Defining the Country: Memory and Nationhood in the Canadian Museum of Civilization
A Literary and Introductory Preamble: Dean Drone and Dr. Gallagher
In the chapter of Stephen Leacock’s Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town entitled "The Knights of Pythias," the narrator relates a conversation between Dr. Gallagher and Dean Drone, in which they offer differing historical accounts of the land that the Mariposa Belle passes on its way to the Indian’s Island. On the one hand, Dr. Gallagher, "who knew Canadian history," identifies the historical significance of a local beach, noting that "Champlain had landed there with his French explorers three hundred years ago"; on the other, Dean Drone, "who didn’t know Canadian history," traces the origins of the landscape back to its creation by the "hand of the Almighty" (62). Their attempts to surpass each other in finding the most meaningful and appropriate historical references for the land continue as they pass the Old Indian Portage, Dr. Gallagher pointing out where "five hundred French" traveled to the "Great Bay," and Dean Drone associating this information with the military exploits of Xenophon (63). The tension between local, "Canadian" history and a sense of the past founded in classical and Christian antiquity is further complicated by the re-membering of aboriginal islands, portages and beaches with European and colonial nuances, and these three sources of "Canadian History" continue to abrade in the discussion of "relics and traces of the past" that follows. Dr. Gallagher invites Dean Drone over to see "some Indian arrow heads that he had dug up in his garden," and Drone offers to show Gallagher a "map of Xerxes’ invasion of Greece" (63). After failing to communicate with each other effectively, Dr. Gallagher "walked forward and told Mr. Smith, who had never studied Greek, about Champlain crossing the rock divide"; and when Mr. Smith does not respond in the manner Dr. Gallagher expects, he decides to "give the arrows to the Mariposa Mechanics’ Institute" (64).
Although this episode takes up less than two pages of the "The Knights of Pythias," Leacock’s satirical treatment of Canadians’ sense of history and culture, and his gesture towards the development of museums as their method of generating a sense of collective memory based on the preservation of material evidence, incisively demonstrates (or predicts) some of the issues at play in contemporary museological debates, as well as in wider discussions about how Canada’s history should be remembered. The instigation for Dr. Gallagher and Dean Drone’s sparring match is the land and their attempts to create a sense of place through differing historical frameworks. While Dr. Gallagher’s sense of heritage is distinctly "Canadian," focusing on the European penetration of the continent, Dean Drone employs a more "universal" sense of rootedness in a classical past to establish a connection to the geography around Mariposa. Dr. Gallagher’s failed attempt to enlighten a man of a lower social class than himself, and his subsequent decision to deposit his artifacts with the Mechanics’ Institute, displays the middle-class desire to educate the working classes that was the catalyst for the development of civic museums in Canada—a development in which the Mechanics’ Institutes played a significant role.1 Indeed, as D. A. Muise notes in "Museums and the Canadian Community: a Historical Perspective" (1989), these Institutes are generally linked with the combination of middle-class sponsorship and government intervention that fueled the period of rapid growth in the museum community between the 1880s and the First World War (13). Although Leacock’s text does not explicitly mention any government activity, it is interesting that two pages later, the Mariposa Belle, or, perhaps, the "ship of state," partially sinks while its passengers sing "O- Can-a-da" (Leacock 66). The juxtaposition of the national anthem with the previous discussion of Canadian history demonstrates the difficulty of defining national heritage or cultural memory, of rendering coherent a past that must negotiate French, English, Aboriginal and European contributions to Canada (see essay #). Indeed, the way in which one cultural group comes to possess the past of another—and therefore makes it available for display within the museum setting—is made clear by the fact that Gallagher’s collection of Indian arrow heads "became, as you know, the Gallagher Collection" (64). Although uncovered in his backyard and connected to both the history of that piece of land and the Native people who once inhabited it, the name given to the collection demonstrates Gallagher’s ownership of the history of local Native groups in his ability to control the way that material evidence of their culture makes its way into the museum setting. The issues raised in this section of Leacock’s book—the tension between a version of history that remains inwardly focused on Canada and one that looks beyond Canada to a distant European past, the ownership of the past based on control over material legacies, the difficulty of generating a sense of Canadian national identity from many cultural backgrounds, and the attempt to resolve these tensions through the institution of the museum—all continue to be reflected in current discussions of the role of museums in Canadian culture, and more particularly in the rhetoric surrounding the development of Canada’s National Museum of Civilization in Hull. The documents generated during the development of the Canadian Museum of Civilization (CMC) show the continuing need to balance between English, French and Aboriginal contributions to Canada, an awareness of the way that geography has contributed to our sense of history and place, a desire for museums to look both nationally and globally, and a sense that the museum can be a focus for promoting a sense of nationhood and citizenship.
—Douglas Cardinal, Museum of Man Proposal (1983)
Clearly, we are meant to absorb a multi-layered impression of Canadian History, rather like watching a misty sequence of cross-fades in a television documentary.
—Bronwyn Drainie, The Globe and Mail (October 7, 1989)
On June 29, 1989, the Canadian Museum of Civilization had its official opening ceremonies in its new facilities in Hull. The distinctive architecture of the building, the changes in curatorial practice (particularly the use of new information technology), the highly visible situation of the Museum in relation to Parliament Hill, the escalating budget and delayed opening of the building all served to make the new Museum a focus of controversy both before and after it opened its doors to the public. Billed as a "symbol of our nation" (MacDonald, Crossroads 31), the CMC was intended to showcase the diverse contributions of various ethnic groups in Canadian society, and in promoting "intercultural understanding" (38), prepare visitors to become contributing members of the "global village." This dual purpose, and its expression in a museum that was characterized in its architectural programme as "simultaneously a shopping plaza for ideas, a layman’s college, a hospital for artifacts, a heritage temple, and an entertainment centre" (MacDonald, Global Village 18) provoked critical commentary from reviewers both within and outside of the museum community, many of whom felt that in its emphasis on information technology, historical simulations and reproduced artifacts, the CMC was sacrificing education to entertainment, and focusing more on eliciting tourist dollars than on offering Canadians an environment in which they could explore issues relating to their past. Representative headlines in Canadian newspapers and periodicals show the Museum becoming a focal point for a series of questions about Canadian national identity: "Whose Nation?," "Foundations of a Vision: Constructing Culture at the CMC," "Public Pays Price for Museum’s Flawed Vision," "Museum of Civilization a Cultural, Financial Nightmare," "A Grand Folly in Ottawa" and "An Awesome View of Canada"2 all point to an increasingly volatile discussion about the role that the Federal government should play in determining the vision of nationhood offered in national museums, and about both the content and museological methods used in the programming at the CMC. Indeed, a year before the Museum of Civilization opened, Communications Canada published Challenges and Choices (1988), a document intended to stimulate discussion about the role that museums should play in Canadian culture, and the amount of direction these museums should receive from the government. While this publication does not name specific institutions, its appearance just as a new national museum that was attempting to redefine traditional museum practices and functions was scheduled to go into operation indicates that the concern about museums becoming outdated or irrelevant—and the opposite objection to museums becoming too "modern"—were being widely recognized within government and museological circles. In his Introduction to The Museum Time-Machine (1988), Robert Lumley suggests that "history is used as a political resource whereby national identities are constructed and forms of power and privilege justified and celebrated" (2)—a comment that illuminates the statement in the federal Museums Act that the national museums have a responsibility to "contrib[ute] to the collective memory and sense of identity of all Canadians" and indicates that the political atmosphere in which the CMC was incubated, and the form of collective memory that it attempts to foster can be seen as interdependent. The controversies surrounding the CMC are not new or specific to the Canadian cultural situation: concerns about the type of "past" presented by the heritage industry, objections to the use of technology, reservations about the efficacy with which museums can or should compete with major proto-museum theme-park attractions like Disney World, and debates about the extent to which the museum should align itself with the tourist industry have been expressed over the last ten years in relation to museums in the United States, Britain, and Europe.
