A Brief Overview of Museums in Canada

Canada is not famous for its museums, rather for its wonderful natural endowments. With its mountains, lakes, rivers and fir trees, it has the effect of making you feel you are in another dimension, where nature dominates. For me it was the fauna and flora of the landscape which captivated me, but as an art historian I was also interested in the country’s museum culture. In the Royal British Columbia Museum, in Victoria on the Pacific coast, while already standing in the queue, you can learn about the exhibitions with the help of several dozen high-standard brochures and modern-looking direction signs, as well as tablets. Since 1886 the museum has focussed on objects concerning man and nature, their research, preservation, display and presentation. The permanent collection is based on three pillars: the natural sciences, modern history and the story of indigenous peoples. I took part in a guided tour around the British Columbia Parliament, which was interesting from a museum education perspective. It was a free tour of the building in which there was an actor playing the role of its architect, Francis Mawson Rattenbury, dressed in 19th-century costume, as the building was constructed in 1893-97. There was an application of the living history method – using the first person singular, the architect described the history of the building and then mixed and spoke with visitors, such that the feeling was generated that he really was a figure from the past. The Museum of Vancouver presents the city’s history exceedingly well. When I was there, the temporary exhibition, All Together Now: Vancouver Collectors & Their Worlds, involved a rather exciting and modern compilation in connection with the Canadians’ passion for collecting. There were toy machines, fairy tale figures, posters, clothes, tins and robots. The permanent exhibition focuses on the lives of Vancouver people in the past. Canada has about one million lakes, among which Okanagan Lake is the most well-known. Kelowna lies beside the lake and is deservedly known as a typical Canadian city. In the past, native Indians lived here and today they still live on the outskirts. In Canada respect for nature and heritage protection play an important role, and thus there are numerous institutes relating to those themes. An outstanding example is Kelowna’s Okanagan Heritage Museum. In terms of its space and collection, it is very small, covering a total of just 200 square metres. Yet in a truly gripping way, the museum’s specialists recall Canada’s indigenous animals and the life of native peoples. These descriptions perhaps give an idea of the important role played by museum education in Canada, given that exhibitions are made accessible for all with the use of different means and projects. To quote the words of Johann Joachim Winckelmann: “Art has two ultimate aims – to entertain and to educate.”