Canadian War Museum

Canadian War Museum

The Canadian War Museum (CWM) is Canada’s national museum of military history. Located in Ottawa, Ontario, the museum focuses on military conflicts that occurred on Canadian soil, involved Canadian forces, or had a significant effect on the country and its people. [For a chronology, see] The conflicts range from early warfare among First Peoples to today’s “war on terror.”

Much of the museum’s public exhibition space is devoted to its [ Canadian Experience Galleries] . These permanent exhibitions underline the profound effect war has had on Canada’s development and the significant role Canadians have played in international conflicts. The galleries also devote much attention to war’s impact on individuals: to what it calls the “devastating human experience” of war. Complementing the permanent galleries is a changing program of temporary or [ special exhibitions] .

The CWM also houses an impressive [ Military History Research Centre] , a vast collection of [ war art] , and one of the world’s finest collections of military vehicles and artillery. [see]

The CWM traces its origins back to 1880. However, its current building, located less than 2 km west of Canada’s Parliament Buildings, opened in May 2005. The building's striking [ architecture] has received much professional and public acclaim. Although the museum promotes remembrance of past conflicts and the sacrifices made by those in uniform, it is a public history museum, not a national war memorial or a museum of the Canadian Forces. The CWM is part of the Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation, which also operates the Canadian Museum of Civilization, the Canadian Children's Museum, the Canadian Postal Museum, and the [ Virtual Museum of New France] .


The museum originated in 1880 as a collection of military artifacts in the possession of the Canadian federal government, organized by militia officers of the Ottawa garrison. Its first facility was a series of rooms in the Cartier Square Drill Hall, and eventually the collection fell under the auspices of the Public Archives of Canada. The museum was officially established in 1942, but it did not enjoy its own dedicated facility until 1967 when it moved to the former Public Archives building on Sussex Drive in Ottawa, located between the Royal Canadian Mint and the (then) future site of the National Gallery of Canada. This location was quite small and much of the museum's collection had to be stored at a west-end warehouse known as Vimy House, which was formerly Ottawa's streetcar garage. The Sussex Drive facility and Vimy House were closed to the public in September 2004.


Controversy began over two paintings displayed in the Canadian War Museum because they depicted wartime atrocities committed by Canadian soldiers. One involved the torture of Somalian teenager Shidane Arone in 1993 by a member of the Canadian Airborne Regiment, Master Cpl. Clayton Matchee. The other painting was one of Pte. Kyle Brown, a convicted criminal sentenced to prison for his role in the same event.

Described as "trashy" and "insulting [of] tribute" by the head of one of the country's veterans associations, the paintings were considered inappropriate as part of the nation's historical museum. However, other veterans disagreed and said it was more important that the Canadian War Museum, being a museum of war situated in Canada, play its proper role in portraying the realities of the war in which Canadians were involved. In May 2005 the Museum stated it did not intend on changing the display despite the disapproval of some war veterans, adding that many of those supporting the paintings included other war veterans.

On August 28 2007 another controversy began involving the Bomber Command exhibit. The text, charged a veterans group, portrayed Canadian war veterans as war criminals who needlessly killed thousands of civilians in Germany through a bombing campaign. The exhibit's plaque - which specifically refers to the Bombing Campaign of German cities such as Dresden, reads as follows:

"The value and morality of the strategic bomber offensive against Germany remains bitterly contested. Bomber Command's aim was to crush civilian morale and force Germany to surrender by destroying its cities and industrial installations. Although Bomber Command and American attacks left 600,000 Germans dead and more than five million homeless, the raids resulted in only small reductions of German war production until late in the war."

The veterans group demanded the text changed so that it would read as follows:

"Thousands perished in the raids and millions were left homeless. While these numbers are very large, they pale in comparison to the genocide the Germans and their proxies." [ [ Museum to change bomber exhibit] ] [ [ Fighting words rile historians] ] [Television news story by Julie Van Dusen, CBC News, aired on "The National", August 29, 2007] ]

People who are against altering the plaque charged that the veterans' suggested replacement text proves that they have a political agenda, and not a historical one - a desire to sanitize the bombing campaign of anything which suggests it might have been unwarranted and/or ineffective.