What I will attempt to do in this paper is to examine the way in which these and related issues are reconstituted within the controversy surrounding the Canadian Museum of Civilization. As Canada’s national, and therefore official, presentation of cultural memory and history, the CMC attempts to foster a sense of a unified Canadian identity. However, an examination of the history of the Museum, the permanent exhibits and the architecture will reveal a series of contradictions embedded in the construction and programming of the CMC—a constellation of paradoxes that are partially explained by and exaggerated within the rhetoric of the museum director and architect themselves. These contradictions might suggest that the only way a museum can become socially relevant, and produce a challenging and useful cultural memory for Canadians, is by recognizing the divisions, gaps, and stratifications in Canadian culture, and by using the museum institution itself to problematize those differences rather than seeking to dissolve them through promoting "commonality."
In a 1989 article calling for more involvement of universities in museums, Thierry Ruddel argues that "if it is true that museums help fashion public perceptions of the past, it is important for universities to be aware of what is transmitted to the public" (53).3 In analyzing government documents, published responses to the CMC, and the texts generated to promote the Museum, and then juxtaposing this verbal web that surrounds the Museum with the presentation of memory offered in its exhibits, this essay will respond to Thierry’s request for critical and analytical responses that are situated outside the museological profession. Motivated by my own responses to the Museum on three different visits,4 this article is intended to stimulate a debate specifically about the form of memory that the Museum is facilitating and how the emphasis on "collective memory" promotes a particular type of citizenship on the part of the visitor. As the programming and displays within the Museum are developed and changed, it is necessary that critics and visitors continue to recognize that the presentation of history in the museum was intended to be part of a larger "vision" developed by George MacDonald (the director) and Douglas Cardinal (the architect), a vision that was, literally and metaphorically, "under-written" by the Canadian Government. This paper, then, will situate a critique of the museum as it exists now within an examination of the type of memory and experience it was originally intended to offer—for the museum as planned and the museum as it now exists are not the same.
—Federal Cultural Policy Review Committee, Summary of Briefs and Hearings (1982) (75)
Tracing the shifting status of the National Museums within Government portfolios over the last century illustrates the changing perceptions of how the museum should operate within Canadian culture, and who should be the primary beneficiaries of the institution. The national museums as a group have their roots in the Geological Survey—a "scientific" rather than "cultural" institution that focused on "collecting geological and archaeological material."5 In 1907, the Survey joined the Department of Mines, and in 1927, the National Museum of Canada was declared by an act of Parliament. The early Museum prioritized scholarship over education, directing its services more towards the scientists who were engaged in research than the public who might benefit from their findings. Concern with Canadian culture or experience was limited to "the pre-historical period or to salvaging material remnants of Amer-Indian cultures expected to disappear as a consequence of the on-rush of modernity, a process to which the Museum’s sponsoring department was directly tied" (Muise 15).
Although the Museum’s relationship to the Canadian public began to change subtly during the inter-war period, with more attention being paid to education and some innovations being attempted in the presentation of artifacts, it was not until after the Second World War, with the Massey/Levesque Royal Commission on the Arts, Letters and Sciences in 1951, that the National Museum’s public policies and practices came under extended scrutiny. The Commission’s Report firmly interpreted the Museum’s role to be in the cultural, rather than the scientific sphere, and indicated that the National Museum should be removed from the direction of the Geological Survey, and be placed under the supervision of an independent Board of Trustees. The Museum was seen as a means by which Canadians could become more literate about their own history and origins as a nation, thereby helping to preserve the democratic and Anglo-Celtic values that were perceived to be threatened by increasing immigration, urbanization, and "creeping communism" (Muise 17). To this end, the Commission also recommended that the federal government sponsor a museum primarily concerned with Canadian history—a function that the CMC has, in part, attempted to fulfill.
Although the National Museum was removed from the supervision of the Geological Survey in the early ’fifties, the Massey/ Levesque Commission’s suggestion that it be placed under the supervision of an independent Board of Trustees was not fulfilled until 1968, with the creation of the National Museums Corporation. There seems to be some confusion about which portfolio received responsibility for the National Museums in the intervening years: while Muise states that the museum was "lodged within the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development" from the early 1950s until it was moved to the Department of the Secretary of State in 1964, the official "institutional history" timeline published by the CMC indicates that in 1950 the Museum was transferred to the Department of Resources and Development.6 In either case, although the Massey/Levesque commission had clearly "set the agenda for cultural politics in Canada," the location of the museum within the Federal government still positioned it as a collections-oriented, and therefore "resource-based," institution.
The first in a series of shifts in public programming came with the transferal of the Museum to the Department of the Secretary of State in 1964, when the National Museum was split into two branches, one encompassing Human History, and the other Natural History. When the Corporation was formed four years later, just after the Centennial celebrations in which heritage and arts-related activities had been extensively funded and promoted, the National Museums were reorganized into four new institutions: the Museum of Man, Museum of Natural Science, Museum of Science and Technology, and the National Gallery. The National Museums had received relatively little attention in the funding allocations that supported Centennial celebrations and helped to create many new museums across Canada, and by the time the National Museums Policy was implemented in 1972, the Museums were ill-housed, under-funded, and at risk of becoming irrelevant with their relative lack of public programming and diminishing prestige as research institutions.7 As the Minister of the Secretary of State in the Trudeau Government, Gerard Pelletier introduced more funding to support the introduction of a new National Museums Policy, which reflected the "decentralization and democratization" mandate that was influential in attempting to "increase public access to collections and break down the controlling element of existing museological practice"—in effect, to offer all Canadians access to the nation’s material heritage in their own communities (Muise 21). While this policy did have a small impact on the National Museums, it was most effective in stimulating growth in the availability of museums across Canada, and in broadening the role that museums were expected to play in preserving and promoting a sense of Canadian national identity. Whereas in the early development of the National Museums, the establishment of a scientific and research-based institution was seen as a symbol of Canada’s "coming of age", by the 1950s the museum had been reinterpreted not only as an emblem of Canada’s growth, but as the cultural tool through which nationhood could be preserved and citizenship shaped. The 1972 policy cemented this trend, with museums—as cultural institutions— being deployed to help resolve "the basic issues facing the nation— that is, threats of breakdown of the fabric of confederation," or to promote policies such as multiculturalism (Muise 21). As will be seen in the following discussions of the Canadian Museum of Civilization, the federal interest in supporting a unified, yet distinctly pluralistic form of nationhood continues to determine the type of history that is presented in the National Museums.
