of the same name, and the wounded Captain Francois Dezery, with two hundred year old bloodstains clearly visible on the torn left sleeve. The decades that followed the 1814 ceasefire were years of building and fortification. Uniforms of the Canadian Militias are displayed beside text outlining threats posed by the rebellions in Upper and Lower Canada and the Fenian Raids instigated by Irish-Americans hoping to spark further hostilities with the U.S. Canada’s first forays into international wars are covered by campaign medals from the Crimean War and weapons used by the Canadian boatmen who ascended the Nile in an attempt to rescue General Gordon from Khartoum. The New Dominion entered the twentieth century with 73,000 of its men fighting alongside the British against the Boers in South Afri
        ca. Uniforms, medals and rifles are displayed next to a 12-pounder field gun, boxes of chocolates dated 1900 and decorated with a picture of Queen Victoria and a scarf crocheted by the Queen herself, one of only eight given to courageous front line troops. Of the 115,000 Canadians killed in twentieth century wars only 89 occurred during this first full scale overseas conflict. The next experience, however, would be far more horrific. On the 3rd of October 1914 32,000 members of the Canadian Expeditionary Force sailed for Britain, a figure which would swell to 80,000 by 1916 and ultimately to in excess of 620,000. By the end of the war, Canada had lost over 60,000 killed with a further 172,000 wounded. Losses in the last three months of the war alone totalled 45,000 killed or wounded. The country’s coming of age was sealed with blood and confirmed when it entered the League of Nations in its own right in 1919. Entering through a full size trench, visitors are thrust into a musty, pitch-black world of smoke filled horizons and sound effects encompassing machine gun bursts, muffled shouts and falling shells opening to an overwhelming array of battlefield remains: gas masks, rifles, grenades, helmets and flare pistols stacked beside trench signs from the ‘Vimy-Lievin Line’ and wooden memorial crosses. An 1800-pound aircraft bomb is dwarfed by a life size model of an aeroplane once flown by Captain William Avery, who was one of the Allies’ top ‘aces’ with 72 kills. A German naval mine stands out of the corner given over to the 3,000 Canadians who served in the Royal Navy. And then a highly symbolic 77mm German gun, deliberately destroyed by its crew in the face of the Canadian advance, dominates the display on Vimy Ridge, one of the most important events in the shaping of modern Canada. The contorted, mashed-up muzzle mirrors the pain and destruction of the troops who finally took the 7 &#
        8211;kilometre long, heavily fortified ridge at the expense of 3,598 dead and 7,000 wounded. A collection of trench signs stands at the exit, leading past the gift shop and back to the main entrance. Up the stairs on Level 2 the Hall of Honour is devoted to Canadian military heroes like Captain Avery, with uniforms, photos and medals placed in each individual display. Then, having barely recovered from the horror of the trenches, the Road to War exhibit speeds us through the rise of fascism, pausing to reflect on the 1,200 Canadians who fought against Franco in Spain, before hitting you with a dizzying array of newspaper headlines announcing the declaration of yet another war. At the outbreak of WWII, Canada had a regular army of only 4,500 men and 51,000 reservists. Six destroyers made up the entire Navy and the Air Force was down to less than twenty aircraft. By 1945 the Royal Canadian Airforce was the fourth largest in the world, the Navy the third largest with more than 471 warships and Canada had lost well over 40,000 men in the fighting overseas. The standout exhibit is probably Hitler’s Car, a black Mercedes purchased in 1970 and complete with bullet holes caused by Allied strafing, which stands next to a bronze bust of Hitler seized as a war trophy by an army chaplain. More emotive artefacts include a concentration camp dress worn by a member of the French Resistance and a display on the 1,975 Canadian troops present at the Battle of Hong Kong. The 590 men killed in the initial fighting and later captivity are represented by an emaciated model of a POW, his broken, desperate expression in stark contrast to the huge pictures of embarking troops marching in long, smiling lines to the great adventure that awaited them. I paused in the old theatre – two rows of period seats facing a screen that plays Newsreel broadcasts on a continuous loop – for a while and reflected on the 58,000 men who enlisted for overseas
        duty in September 1939 alone. A volunteer guide, an elderly man with campaign medals pinned to a cheap suit, explained why he and his friends went to war while a teacher shushed half the class and went in search of the rest. I stood frozen by ‘The Dead Canadian,’ a painting on a torn piece of tarpaulin by a German officer showing a dead soldier on the pebbled beach at Dieppe, a victim of a bungled raid in 1942 that left 807 dead and 1,946 in captivity. A simple photo captures the utter dejection of the troops as they are marched through the streets. Locals group in frightened clusters on the pavement, seemingly every bit as afraid to look up as they are to look down. The Canadians wear pained, knowing expressions that are all the more pronounced for the propaganda broadcasts full of boasting German voices playing in the background. The ten weeks that followed D-Day saw the liberation of Caen and the loss of 5,000 dead and 13,000 wounded. A life size model of a German observation post at dawn on D-Day itself looks out at some of the 14,000 Canadian troops that parachuted into France that morning. Liberation and loss are combined in the final exhibits as paintings of Canadians in action lead into photos of War Graves and a return to the Hall of Honour. Level 3 is dedicated to Canada’s Peacekeepers. Starting with weapons, uniforms and posters from the Korean War, where 516 of the 25,000 troops were killed, the exhibit continues with the development of NATO. As you cross a threshold a model of an East German guard flashes a torch and begins shouting. Sirens wail above the sound of running footsteps cut down by a sudden burst of machine gun fire. Past the collection of Warsaw Pact small arms, an explanation of Canadian Cold War participation is overshadowed by a Kiowa helicopter, which was used for observation purposes in the Canadian Artic. Gulf War uniforms and a Canadian crewed UN vehicle that was ambushed by 25 Serbs in Croatia f
        ollow, the latter covered with more than 50 bullet holes, though the occupants miraculously survived and drove 15 kms to the nearest medical station for treatment. The display ends with a roll call of Canadian dead on peacekeeping missions in Israel, the Middle East, Cyprus, Central America, Haiti and Africa. Ahead lie the stairs for the visitor and an uncertain future for the peacekeepers. OVERALL A deeply emotive look into four centuries of conflict and war, the Canadian War Museum manages to fit an extraordinary amount into its cramped surroundings. Leave two hours spare and make sure you visit. ADMISSION $4 Adults $3 Children, Students and OAPs $9 Family Ticket Half-price all day Sunday. Free between 4 and 8 pm on Thursdays. TIMES October 15 – April 30 Tuesday to Sunday 9:30 – 5:00 May 1 – October 14 Daily 9:30 – 5:00 8:00 on Thursdays. WEBSITE www.warmuseum.ca FURTHER DETAILS New premises for the Canadian War Museum are currently being constructed at LeBreton Flats to the west of Parliament Hill. Costing $105 million and spread over 7.5-hectare site, the new Museum will provide substantially larger space when it opens in 2005. www.passingthetorch.ca Vintage military vehicles, artlillery pieces and tanks are displayed at Vimy House in Champagne Avenue North. Tickets for the Canadian War Museum are also valid here.

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