The veterans group was successful, using political pressure and supported by a sympathetic ear from the government, the museum decided to change the exhibit. This move has generated outrage among historians, educators, and even some war veterans, who say the exhibit is factually accurate, and should be preserved in its current form. They also say the museum is not a war memorial - but a place of information, and should remain free of bias or propaganda - pro-military, anti-military, or otherwise.

New building

In the 1990s, the government made plans to relocate the War Museum to a new site east of central Ottawa, near the Canada Aviation Museum. The proposed site was criticized for its distance from downtown and most of the National Capital Region's other attractions. A new, more prominent location was chosen at Lebreton Flats, along the Ottawa River, just to the west of Parliament Hill and other national institutions. The new location also allowed for ceremonial processions between the National War Memorial and the new War Museum.

The new facility, designed by a joint venture of Moriyama & Teshima Architects of Toronto and Griffiths Rankin Cook Architects of Ottawa, was opened with much fanfare in May 2005. The new, modern building, subject to much architectural acclaim, emerges eastward from the ground, with textured concrete reminiscent of a bunker, but with rooftop gardens consistent with the museum's theme of regeneration. The building rises to a large fin, clad in copper that matches the rooftops of other prominent public buildings in the capital. The small windows on the fin spell out "Lest we forget" (in English) and "N'oublions jamais" (in French) using Morse code. The copper used on the interior of the building is from the roof of the Library of Parliament, which itself was refurbished in 2004.

The new museum has enjoyed substantial attendance and won praise from many circles. However, starting in 2005 the Museum was subject to a protest campaign by some veterans who objected to a single panel in the World War Two exhibit which presents the controversy over the usefulness and human cost of strategic bombing in World War Two.

Main exhibit galleries

Most of the museum’s main floor is devoted to the Canadian Experience Galleries. Radiating from a central hub, these four permanent exhibitions are organized chronologically:
* from earliest times to 1885;
* 1885-1931;
* 1931-1945;
* 1945 to the present.

Gallery 1: "Battleground"

This gallery looks at the earliest wars Canada was involved in, many of which were pre-Confederation. Beginning with "First Peoples Warfare", it highlights "New Alliances" between the Natives and Europeans, the resultant "Clash of Empires", "The American Revolution", "The War of 1812", and finally "Conflict and Confederation".

At the end of the Clash of Empires displays, a movie called the "Battle for Canada" illustrates warfare in the time period, with three narrators reacting to the events as if they were part of a televised hockey game. The three viewers make comments on behalf of the British (represented by an actor wearing a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey), the French (Montreal Canadiens), and Aboriginal Canadians (Vancouver Canucks, whose logo design is like Haida art).

Gallery 2: "For Crown and Country"

The museum progresses chronologically into the period from 1885 to 1931, beginning with "The South African War". The "First World War" is introduced, leading into "The Western Front", "In the Trenches", "Vimy", "Passchendaele", "Costly Victory", and "Aftermath".

There are two films playing constantly in this gallery. One is on Vimy, while the other looks at the aftermath. Highlighting the dark, mucky, and dangerous conditions faced during trench warfare is a simulation. Those with ancestors who served in the First World War can view records of health inspection on a computer system; as of summer 2006, the scanning project had only reached surnames starting with "C".

Gallery 3: "Forged in Fire"

Just as "The Rise of Dictators" started the era leading to the Second World War, this gallery looking at 1931-1945 begins with Adolf Hitler (whose personal limousine is on display and labelled "a symbol of evil"), Mussolini, and Tojo. Continuing through the gallery, visitors learn about "The Battle of the Atlantic", "Japan Strikes in the Pacific", "The Home Front", "Dieppe", "The Air War", "Italy" and "Normandy", both of which are created in detailed lifesize displays, "Liberation and Victory", and "Homecoming".

In the midst of the Normandy display is "The Lookout onto LeBreton Gallery".

Gallery 4: "A Violent Peace"

Spanning 1945 to present day, "A Violent Peace" begins with "Welcome Home", showing the rise of suburban Canada. "From World War to Cold War", "Korea", "NATO", "NORAD", "U.N. Peacekeeping", "The Cold War at Home", "Cold War Twilight", and "The Savage Wars of Peace" all are featured. Short films play continuously regarding both peacekeeping and modern conflicts, the latter covering events as recent as the September 11, 2001 attacks and the fall of Saddam Hussein. The NATO exhibit includes a simulation game, and visitors can also take a self-guided physical to compare their stamina to military requirements.