In 1980, the National Museum Corporation became a part of the Department of Communications, linking Canada’s history and cultural achievement to its development of communications technology. With the report of the Federal Government Cultural Policy Review Committee in 1982, the National Museums were reformulated not only as cultural bodies, but specifically as heritage institutions. The Committee, which viewed itself as continuing the work started by the 1951 Massey/Levesque Commission, defined the "heritage field" as "includ[ing] the collectible past and those custodial institutions devoting to collecting, conserving and interpreting the objects and ideas of the past" (63); under this definition, museums (which have been traditionally associated with the preservation of material objects and relics) and the National Museums in particular, assumed a place of central importance in federal thought about heritage. This concern that Canada not only stimulate cultural development by sponsoring various artistic activities, but also preserve the "priceless inheritance" that comprises the country’s material and cultural past reflects the increasing local, national, and international concern with heritage that has, in the past two decades, been expressed in an expanding heritage and cultural tourism industry (106).8
The Report of the Federal Cultural Policy Review Committee was issued in the same year that plans were announced for the construction of new buildings for the National Museum of Man and the National Gallery. With its collections and exhibition spaces housed in seventeen inadequate buildings throughout the capital region by the time the plans were unveiled, The National Museum of Man, which was renamed the Canadian Museum of Civilization in 1986,9 was in desperate need of new facilities. Douglas Cardinal was selected from a short list of twelve architects to design the new building. Although his competitors were convinced that he "made the first list solely because of his native ancestry and geographical base" (Boddy 18), his proposal was accepted because, as one Cabinet Minister from Quebec indicated, it was "the only submission that ‘seemed Canadian’" (16). George F. MacDonald, an employee of the Museum since 1964, was selected to lead the Task Force responsible for designing the new museum and was named as its Director in 1983. He and Cardinal were both hired for their "visions" of what the new museum would offer Canadians, and how it would reflect and promote a sense of Canadian national identity.
A new Museums Act was implemented on July 1, 1990 which replaced the National Museums Corporation by establishing the four National Museums as separate crown corporations, each supervised by an independent fourteen-member board. Flora MacDonald, the Minister of Communications in the Mulroney government at the time, suggested that the "removal of an extra layer of bureaucracy would help allow creative juices to flow," permitting each institution to develop a "stronger sense of mission" (4). Her statements implicitly reflect the findings of the Federal Cultural Policy Review Committee, which stressed the need for autonomy in government sponsored cultural institutions. Asking "how far is it reasonable to expect government to deal with culture in terms of its own intrinsic values rather than as an instrument for other ends?," the Committee also recognized continual dilemma posed by a cultural environment in which government intervention is both necessary to stimulate and protect cultural and heritage productions, and potentially restrictive of the more disruptive and discordant elements of artistic activity (17).10 It is important to recognize that the Canadian Museum of Civilization was designed and built during the period of time between the publication of the Report of the Federal Cultural Policy and Review Committee in 1982, which recommended extensive changes to the system of funding for arts and culture in Canada, and the implementation of these policies in 1990—that is, during a period of flux where the role of government in the administration of the National Museums was being significantly renegotiated.
The National Museums now report to the new Department of Heritage that was created in 1992. From their roots in a predominantly scientific government organization in the early part of the century to their reinterpretation as a cultural and finally as a heritage institution, the situation of the National Museums within the Canadian political structure has reflected government thinking about how the institution of the museum should reflect its own policies, present Canada’s heritage to its citizens, and employ history to solve particular social problems. Indeed, it is interesting that most of the government’s funding for culture and arts is now administered by a Department that privileges heritage—and therefore memory—as the framework within which all artistic and cultural activity is federally authorized.
—M. Mark Stolarik, Canadian Ethnic Studies (1989) (124)
The creation of the Museum of Civilization was more than the construction of the now familiar curvilinear building on the banks of the Ottawa river: in bringing together collections that had previously been dispersed around the capital, Cardinal, MacDonald, and their employees were also consciously engaged in redefining the role of a national museum of human history and civilization. While the Museum of Man had remained relatively obscure because of its lack of geographical coherence and visibility with the capital, the new museum was intended to be a focus for historical and cultural awareness. In the words of George MacDonald, it was to "help define cultural identity and the country itself" (Global Village 3). Reflecting this ambitious claim, the Museum was designed to include 1) a collections area, housed in the Canadian Shield wing, with room to store the 3.5 million artifacts that the Museum had acquired by 1989; (2) the Grand Hall, intended to be the "most impressive space to be found anywhere in Canada" (Crossroads 35); (3) a First Nations Hall which, housed on the first floor or river level, was intended to deal with the "Native People’s history, tribe by tribe, region by region" (33); (4) a History Hall on the third floor which would trace the social and economic development of the country from 1000 A.D. to the present; (5) temporary exhibition spaces on the second and fourth floors which would feature Native art collections, presentations focusing on other ethnic groups in Canada, and traveling exhibitions from around the world; (6) a Children’s Museum "where children can enter into the life-styles and behavioural roles of cultures very different from their own" (Crossroads 38); and (7) a series of theatre and performances spaces for use by the museum’s theatre group and for special events. In addition to this, the Museum was to hold an Omni-IMAX cinema and a series of support services for visitors, including restaurants, laser presentations on the outer walls advertising events and programmes, and a number of boutiques and shops. A major focus of museum planning was the installation of fibre-optic cable systems, eventually intended to link the CMC to national and international networks, and allow electronic visitors to peruse digital images of the Museum’s collections, thereby making artifacts usually stored in the collections area available to the public regardless of geographical distance. As part of the emphasis on information technology, interactive video systems were to be installed in the permanent exhibits, permitting visitors to augment the information offered by the displays, and to guide their own museum experience by asking questions and finding answers, rather than "being told" what to learn by the curator. An extensive library was intended to provide additional information for visitors, as was a Senior Discovery room designed for adults.
The Museum’s programming was influenced by several factors, including government policies (such as those briefly discussed earlier), and the personal visions of MacDonald and Cardinal. Perhaps the most influential and politically "hot" idea was multiculturalism, a concept that is fundamental to MacDonald’s writing about the Museum. When explaining his interpretation of the CMC’s mandate, MacDonald carefully delineates the influence of the federal multiculturalism policy on the 1972 National Museum Policy, and his reliance on the vocabulary of a pluralistic and ethnically diverse concept of nationhood is evident throughout the Museum’s early documents (Global Village 6). The supervision of the National Museums Corporation by the Department of Communications also influenced the CMC’s focus on information technology. Flora MacDonald linked the development of Canadian identity and culture with "the triumph of communications over geography" (2); and the Federal Cultural Policy Review Committee "authorized" an exploration of the potential of new information technologies to aid in the "dissemination" of heritage materials and information in their statement that "newer communication systems [had] been virtually ignored" to that point (119). The potential of the new technology and multicultural policies to link together various cultural groups across Canada and around the world intersected neatly with the Communication Minister’s dream of the Museum functioning as Canada’s portal to the global village. Hailing the arrival of the information age, George MacDonald, profoundly influenced by the thinking of Marshall McLuhan, Claude Levi-Strauss and the success of "mass cultural models" employed by Walt Disney, "concluded that appreciation of cultural complexity and an ability to be receptive to the expression of other cultures were critical assets for the inhabitants of the global village" (Fisher 23, Rider 80). Accordingly, he imagined the Museum generating a global community in its electronic networks by linking ritual performances on its stage with dancers all over the world, facilitated by "high-definition televisions satellite broadcast" (MacDonald, Crossroads 40).11 So while the CMC, in one sense, "sought to reflect the history of human beings in this vast country," and envisioned itself as helping to "define the nation," the focus on generating "intercultural understanding" in preparation for the global culture of the future suggests a definite split in the way that memory, and a sense of past, is deployed within the museum’s programming.
