Canadian Museum for Human Rights

Canadian Museum for Human Rights
Canadian Museum for Human Rights
Location Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, at the historic Forks

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights is a national museum currently under construction in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada at the historic Forks where the Assiniboine and Red Rivers meet. The purpose of the museum is to increase understanding and awareness about human rights, human rights issues and challenges, promote respect for others, and encourage reflection, dialogue, and action.

Established in 2008, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR) was the first national museum created in Canada since 1967, and it is the first national museum ever to be located outside the National Capital Region.[1]



The CMHR was the dream of CanWest founder Izzy Asper as a place where students from across Canada could come to learn about human rights. He also saw the CMHR as an opportunity to revitalize downtown Winnipeg and increase tourism to the city. Asper launched the CMHR as a private initiative on April 17, 2003, the 21st anniversary of signing of Charter of Rights and Freedoms. After Izzy’s death in 2003, his daughter Gail Asper became the main proponent of the project.

On April 20, 2007, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced the Government of Canada’s intention to make the CMHR into a national museum, the first national museum created in over 40 years. Then on March 13, 2008, Bill C-42, An Act amending the Museums Act and making consequential amendments to other Acts, received Royal Assent in Parliament, with support from all political parties, creating the Canadian Museum for Human Rights as a national museum.[2] By the middle of 2008, a government-funded opinion research project had been completed by the TNS/The Antima Group. The ensuing report[3]—based primarily on focus group participants—listed the following: which topics (not in order of preference) might be covered by the CMHR; key milestones in human rights achievements, both in Canada and throughout the world; current debates about human rights; and events where Canada showed a betrayal or a commitment towards human rights.[4]

December 19, 2008 marked the Groundbreaking ceremony at the site of the CMHR,[5] and official construction on the site began in April, 2009. Construction is expected to be completed in 2012.[6]


Funding for the capital costs of the CMHR is coming from three jurisdictions of government — the federal Crown, the provincial Crown, and the City of Winnipeg — as well as private donations. The total budget for the building of the exterior of the CMHR and its contents is $310 million.

To date, the Government of Canada has allocated $100 million, the Government of Manitoba has donated $40 million, and the City of Winnipeg has donated $20 million.[7] The Friends of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, led by Gail Asper, have succeeded in raising $125 million in private donations from across Canada so far.[8] An additional $25 million is still needed to reach the fundraising goal. The Canadian Museum for Human Rights has requested an additional $35 million in Capital funding from the federal government to cover shortfalls. In April 2011 the CMHR also received an additional $3.6 million from the City of Winnipeg, which was actually taken from a federal grant to the city in lieu of taxes for the museum.[9]

Once the CMHR is open, the operating budget will be provided by the government of Canada, as the CMHR is a national museum. The estimated operating costs to the federal government are $22 million annually.


A model of the Canadian Museum of Human Rights.
The Canadian Museum for Human Rights

In 2003, the Friends of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights launched an international architectural competition for the design of the CMHR. 62 submissions from 21 countries worldwide were submitted. The judging panel chose the design submitted by Antoine Predock, a world renowned architect based out of Albuquerque, New Mexico.

His vision for the CMHR is a journey, beginning with a descent into the earth where visitors enter the CMHR through the ‘roots’ of the museum. Visitors are led through the Great Hall, then a series of vast spaces and ramps, before culminating in the Tower of Hope, a tall spire protruding from the CMHR that provides visitors with an amazing view of downtown Winnipeg.[10]

Antoine Predock’s inspiration for the CMHR comes from the natural scenery and open spaces in Canada like trees, ice, and northern lights, First Nations peoples in Canada, and the rootedness of human rights action. He describes the CMHR in the following way:

“The Canadian Museum for Human Rights is rooted in humanity, making visible in the architecture the fundamental commonality of humankind-a symbolic apparition of ice, clouds and stone set in a field of sweet grass. Carved into the earth and dissolving into the sky on the Winnipeg horizon, the abstract ephemeral wings of a white dove embrace a mythic stone mountain of 450 million year old Tyndall limestone in the creation of a unifying and timeless landmark for all nations and cultures of the world.” [11]

Construction of the building is currently underway. Throughout the foundation work of the CMHR, medicine bags created by Elders at Thunderbird House ,in Winnipeg, were inserted into the holes made for piles and caissons to show respect for mother earth. Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, unveiled on 3 July 2010 the building's cornerstone,[12][13] which bears the Queen's royal cypher and has embedded in it a piece of stone from the ruins of St. Mary's Priory,[14] at Runnymede, England — where it is believed the Magna Carta was approved in 1215 by King John.[15] The CMHR website has two webcams available for people to watch the construction as it progresses.


