War, Civilization and Farming in Canada’s National Museums

War, Civilization and Agriculture all have their part to play in the make up of society. Good thing, then, that Ottawa has three national museums dedicated to these topics. Of the three, The Canadian War Museum was probably my favourite. The temporary “War and Medicine” exhibition explores not only how wars has driven, and continues to drive, medical progress, as well as a sensitive look at the impact of these wounds (mental as well as physical) have on soldiers. The rest of the museum is split into four permanenet exhibitions: War before 1914; First World War; Second World War; Cold War. Only when put in such a way does one realise how essential war has been to modern society. The exhibitions blend objects, information, waxworks and recreations, paintings and even poetry in a way that really gets to the heart of the subject matter.


The Canadian Civilization Museum has set itself a huge task. It purports to tell the story of Canada and Canadians, stretching over thousands of years and miles of land.  After my disappointment at the Bytown, I was pleased to see that one of the big National museums does not shy away from the use of waxworks and human dioramas.  The large “Canada Hall” covers the arrival of the Vikings in 1000AD through to modern day Canada. The scale of the project is huge. There is an entire consecrated church within the gallery, sonated to the Museum by the Ukranian Catholic community, not to mention countless mocked up shops, homes and town halls. Frankly, it is exhausting. Perhaps it was a result of too much information, or museum fatigue, but I found after two hours of Canadian history I had had enough.


The Canadian Agriculture Museum, on the other hand, is a much smaller museum but I spent nearly all day there. I attribute this difference to the sheer number of demonstrations put on for visitors throughout the day, compared with the passivity encouraged by the static museum displays of the Civilization Museum. from “Rabbit Care” in the morning, through until the afternoon milking at 4pm, visitors to the Agriculture Museum are never without something to do or see. In “Butter Making and Tasting”, visitors learn about how butter is made, all the while shaking their own tubs of cream in order to make their own which they have the opportunity to taste later on. I visited the sheep, the goats, the pigs, the cows as well as the new arrival, a thoroughbred horse called “Flint” and “Oreo” the bunny. When I met “Farmer Franz”, the curator of the museum, he told me that the Agriculture Museum has one of the highest numbers of returning member visitors in Ottawa-and I can see why.


The Canadian Agriculture Museum is set within the same grounds as many of Canada Agriculture Ministry buildings. The surrounding area is poorly signposted, making the museum itself tricky to get to. Though described as a “museum”, it is akin to a city farm. The map visitors are given when they hand over their entrance fee show three barns, one for pigs and sheep, one for horses and cattle and a third dairy barn. There are also a couple of “fields”-though field feels a bit too grand a term-one for sheep and their guardian donkey Eeyore, and two more for cattle and horses. The more traditional “museum” is housed in a fourth barn next to the dairy. Here, visitors can find out all about the Canadian honey industry in the “Taking Care of Beesness” exhibition, as well as take part in “The Buzz about Honeybees” demonstration in the kitchen.




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