The emphasis on information technology as a means by which geographically remote visitors could access the collections and information offered by the Museum reflects the continuing impact of the decentralization and democratization policy of the 1970s. The use of technology within the exhibits was expected to attract a segment of the "cultural-tourism market" that might not ordinarily be drawn to the Museum. Perhaps anticipating its switch to an independent crown corporation, the CMC presented itself as "user-driven" rather than "producer-driven," the metamorphosis of the "visitor" into a "consumer" in the Museum's rhetoric signaling a belief in the "democratizing potential" of commercialization (MacDonald, Global Village 5; Lumley 11).12 Recognizing that the "museum’s potential audience [was] becoming increasingly fragmented," the CMC sought to "diversity its audiences by diversifying its roles" (MacDonald 41, 57). Market surveys were conducted to determine how the Museum of Civilization should package its "product" to exploit its tourist potential, and profiles of the "traditional" and "new" museum visitor were established (Kee 93).13 The interpretation of these surveys indicated that an increasing number of people attending the Museum are technologically proficient, with expectations that have been shaped by attendance at other cultural tourism sites such as theme-parks and outdoor heritage parks. In response to this information, the Museum attempted to offer various levels of experience appropriate both for people who "stroll" through museums taking time to learn and enjoy "being there," and for the "streakers" who gain more satisfaction from walking through quickly and enjoying the status of "having been there" (Kee 94). The interactive video and library services were intended to offer a more nuanced and detailed learning experience to the audience demanding greater access to the resources of the Museum; in contrast, the diorama presentations of history, as well as the boutique and cinema, were designed to appeal to patrons whose visit was more oriented around "entertainment" rather than "education".14 The commercialization of the Museum also extended to its marketing schemes. George MacDonald pictured the CMC becoming the backdrop for important political events and announcement, and for displays by such groups as the Lambroghinin Club of Canada (Crossroads 32). The extent to which interaction with the business sector was envisioned can be seen in the design of spaces both within the exhibition areas and the halls, which were built to accommodate receptions, dinners, concerts, and other sources of revenue.
At the same time that "visitors" were reformulated as "consumers" and the Museum as a "marketable site," the visitor was also presented as a "pilgrim" to "our national shrine" (36). Claiming that "tourism is the secular counterpart, and the modern successor in the western world, of religious pilgrimage" (Global Village 42), MacDonald repeatedly presents the CMC as a ritual space, stating that it "addresses communication needs with our gods and our ancestors" (Crossroads 37). Documents by MacDonald and Cardinal emphasize the symbolism in the building, its placement on the grounds of Parc Laurier in relation to the city, and its function within Canadian culture; this sometimes excessive "symbolization" is then spiritualized in the presentation of the building as "both global village and universal church" (37). The ritualization and commodification of both the building and the behaviour of its visitors often occurs simultaneously, as when MacDonald points out that the CMC, as a crossroads, is both a "marketplace and ritual centre" or states that the building "celebrates the cultural achievements of mankind from the ice age shaman who painted Lascaux to the space-age wizards who plot spiritual pathways in fibre-optic cables" (37). While the practice of using religious language to refer to museum experiences is not new or unusual,15the heavy interplay between spiritual and capitalistic discourses, and the deployment of this hybrid techno-cult vocabulary to refer to the function of the Museum in facilitating "intercultural understanding" within Canada and the global village, raises questions about the extent to which the religious language is being used to "naturalize" a specifically consumer-oriented, and politically influenced, form of collective citizenship and memory. It is this interplay between the "museum as cathedral" and the "museum as department store" which will be explored in the following examination of the CMC’s architecture and permanent exhibits.
While the initial plans for the Museum suggested that it was going to be revolutionary in its use of information technology not only to link together geographically and culturally disparate communities across Canada, but also to facilitate Canada’s participation in the global village, and while the division of exhibit space suggested that it would become a place in which the multiculturalism promoted by the government could be celebrated, the Museum as envisioned by Douglas and Cardinal was only partially built by the time the CMC opened its doors in 1989. The electronic outreach programme, Senior Discovery Room and interactive video stations were not implemented, thereby almost totally eradicating the services that "could have catered to the public seeking detailed historical information" (Rider 87). Additionally, only a reduced version of the library was installed. When the cost of the First People’s Hall rose from 26 to 30 million dollars, the government scrapped the original plans, stating itself "unwilling to consider this price;" the alternative plans were "dense in artifacts and [had] less emphasis on electronic and computerized displays" (Cameron A14).16 The Canada Hall was only half finished, and the computer programs whereby the museum collections would become available on-line were not operational. By October of 1989, George MacDonald had been stripped of financial control, and the 75 million dollars needed to complete the exhibition halls had not been approved by the Government.17 Critics who already disagreed with MacDonald’s approach, calling him a "pop-sociologist-futurist," and decrying his "jargon-laden" plans for "an artistic shopping mall and theme park" were given ample support for their claims when the unfinished and severely reduced CMC opened in 1989 (Drainie C3). Certainly, judging the feasibility of the CMC’s plans was possible in the late 1980s, but judging the overall effect of MacDonald’s vision was not easy because, as Peter Rider points out, the parts of the Museum that were constructed, like the Canada Hall, were "supposed to be part of a larger whole" (87). Although the present analysis must, of necessity, be based on the Museum as it now appears to visitors, it should be stressed that the CMC has continued to work towards the original plans. At the time of writing (May 1997), the second half of the Canada Hall is about to be constructed, there are hints about resurrecting the plans for the Natives People’s Hall, the "virtual museum" is operational, and the plans to produce digitized images of all of the Museum’s artifacts are underway (and can be previewed on the CMC website).
As these changes in programs and services are implemented, critics must continue to evaluate the way in which a national museum can use its "authority" to sanction and render "official" particular versions of national history and collective memory, and challenge the CMC (as well as the other National Museums) to make this process visible to its visitors. Interpreting Flora MacDonald’s statements that what defines a national museum is its authority rather than its size, Muise notes that "she seem[s] to imply that museums’ essential function is to distinguish the real or authentic from the fake" (11). Critical commentary on the Canada and Grand Halls has revolved around the issue of whether or not reproductions of historical houses and scenes are "authentic," and whether or not viewing "original" or "authentic" objects is necessary for a meaningful heritage experience. The next few sections will focus on the architecture of the museum, and the way that it physically "grounds" visitors, offering a foundation for their experiences within the permanent exhibits on the first and third floors. By their permanence alone, the Canada Hall and the Grand Hall are "authorized" over presentations that are shown in the temporary exhibition halls, yet unlike these more transient expositions, the permanent exhibits are less reliant upon "real" artifacts, and, because of the cost of changes, less likely to respond to or reflect social change.