The CMHR is working with exhibit designer Ralph Appelbaum Associates (RAA) based out of New York to develop the inaugural exhibits of the museum. RAA has indicated that the galleries throughout the CMHR will deal with various themes including the Canadian human rights journey, Aboriginal concepts of human rights, the Holocaust, and current human rights issues. The CMHR has a team of researchers working with RAA to develop the inaugural exhibits.

As part of the content development process, the CMHR did a cross-country story gathering tour called ‘Help Write the Story of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.’ From May 2009 to February 2010, the CMHR visited 19 cities and talked to thousands of people about their human rights experiences and what they want to see in the museum. This consultation process was led by Lord Cultural Resources based out of Toronto. The stories heard will help inform the content of the CMHR.


Concerns about an aboriginal sacred site

The proposed museum has come under criticism, including criticism that the site selected is one of the richest sites in Manitoba for aboriginal artifacts. Retired Manitoba archeologist, Leigh Syms stated that the excavation done prior to construction did not go far enough. A spokesperson for the museum pointed out that the museum had consulted with native leaders prior to excavation. In addition, the museum is continuning to evaluate the site through construction. The area where the museum is being built has been an area of increased development over the past few years, including a skate park, a hotel, and a parkade. All of which are south of what is believed to be a part of the Aboriginal Graveyard. [16]

The CMHR has responded to the criticisms put forward by Leigh Syms, arguing that they have followed all necessary guidelines prior to and during the archaeological digs and excavations and have consulted and continue to consult Aboriginal Elders and others within the Aboriginal community about the project as it moves forward.[17]

There have been suggestions that the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, and much of the Forks in general, is located on an Aboriginal burial ground. An impact assessment and management plan prepared for the Forks Renewal Corporation prior to the beginning of construction of the Forks Market in 1988 outlines the concerns about burial grounds expressed by the archaeologists.[18] Several archaeological digs in the area done between 1989-1991 as well as the archaeological digs completed by the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in 2008 and 2009 did not find any human remains.[19] These digs show that while the site was used for a variety of land uses, it has never been a burial ground.

The Forks is located in the flood plain of the Red and Assiniboine rivers. Before the flood way was built in 1968, the location of the Forks was prone to flooding when accumulated winter snow rapidly melted in the spring. One of the largest of these floods, in 1826, destroyed the original Fort Garry. The Red River rose three metres (nine feet) in one day. It created a lake that remained for months and washed away nearly every building in the settlement.[20] Due to recurring flooding, the Forks site was used as a transitional camp.[21]

Over 50 separate projects involving excavation have been undertaken at the Forks since 1950, enabling researchers to provide an accurate reflection of the various uses of the Forks over the past 6000 years.[22] Despite the above stated concerns, none of these projects indicate that the Forks site was ever used as a burial ground.

Concerns over the proposed museum content

Starting in December 2010, controversy has erupted over the plans for two permanent gallery spaces: for the Jewish suffering during the Holocaust and for the injustices experienced by the Aboriginal peoples in Canada. Organizations like the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC),[23] Canadians for Genocide Education, the German-Canadian Congress,[24] the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association (UCCLA) and thousands of other Canadians have been protesting this elevation of the suffering of one or two communities above all others (while any other experiences and issues will be addressed thematically in the remaining galleries). Other advocacy groups have also chimed in to protest about the over-emphasis on the Holocaust, with regard to atrocities.[25]