Royal Canadian Legion Hall of Honour

Displayed in this exhibition hall are military honours, certificates of service, works of art, Remembrance Day poppies, and other material objects used by Canadians to remember and commemorate their military past and to honour those who have worn a Canadian uniform. Among the highlights is the original plaster model for the National War Memorial in Ottawa.

Regeneration Hall

"An architecture of hope"Canadian War Museum, 2006 English visitor's guide]

Regeneration Hall is a soaring, peaceful space. The north wall of the hall is a tall series of windows through which it is possible to view the Peace Tower of the main Canadian Parliament building.

The rooms features the plaster casts (maquettes) of the figures which were incorporated into the design of the [ Vimy Memorial] which commemorates the military victory of the Canadian forces attacking and taking Vimy Ridge during World War I.

LeBreton Gallery

"The military technology collection", numerous land vehicles are on display in this lower level section.

The collection is quite large and, except where the damage to the vehicle is intended to be part of the display, in excellent condition. The pieces on display include:
* BMP infantry fighting vehicle
* CF-101 Voodoo mounted above the hall on a pedestal
* Chieftain tank
* Iltis 'battlefield taxi' in which Canadian peacekeepers were wounded
* Jagdpanzer IV
* M3 Lee
* M114 armoured personnel carrier
* Panther tank
* Panzer II
* Leopard tank, two variants
* Sherman tank, several variants
* Numerous assorted artillery pieces, including pieces from the Boer War, First World War, Second World War, and naval artillery
* submarine (German mini)
* T-34
* Valentine tank, recovered from a bog in Ukraine, where it lay from 1944 to 1990 [Fred Gaffen ed., "Canadian Valentine Tank MK VIIA," Canadian War Museum Fact Sheet No. 5.]
* Weather Station Kurt, an automated weather station planted by a German U-boat on the coast of Labrador in World War II.

Memorial Hall

Among the most celebrated features of the museum is the austere and soundproof Memorial Hall, located outside the ticketed exhibition area. The museum describes it as "a space for quiet remembrance". It contains a single artifact: the headstone of the Unknown Soldier from the First World War. Sunlight through the Hall’s only window directly illuminates the headstone every Remembrance Day, November 11, at precisely 11:00 a.m.— the moment the Great War ended in 1918. [1] .

Military History Research Centre

While not part of the main tourist experience, the Research Centre provides a wealth of information for those wanting to study Canadian warfare in greater depth.

Other facilities

The museum has a dining patio and indoor cafeteria (similar in appearance and name to a military mess hall) managed by Chartwells, a boutique, and ateliers. There is a group entrance, the main "Vimy Entrance", and a river entrance facing the Ottawa River. Washrooms are ecologically friendly; partially filtered river water is used to flush toilets. Signs inform visitors to not be alarmed by the yellow tint to the water. All other public water supplies in the building are provided by the City of Ottawa's normal piping.

torage and Conservation

The Museum has state of the art storage and conservation facilities that bring the entire collection of the War Museum together in one building for the first time in many decades. Several conservation workshops include a special vehicle and large weapons workshop and a loading bay which can slowly adjust the temperature and humidity of an entire 60 foot trailer.

Museum directors

The three most recent directors of the War Museum are:
* Victor Suthren 1986–1998
* Jack Granatstein 1998–2000
* Joe Geurts 2000–2007
* Mark O'Neill 2007–Present []

ee also

* Military history of Canada



* Moriyama, Raymond. "In Search of a Soul: Designing and Realizing the Canadian War Museum", (Douglas & McIntyre: Vancouver, 2006). (ISBN 1-55365-207-X)

External links

* [ Official website]
* [ Canadian War Museum] Photos of exhibits in the Canadian War Museum
* [ Moriyama + Teshima Architects: The Canadian War Museum Architecture]
* [ Victory for veterans, an article in the Ottawa Citizen]
* [ War museum's paintings anger veterans group, CBC news]

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