This building itself should recreate us as a nation.
—Douglas Cardinal, Building Canada’s National Museum of Man: an Interprofessional Dialogue (1986) (11).
In the literary preamble to this paper I suggested that it is the attempt to understand (and control) the influence of the Canadian landscape on our development as a culture that provokes Dr. Gallagher and Dean Drone into an exchange of historical references about the French and Greeks. This recognition of the land as fundamental in shaping Canada continues in heritage discussions: for example, the Federal Cultural Policy Review Committee states that "our heritage begins with the land itself" (105), and Flora MacDonald recognizes that "more than anything else it is the country itself which has shaped our culture" (3). The "memory" that Douglas Cardinal’s building is intended to evoke situates Canadians on the land at the moment when the "first settler…crossed from Asia into the New World as the glaciers began to melt away" (MacDonald, Crossroads 31). Accordingly, the Glacier Wing, which houses the public exhibition halls, is built to represent the land emerging from beneath the receding ice and the Canadian Shield wing, which houses the collections and administrative offices of the Museum, was built to represent the bedrock of "Canada’s vast mineral wealth" (MacDonald, Crossroads 31). Cardinal’s proposal outlines his attempt to capture the spirit of both the land and the people who live on it, and to create structures that "will be physical manifestations of the best of our multicultural society" (Global Village 17).
The building was specifically designed to create a series of "alignments" with the surrounding geography. The famous one dollar bill view of the Parliament buildings is preserved in sight-lines that run both between the two wings of the CMC, and from within the Grand Hall towards the Peace Tower. The Museum is situated on the "ceremonial" Confederation Boulevard that "ties together the Ottawa and Hull components of the National Capital" (9); the building also rests on the Quebec side of a "ceremonial arch" which, running over the Alexandra Bridge from the National Gallery and Nepean Point to the CMC in Hull, creates a pointedly cultural link between the Nation’s Capital and Quebec (Crossroads 30). The location and orientation of the structure are, therefore, politically charged, and as Jennifer Fisher notes, the CMC’s logo collapses the distance between the Peace Tower and the curves of the Museum building, erasing the river and "resulting in a visual rhetoric which conflates this fluent boundary between culture and government" (23). Surprisingly, however, this emphasis on Parliament as the "focal point" of Canadian culture is virtually absent within the permanent exhibits: Confederation is not mentioned in the history presented by the Canada Hall, and any reference to the "clash between cultural paradigms" in the meeting of European and First nations is, for the most part, depoliticized (MacDonald, Global Village 81). Indeed, although "architectural design…makes a statement about the place of government in society" (Federal Cultural Policy and Review Committee 17), it would seem that in approving a building design that attempts to eschew all memory of or references to previous architectural styles, and that is intended to evoke a time period before the practices of colonization and resource exploitation began, the Canadian government was effacing itself
and its role from the lines of the building. Yet placing a "landscape-inspired" building patterned on "the elements of nature" (Cardinal 17) in such a politically charged orientation situates visitors at the dawn of human and geographical history and asks them to see the "future" in the Parliament buildings, thereby "naturalizing" the development of Canada’s political, cultural, and social structure. If the building in which material evidence of the nation’s past is presented to the nation creates the "environment and atmosphere" in which these objects are interpreted (FCPRC 78), then in reifying the history of Canada’s development, the building "symbolically" prepares visitors for neutralized presentations of Canada’s history as "natural" and, therefore, inevitable.
Although Fisher argues that "the Canadian Museum of Civilization was born out of two tenacious, almost contradictory visions," describing Cardinal’s building as "resonat[ing] with a mystic, aboriginal vision of the Canadian landscape" and comparing this with George MacDonald’s orientation to "mass cultural models" (23), other interpretations of the CMC’s architecture suggest that the two visions are quite compatible. Martin Bressani points out that Cardinal "has shown a clever resilience to any specific interpretation of his oper magnus by welcoming them all," and observes that the building could evoke "a prehistoric geological landslide, an enclosed medieval city, or a Miami parking lot" (23). While the architecture "officially" represents natural landforms, this effect was only made possible through the use of highly sophisticated CAD technology, suggesting, once again, that modern interpretations of the "natural" are in fact highly constructed. The roots of Cardinal’s vision for the building in a sweat lodge ritual, and the construction of the building on "concepts of circular ritual space" (MacDonald, Crossroads 36) resonate with MacDonald’s own vision of the building as a religious space.18 And while many critics have viewed Cardinal’s selection as fundamentally linked to his Blackfoot and Metis heritage, Cardinal has intimated that he does not "regard himself as a regionalist" and has stated that "the greatest insult you can give is to label my work Indian" (Lasker 28). So although his proposal is replete with aboriginal symbols, his decision not to mention specific ethnicities in the document indicates an implicit agreement with MacDonald’s vision of a unified national and global culture being reflected (and created) in the building. This is evident in one of the concluding paragraphs of Cardinal’s proposal, in which his rhetoric moves beyond the "geoform" structures of the Museum to assert that "we are evolving from earth creatures to star creatures" and that "we are reaching out to the universe for knowledge" (17). These statements are similar in tone to MacDonald’s claim that the opening of the Museum will constitute Canada’s "first launch into the cultural cosmos—the big step for mankind" (40).19
In contrast with this global view, the "home-grown imagery" of Cardinal’s building has often been interpreted as offering Canadians a sense of place in the "overpowering landscape that is central to our national vision" (Sachner 90, Boddy 15). However, in symbolically linking the Museum’s collections with the country’s "vast mineral wealth" (MacDonald, Crossroads 31), the Canadian Shield wing begins to evoke not only the "pre-history" of the land, but also the exploitive processes by which European colonizers carved places for themselves. If, as Bressani notes, "the wing recalls more the contour lines of modern topographical maps than the geological formation itself," the lines of the building evoke the land-as-charted rather than the harmonious and pristine conditions suggested by Cardinal’s nostalgically lyrical proposal. In this case, the "symbolism" of the wing creates a direct relationship between exploitable natural resources and the artifacts lodged within the Canadian Shield wing, sanctioning the explicit presentation of Canada’s heritage as an "abundant resource," a source of "wealth."20 While to some, then, the architecture suggests the creation of sense of place on many different levels, Bressani also argues that it creates a sense of "estrangement" (23). He sees Cardinal’s building as "a gigantic optical distortion where the formless finds an odd stability," a structure in which the layered curves create a "disembodied" interior that prepares visitors to "forgo all individuality" and accept a museological strategy of "endless simulation" (23). Bressani’s critique of the way in which the interior and exterior walls of the Museum become optically permeable and refuse to align with each other suggests that the building prepares visitors for the notion of a "museum without walls," located in the virtual museum that has been established on-line. The technologically intricate "intelligent building" housing the CMC therefore becomes the memory for the on-line CMC web-site, a striking juxtaposition between a structure that attempts to re-member our origins in the land, and a technology which questions the authenticity of the "original" by offering digital images as valid re-placements.
Mutual understanding between cultures may not be attainable simply by displaying representative cultural items in showcases and interpreting them solely from the perspective of museum academics. Life must be breathed into the cultures by showing artifacts in their cultural contexts, including their use in rituals or everyday life, by assisting visitors to try to put themselves in the place of someone from another culture.