Angela Cassie, the museum’s director of communications, responded to recent criticism by pointing out that there was a misconception about there being only two permanent zones. “There will in fact be 12 permanent zones and the Holodomor will have a permanent display in the ‘Mass Atrocity’ zone, immediately adjacent to the Holocaust zone," Cassie said. "This zone will feature detailed information on the Holodomor and many other mass atrocities that have taken place worldwide and will provide educational opportunities for visitors to learn more about these events.”[26] According to the Canadian Jewish Congress CEO Bernie Farber, the events of the Holocaust require a special focus, because they redefined the limits of "human depravity" and challenged the foundation of our civilization. The victims of this Holocaust have still not recovered from the slaughter they endured. “The Holocaust was also the foundation for our modern human rights legislation,[27] and it makes perfect sense that the Holocaust should have a permanent place in the museum. It also makes sense that the plight of Canada’s First Nations should also have a prominent place in the museum. What makes no sense is pitting one group of Canadians against another,” said Farber.[26] As for the Holocaust zone, Cassie has stated that this gallery is anticipated to include the sufferings of “the Roma, persons with physical and mental disabilities, gay men, lesbians … among other communities."[28] In a "reply to the editor" of the National Post, Stuart Murray, president and CEO of the museum, gave his statement on the inclusivity of the museum's planned galleries, following the various protests appearing in the media since December 2010.[29] A month later, Murray's travel expenses at the cost of taxpayers, purportedly for meetings related to museum business, have also been under scutiny.[30]

Inclusion of the Holodomor and other atrocities

Lubomyr Luciuk, speaking for the UCCLA, suggested that the museum's 12 thematic galleries could cover larger issues such as Canadian internment operations, including unwarranted detention of the following: Ukrainians and others during World War I;[31] Germans, Italians and Japanese during World War II; and some Québécois in the 1970 October Crisis. Another topic, genocides, could be treated as a whole, whether the atrocities occurred in Europe, Africa or Asia, and could include the politically motivated crimes of communism as well as fascism.[28] In December 2010, the UCCLA even started a postcard campaign to try to persuade Heritage Minister James Moore to convene a new advisory committee, with the objective of reevaluating the proposed content of the CMHR.[32] Luciuk also stated that "as a publicly funded institution, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights should not elevate the suffering of any community above all others."[33] Member of Parliament James Bezan released a statement that implored the CMHR Board of Trustees to apportion to the "Holodomor genocide...a unique, autonomous and prominent place in the CMHR" and requested that the "CMHR Board [of Trustees] contain respected members of the Ukrainian community with knowledge of the Holodomor and other human rights violations."[34] A petition outlining the grievances of the UCC has been prepared for submission to parliament, entitled "Petition for equity and fairness at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights."[35]

The UCC also revealed that the tendering process undertaken by the Canadian Museum for Human Rights has no intention of including permanent or prominent displays of the Holodomor or of Canada’s First National Internment Operations, providing further evidence that the Museum will proceed on the basis of the discredited Content Advisory Committee Report.[36] It should be noted here that many historians and authors have considered the possibiliity that the Holodomor was not a selective genocide against the Ukrainian populace specifically—it was a consequence of collectivization rather than of ethnic prejudices (see Holodomor genocide question). Even Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn made a point of addressing this issue. He admitted that the famine was caused by the corrupt ideals of the Communist regime, under which all suffered equally. It was not an assault by the Russian people against the people of Ukraine, and that the wish to view it as such is only a recent development.[37] The current Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych has also weighed in on the issue. He has stated that the tragedy that struck Ukrainians and other Soviet peoples between 1930-1933 should not be viewed as an act of genocide against one nation, although he has described it as a "targeted crime" by the Stalinist regime against its own people.[38] Agreeing with other historians, he said that "the Holodomor was in Ukraine, Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. It was the result of Stalin's totalitarian regime. But it would be wrong and unfair to recognize the Holodomor as an act of genocide against one nation."[39] Raphael Lemkin, who coined the term "genocide" and was instrumental in bringing about the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in 1948, did view the Holodomor as an act of genocide.[40]

Response of the CMHR to complaints of favoritism

Several people have expressed dismay at the quarrel over the square footage allotted to any given atrocity or human rights violation. While many Ukrainians believe the aggrandizing of the Holocaust has marginalized the Holodomor and dishonoured its victims, it has been argued that there should be less haggling over which wronged group gets the most space in a museum, and more concern over the prevention of human rights abuses in the future.[41] Also, as the museum's own Cassie explains, the purpose of the museum is not to be a memorial for the suffering of different groups, but to be a learning experience for visitors of all ages. It will be a "museum of ideas,' not just a museum of past events. For example, the zone dedicated to the indigenous experience in Canada is "part of a broader context of introduction to human rights," Cassie said, and will form the basis for a zone exploring the wider Canadian experience of human rights, including internment of Canadians of Ukrainian and other origins during the world wars. The zone earmarked for the Holocaust sets the stage for a key zone exploring the revolutionary 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that was drafted in direct response to the Nazi atrocities.[41][42]

