Monday, 22 September 2014

The World's First National Human Rights Museum

The new Canadian Museum for Human Rights welcomed its first visitors last weekend, with dignitaries and some lucky Manitobans receiving a guided tour before regular hours start this Saturday.

I was lucky enough to be one of those Manitobans and I was happy - maybe even excited - to be one of the first to visit this one-of-a-kind museum. I believe the struggle for human rights is ongoing and I wondered if this museum would agree with me or be more focused on looking back at all the ugly parts of history that we all know so well.

Slavery, check. Colonialism, check. Racism, check. Of course all those topics were covered, but these egregious acts were not the focal point of the museum. Instead, this museum is about learning from the past with the goal of building a better future. By using symbolism and telling a multitude of stories, old and new, this museum emphasizes the common threads in Humanity.

There are references to the awful residential schools system, which is less than two decades old and still impacts many people in ways most Canadians are completely oblivious to. And while I personally agree with those who want this atrocity referred to as 'genocide', I would still urge any skeptics to visit the museum.

Visitors are reminded that we are on 'Treaty 1 Land' and the 'Indigenous Perspectives' exhibit includes beautiful works of art done by local artists. Indigenous culture permeates throughout the building and even the original piles that form the foundation were all buried with a traditional medicine bag.

This was not your typical museum experience. One interesting area included an interactive art exhibit where a group of people would stand on a big blank circle. As you step on the ground, a colourful light surrounds your feet, but as you get closer to another person that light blends with their light and creates more dynamic artwork. The more people standing close together, the more dynamic the lights and ribbons surrounding you. This was an artistic rendition of the power of cooperation and it was fun for the kids too.

Unfortunately, this was the only interactive exhibit that we were able to try during the limited tour. I would have liked to try the consoles where you get to act as Canada's Supreme Court and make decisions on landmark human rights cases. Also, everyone wanted to ride the elevator up to the Tower of Hope, where you can get a better view of Winnipeg than the Golden Boy, but that experience would have to wait.

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights is a testament to the power of Canadian culture. The museum beautifully blends the story of our nation with the need for greater international cooperation and understanding. This museum implicitly asks Canadians to live up to our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which is currently in the museum's possession.

After years of fundraising, building, and fundraising some more, the final structure is an impressive addition to Winnipeg's skyline. It is located at the historic forks location where the Red and Assiniboine rivers meet, where settlers once traded furs and Canada signed its first treaty with First Nations people 143 years ago.

Now, the hope is, visitors from across the country and the world will converge here to learn from past atrocities and contribute to building a more egalitarian world. A world governed by, what we can proudly call, Canadian values.


  1. I visited earlier this afternoon and I was in complete awe of the space. We had a great tour guide who chat with us while we explored the galleries that were open. I loved hearing about the architecture and all the small details that were included in the building, like the audio loop they play in the first hallway, how it mimics the sounds of our everyday. We were taken to the very top, and let me tell you, the view is stunning. Definitely can't wait until the rest opens on November 11th.

    Great Blog David!

    1. Thanks Jessica. You're lucky you got to see that view. I'll be visiting once the rest is open too.

      Thanks for sharing.