—George MacDonald, A Museum for the Global Village (1989) (60).
In the end, far from providing a place of memory, the museum’s exhibition of pre-digested images serves only to erode the past by leaving the viewer in an aseptic torpor.
—Martin Bressani, Critique: The Impossible Wave Train (1989) (24).
In the debate over whether a museum should focus more on preserving its artifacts or educating visitors, George MacDonald situates the CMC as a "modern" museum by aligning it with institutions that use the "weapons" of rival leisure-time and entertainment industries to "entice" visitors through its doors, where ideas and information gleaned from material objects are deployed not only to teach visitors factual information, but also to facilitate "a process of growth and development of the complete person" (36). As such, a museum, in its public capacity, becomes less an institution focused on presenting "the real thing" to its audience, and develops instead into a place where "authenticity…is less important than the creation of an environment where objects and events can be perceived as real" (Jones and Pay, 162). This philosophy finds it expression in the use of reproductions and simulations in the Canada Hall and Grand Hall of the Canadian Museum of Civilization.
Based on the success of the streetscape at the Epcot centre in Florida, the CMC staff designed the Canada Hall to offer a vision of Canada’s "social and economic" history that moves both temporally and geographically from 1000 A.D. with the Norse settlement of Newfoundland to the present in British Columbia and the Northwest Territories. Visitors are invited to walk through a series of indoor and outdoor scenes such as a whaling station, an inn, a shoemaker’s house, a hospital, a Metis campsite, an officer’s quarters, a maritime shipyard and an Ontario street.21 Intended to "engulf" the visitor, the exhibits include replicas of buildings located at other heritage sites across Canada, such as Upper Canada Village and Louisberg. The sense of immersion is never complete, though—the low lighting in the Hall emphasizes the fact that while walking through a New France square, or down an Ontario Street, visitors are still inside a museum. As well, the "new" and unweathered constructions of supposedly "old" scenes is jarring and distrupts the illusion of historical authenticity. And while the Hall was ostensibly supposed to focus on the "family" (Rider 89), the experiences of women and children are continually uninterpreted or absent from what is, essentially, a history of trade in Canada.
As a woman walking through the exhibits in the Canada Hall, I was continually struck by the extent to which the presentation of various industries seemed to predominate—from whaling, fishing, farming, fur trading and shoemaking, to the timber trade, shipbuilding, cabinetmaking and mercantile trades. Rider suggests that the "intention to focus on social, intellectual and economic history was amply realized," adding that "when one adds the related fields of women’s history and material history, the emphasis on these aspects of our past is overwhelming" (93). Yet it could be argued that the presentation of women’s history does nothing new or significant; information about women's history might be included in the Hall but the way in which it is presented differs dramatically from the way in which activities traditionally dominated by men are interpreted. Rider has created a chart in which he tracks the emphasis placed on various aspects of history within the hall; of the fourteen places where he finds women’s history in evidence, four are audioguides, two are a series of display cases and two are videos. Although the availability of information on women’s lives in the supporting media for the hall is encouraging, the lack of visual representation of women’s experiences renders them invisible for visitors who do not seek out the other sources of information. For example, the New France Farmhouse, which Rider lists as one example of women’s history within the hall, is visible only through a half-open window. The objects inside the farmhouse are obviously domestic: by twisting their heads around the few angles afforded by the fixed, opaque window panes, visitors would be able to see shirts, a spinning wheel, jug, high-chair, a basket of wool, socks strung up with clothespins, thimbles and needles, dishes, and something in a pot over the fire. No interpretive information, or even basic labeling, is available, and the scene does not include a mannequin the way that other trade-oriented dioramas do. Indeed, in the whole hall, there are considerably fewer female figures than males, and while there were at least three male members of the CMC’s theatrical troupe providing interpretation during my second visit to the museum, on neither trip did I see women’s history presented by living actors.
The physical and visual inaccessibility of the farmhouse is replicated in subsequent depictions of women’s history. The interpretive boards in the Shoemaker’s house emphasize the fact that "in the eighteenth century, the Canadian shoemaker generally worked at home." In light of this information, it seems odd that although the shoemaker’s tools were displayed near the doorway for easy visibility, the hearth and domestic areas to the middle and back of the room showed no signs of use by the woman who, presumably, was also involved in or affected by this domestic trade. Visitors need to leave the streetscape via the upper floor of the Ontario Merchant’s house to visit the mezzanine, which contains display cases of china and dishes that are uninterpreted and decontextualized. The most striking example of the way in which women’s history remains peripheral is a small room with four display cases, located off the main circulation route in the hall near the Timber Shanty. The exhibit is entitled "Women and their Children in the Timber Era (Ottawa Valley) 1806-1876," yet the text of the exhibit situates the women’s lives solely in their relationship to their husbands, informing visitors that "a large family was an asset to the Shantyman." The cases contain toys, some of which are miniature versions of objects used in women’s domestic work, and women and children are depicted in small illustrations above each case. The diminutive size of the pictures, and the emphasis on tiny objects in the four display cases implicitly trivializes "the lives of the Shantyman’s wife and children." This trivialization is supported by the location of the exhibit off the main circulation route.22
So while visitors are invited to interact with interpretive staff at the whaling, fur trading and timber sites, and to physically enter buildings and workshops throughout the hall, they are prevented from entering scenes depicting women’s lives.23 Women’s exhibits are always peripheral in location, obscure in visibility, and frequently accompanied by inadequate information. Sian Jones and Sharon Pay observe that "objects tend to be classified in term of production rather than consumption or use" (162), and my short overview of the presentation of women’s history within the Museum indicates how the privileging of commercial production and trade has generated a limited presentation of women as invisible domestic consumers.24 If, as Gaby Porter observes, "general visitors to the museum do not ‘read’ what they see as the selection and interpretation of one person, or one group, from a range of possible ‘meanings’" (104), and if one of the interpretive goals of the hall was to "design and develop exhibits that are self-explanatory" (Rider 89), then the overall invisibility of women within the central circulation route in the Canada Hall presents an unacceptably limited memory of the role women played in shaping the country, and does not in any way help counteract social paradigms in which women’s work in the home is devalued and under-represented. And if the major institutional objective was to "present culture, for which history is one access point" as a way of "shaping the future" through reinterpreting the past, this presentation of women does a disservice both to our collective cultural memory, and to the perceived potential of women to contribute to the future of the country (Rider 85).25 Evaluating the treatment of women and children’s lives within the Canada Hall provides one method (among many) for examining the way that the museological techniques used within the Canada Hall create a seamless presentation of Canada’s "official" past in which the contributions of various groups within Canadian culture are diluted or elided.
The expanding heritage industry has been linked to a growing need for a sense of "stability, roots, and a feeling of territory" (Kee 95). In The Representation of the Past (1992), Kevin Walsh has explained this phenomenon by suggesting that "a sense of place is reliant on that place possessing characteristics which reveal temporal ‘depth’," maintaining that "competent history…should be concerned with the contrasting of the past with the present" (102). By asking visitors to move between provinces and centuries in a matter of meters, the Canada Hall, rather than allowing visitors to develop a manageable sense of place, exaggerates the "time-space compression" that Walsh identifies as the dominant condition of modern and post-modern "modes of experience" (117). The country and its history are geographically compressed into one exhibition hall; and although the completion of Phase Two will bring visitors to the present day, the impossibility of developing a sense of the chronological history of any one community contributes to a sense of dislocation, rather than "placement". The rapid movement between geographical and temporal locations also minimizes the possibility of stimulating social debate or "questioning the present" (Muise 25). Rather, the series of stereotypical Canadian "scenes" presents a succession of safe, surface images that are never challenged or contrasted with other life-styles, practices or historical viewpoints. The combination of antiseptic images in a hall that completely ignores the role of politics in shaping the depicted life-styles also serves to reify the presentation of culture. Through similar means, the nuclear family is naturalized as the foundation of the Canadian social fabric. Although George MacDonald maintains that museums can "pre-empt the techniques of theme parks and outclass them with the resultant product which will have value-oriented content theme parks cannot match" (MacDonald, Global Village 67),26 the Canada Hall does not offer enough "value-oriented content" to challenge visitors’ associations of the "spectacle" with private heritage institutions that promote a nostalgic and simplified view of the past and historical processes.
Particularly damaging is the complete division between Native and European history. Although early plans for the Great Hall included juxtaposing the West Coast village with a replica of a European ship (an idea that was later rejected), any in-depth discussion of the interaction between the two "cultural paradigms" is limited in the Museum as it now exists (MacDonald, Global Village 81). Because the Canada Hall and the Great Hall are separated by a floor of temporary exhibits, the implications of the history of trade in Canada are never explicitly juxtaposed with the presentation of west coast aboriginal cultures at the River Level. In the Canada Hall, the theme of cultural interaction is presented in sterilized terminology: "the meeting of two civilizations always involved an exchange of ideas, objects and ways of doing things that are later adapted to the tastes and needs of each culture." This statement denies the history of exploitation and disempowerment that was necessary for the European cultures to profit in Canada, as does the assertion that "smoking the calumet and exchanging wampum before commencement of trade was an ancient Indian tradition" to which "Europeans had to submit…in order to maintain the fur trade" (emphasis added). Colonization, as a term or concept, is never explicitly mentioned in the Canada Hall; indeed, the introductory story-board suggests that Canada was peopled through "waves of immigration" (Rider 89). Although the houses of West Coast Native communities contain declarations of their distinct cultural heritage and aboriginal rights, the separation of this floor from the history of non-Aboriginal settlement of Canada renders neutral the political impact of their statements.
The presentation of the Native peoples from the Pacific Coast is itself heavily implicated in the rhetoric of trade, production and capitalism that was evident in the Canada Hall. MacDonald’s emphasis on the artistic achievement of West Coast tribes is reconstituted in souvenir brochures as one of the primary marketable attractions of the Museum; moreover, this saleable aesthetic has become the only permanent record of aboriginal cultures in the CMC with the cancellation of the Native Peoples Hall. The 1988 Xwe Nal Mewx document posted on the walls of their house in the Grand Hall reads "we declare and affirm our inalienable right of aboriginal title and aboriginal rights to the land, the mountains, the minerals, the trees, the lakes, the rivers, and the streams, the air and the other resources of our land," a series of assertions that positions the statements that follow within a debate over the way that western trade practices have affected aboriginal communities. These statements are slightly ironic, for within the rhetoric of "heritage resources," the political messages become new artifacts displayed for consumption, while at the same time releasing visitors and curators alike from the need to examine these statements from the economic perspective presented in the Canada Hall. To introduce visitors to the potlatch, a display board does briefly explain the Canadian Government’s intervention in the potlatches of the nineteenth century; however, the presentation of an array of traditional and contemporary material objects without adequate explanation of the spiritual role of the ritual is reminiscent (particularly in the case of the more modern objects) of a department store display and is therefore not likely to increase a modern visitor’s understanding of this cultural practice. There is a detailed video that explains the social and spiritual nature of the ritual, but the lighting of the exhibit automatically focuses the visitors’ attention on the objects, rather than the dimly lit and claustrophobic area in which the video is screened.27
Perhaps the most telling example of the tensions in the CMC’s depiction of history in the permanent exhibits is the case of the astrolabe "believed to be the one lost by Samuel de Champlain in 1613." Although MacDonald’s rhetoric suggests that the position of the West Coast totem poles along the "interior sight-line" leading to the Parliament from the Grand Hall will "bring home, to all Canadians…. a sudden re-evaluation of the contribution of our Native Peoples not only to the heritage of our country but to that of all mankind," the astrolabe becomes a focus of national attention in its full-page treatment in the thirty page souvenir book produced by the CMC. The book notes that the significance of the astrolabe lies "not merely [in] its association with a key figure in the European exploration and early settlement of Canada, but as a symbol of the opening up of Canada" (12).28 The concurrent veneration of aboriginal achievement, and celebration of an object that is deeply steeped in colonial memory could be productive if the two discourses were in some way made to reflect upon and inform each other; however, at present, the placement of the replica of the Astrolabe within the Canada Hall merely contributes to the amnesia generated by the spatial distancing between the two exhibition areas.
This spatial distancing is collapsed in the CMC’s Coat of Arms, depicted below.29 Yet in this case, the juxtaposition does not critically examine the tension between the presentation of Native and European history within the museum. The Coat of Arms combines native symbols with the astrolabe—a tasteless contrast, particularly
in the way that the native mythological figures are made to "support" the symbol of the European "opening" of Canada. This Coat of Arms fits in well with Cardinal’s uncritical and incomplete statement that "with the aboriginal peoples (the European immigrants) established the concept of this country" (17). That the Coat of Arms is meant to represent a unified picture of the country is evident in the latin motto "Multae culturae una patria." (Although the choice of Latin avoids the problem of choosing one of Canada’s two official languages, it seems ironic that the multicultural message becomes unreadable within any of the living languages of the nation.) The emphasis on "unity" and the attempt to construct the sense of fellowship that the government wishes to promote between itself and the First Nations does not serve Canadians well when it denies the possibility of using the (unstated and verbally "buried") frictions of the past to explain the misunderstandings that develop in our search for a diverse and magnanimous society.
Often the claim to be doing something absolutely new, especially when based on a caricature of the old, results in a failure to examine basic categories, and hence a repetition of existing formulae.
—Robert Lumley, The Museum Time-Machine (1988) (16).
In Reading, Writing and Ritualizing: Ritual in Fictive, Liturgical and Public Places (1993), Ron Grimes states that collecting, displaying and defining heritage objects is a culturally specific ritual, and argues that the recognition of the "religious or quasi-religious functions of museums" might "provoke museums into recognizing that they cannot hide behind the ideologies of neutrality, scientific objectivity [and] universalism" (96). Grimes uses George MacDonald as his example of a Director who does recognize this function, but the way in which MacDonald’s rhetoric resonates against other institutional practices requires careful consideration. Although the building is repeatedly exalted by MacDonald and other reviewers as a "monument," "cathedral," "church," or "shrine," the pervasive marketing strategies of the Museum, the dual role of the visitor as "pilgrim" and "consumer," and the definition of culture in the Canada Hall as determined by trade and economics suggest that what the Museum is sanctifying is, in fact, the ritual of consumption. MacDonald suggests that Cardinal’s design for the building departs from the architectural styles associated with the "ethos of the commodity-based society," by embodying references that reach forward into the information age and "back to an earlier tribal paradigm" (20). Yet the multi-media functions of the Museum do not, at this point, "dissolve the frame that separates the visitor from the cultural experience," thereby permitting entry into the universal church of global ideas and culture, but, rather, focus the visitor more firmly on the materiality of the technology that is mediating their experience. The emphasis on information technology, as well as on the availability of souvenirs and other museum products both in the large boutique at the Museum and on-line through the web-site, combine with the linking of trade and culture in the Canada Hall to create an atmosphere in which visitors are implicitly invited to see their participation in cultural tourism as the final stage in the streetscape chronology of the Canada Hall, and the Museum itself as the finest "product" in Canada’s history of resource development. Grimes states that the metaphor of the "museum as cathedral" should be taken seriously (but not literally, as MacDonald seems to), and observes that, while modern museums try to educate people out of their "cultural boundness," the "act of making relics…. into scientific-esthetic objects is thoroughly Western" and the resulting displays function as "a ritualization of Euroamerican political and social values" (90). The CMC’s intention to use multi-media technology to facilitate intercultural understanding ignores the way in which that technology itself shapes contact between cultures. Presenting the museum visit, whether virtual or "real," as a ritual of transcendental proportions (as MacDonald’s enthusiasms repeatedly promise) while firmly situating visitors as consumers has the function of naturalizing and neutralizing the collective memory that the museum offers its guests.30
Responding to negative evaluations of the Canadian Museum of Civilization, MacDonald writes that the Museum will continue to be criticized and smugly notes that "individuals and institutions who steer a course of radical change always are" (Global Village 67).31 Yet MacDonald’s vision of a museum as a "market-place and ritual centre"—a crossroads leading to the global village—is hardly unique or original. Visiting an institution that presents history by displaying material objects that are at once "exalted" and "commodified" has been commonly compared to "looking around a stately home," "going into a church or cathedral," or visiting a department store (Radley 68);32 therefore, the atmosphere the CMC attempts to create is not really any different from what museum goers traditionally expect. What has changed are the museological techniques, which rely increasingly on the models of theme-parks and large blockbuster spectacles, as well as the draw of technology to encourage new visitors to participate. As Walsh notes, heritage as a commodity has replaced the varied and diverse backgrounds of individual places with a set of images that are "devoid of conflict and antisocial behaviour"; these, in turn, are presented using a "uniform set of media" that make heritage institutions around the world "safe and familiar," differing only in the images that are offered, not the means by which they are conveyed (145). The staff of the CMC studied museums, heritage institutions and theme-parks from around the world before designing the new national museum; it is not, then, original in the techniques that it offers, but in their particular combination and effect. Lastly, the use of information technology is repeatedly championed as the Museum’s major innovation; yet, as Rider notes, "in its use of communications techniques, CMC has done little that has not been tried elsewhere" (100). Again, it was the "intended balance that was different."
With the cancellation of a considerable portion of the Canadian Museum of Civilization’s technological services, and with the delayed completion of the permanent exhibits, it is difficult to judge the potential of the Museum’s original goals in focusing attention on intercultural examinations using various media. However, the use of techniques that are readily available at a myriad of other institutions around the world ironically confirms MacDonald’s vision of the CMC as "a museum for the global village." Walsh contends that the general population’s increasing need for meaningful local heritage "implicitly questions the legitimacy of an idea of nation as promoted by modern heritage, and to an extent, the national museums" (152), and while I disagree with his intimation that national museums could never be useful,33 his criticisms of institutions that deny visitors a meaningful and useful sense of local heritage are helpful in understanding the implications of the CMC’s emphasis on the "global village." The inability of the Canada Hall to evoke a temporally nuanced understanding of any of the places visited in the streetscape, and the "pan-Canadian" nature of the architecture were discussed earlier. These, combined with the CMC’s vision of Canada’s multiculturalism as the "blueprint" for the global village, suggests that the Museum is only able to "define the country" by looking forward to a time when national and cultural borders will no longer be meaningful. In presenting sanitized versions of Canada’s history, the Museum reveals itself as fully implicated in the federal obsession with "unity." By quelling any suggestion of conflict, the CMC creates a collective memory heavily reliant on amnesia, a vision of Canadian which serious differences are softened through homogenizing media and museological spectacle. The sight-line leading towards Parliament is, perhaps, the closest thing that visitors will have to a "sense of place" while at the Museum. Despite the Museum’s location in one of Canada’s most historical spaces, the federal government’s policies and financial intervention in the completion of the CMC "undercut" the history of Canada that is presented. The serious gaps in the memory of Canada’s history—particularly the disturbing negation of colonization as fundamental to Canada’s origins, and the silence surrounding women’s activities—encourage visitors to celebrate a sense of unified national achievement without questioning the disparities between how various groups across this country perceive "nationhood." And while these issues might be discussed in the temporary exhibits, the permanent and, therefore, authoritative accounts of Canada’s history create the framework and memory from which visitors will approach the less "spectacular" displays.
The focus on unity, collective memory, and common experiences within the Canadian Museum of Civilization ends by negating the potential of the Museum to examine how collective memories are generated and deployed to support various political agendas. Indeed, the focus on unity is ironic in an institution whose roots lie in "legitimating social differences" (Walsh 124). In order to foster meaningful relationships between individual, local, provincial and patriotic memories, perhaps the first thing a national museum needs to do is develop a memory of itself as an institution, recognizing the way in which its relationship to various classes, aboriginal and ethnic groups has changed according to federal policies and social imperatives. At the very least, some sort of general introduction to the CMC, indicating why the Grand Hall focuses only on west coast tribes, and why the Canada Hall remains unfinished, would be helpful in orienting the visitor to the various messages that the two permanent displays offer when juxtaposed with each other. At this point, though, the CMC does not offer its visitors any way of critically placing themselves within the fabric of Canada’s national identity or memory. Grant McCracken states, with approval, that the CMC "is, in respects, very like the nation that built it." In the tension between global and patriotic presentations of citizenship and culture, the search for unity while trying to emphasize difference, and the muted political commentary, this may be true—and I suggest that in treating this comparison between the museum and the country ironically, we may uncover more fruitful possibilities than the current depoliticization of the museum’s exhibits allows.
The self-reflexive posture on the part of both museum and visitor that is here being advocating need not be overly serious or reduce the extent to which a Museum may entertain while it challenges and informs. Leacock’s gentle satire illustrates the impossibility of using only one memory or historical reference to understand the way in which various cultures in Canada have interacted with each other and the with the land. Perhaps, in the final analysis, what is needed is for the conversation between Dean Drone and Dr. Gallagher to extend to the present-day, to inform and challenge the CMC’s attempts to establish unity at the expense of diverse memory. The Canadian Museum of Civilization needs to be understood as an artifact that we are continually "digging out of our backyard," putting on display, and re-burying.
I am indebted to the patience of Michelle Cummings, who accompanied me on my third visit to the Canadian Museum of Civilization, and to Sarah Brophy and my family, who also discussed their reactions to the exhibits with me on previous visits. My thanks also to Hamish Martin for his support and encouragement while this essay was being written.