To address the concerns by Canadian citizens, about how various human rights issues would be covered in the museum, Cassie further provided a more detailed explanation of the actual process for public consultation and corrected any misconceptions that may have been perpetrated by the media, particularly in relation to gallery content.[43] From this statement, it is clear that the Holocaust will be in its own gallery, the Holodomor will be given a permanent place in the 'Mass Atrocity' zone, the Canadian internment operations will be featured, and the human rights abuses towards aboriginals will have a place in the 'Indigenous Rights' gallery. Cassie also explained that the Content Advisory Committee's mandate had expired in March 2010, and that its submitted recommendations only constituted part of the consultation process. The first round of public consultations that had begun in May 2009,[44] was completed in February 2010.


  1. ^ “Backgrounder: Canadian Museum for Human Rights,” Office of the Prime Minister, Government of Canada, December 19, 2008
  2. ^ “Bill C-42: An Act to amend the Museums Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts,” Government of Canada,
  3. ^ [1] "Focus Group Testing of the Content for the Proposed Canadian Museum for Human Rights." Library and Archives Canada, April 2, 2008. Retrieved 5 Feb 2011.
  4. ^ O'Malley, Kady (August 7, 2008). (Still more) Behind the scenes at the museum. Macleans. Retrieved 5 Feb 2011.
  5. ^ Mia Rabson, “Museum sod to be turned – no matter how cold,” Winnipeg Free Press, December 19, 2008
  6. ^ The Canadian Museum for Human Rights: Building the Museum,
  7. ^ The Canadian Museum for Human Rights: About the Museum: Corporate Governance: Corporate Reports: Corporate Plans: Financial Statements,
  8. ^ The Friends of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. Retrieved 5 Feb 2011.
  9. ^ Council grants more money to rights museum. CBC News, 27 April 2011. Retrieved 28 April 2011.
  10. ^ Christopher Hume, “Soaring design tells human rights tale,” Toronto Star, December 19, 2009,
  11. ^ “The Canadian Museum for Human Rights,” Antoine Predock Architect PC,
  12. ^ "About the Museum>News>The Canadian Museum for Human Rights is honoured to welcome Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada to the site of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights". Canadian Museum for Human Rights. 14 June 2010. Retrieved 7 January 2011. 
  13. ^ "About the Museum > News > Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II unveils cornerstone to CMHR". Canadian Museum for Human Rights. 2010. Retrieved 7 January 2011. 
  14. ^ Ruins of St. Mary's Priory - Runnymede. Retrieved 6 Feb 2011.
  15. ^ "Queen gives Canadian Museum for Human Rights a piece of history". CTV. 3 July 2010. Retrieved 7 January 2011. 
  16. ^ Human Rights Museum mistreating First Nations heritage: archeologist
  17. ^ "Bless Museum's Sacred Ground: Native Elders Work with Crews During Construction," Winnipeg Free Press, June 2, 2009,
  18. ^ Kroker, Sid. 1988. The Forks Archaeological Impact Assessment and Management Plan (The Forks Archaeological Plan). : Prepared for The Forks Renewal Corporation,, page 60-63
  19. ^ Jezik, Sandra, Paul Downie and Lori McKinnon. 2003. The Forks National Historic Site of Canada – Archaeological Artifact Catalogue. Winnipeg: Prepared for Manitoba Field Unit, Cultural Resource Services, Western Canada Service Centre, Parks Canada,
  20. ^ The Forks National Historic Site of Canada. Natural Wonders and Cultural Treasures: Natural Heritage Page. Parks Canada. June 22, 2009.
  21. ^ The Forks National Historic Site of Canada. History: Land Use in the Precontact Period. June 22, 2009.
  22. ^ Downie, Paul. 2002. The Forks National Historic Site of Canada: Cultural Resource Inventory and Cumulative Impacts Analysis. Winnipeg: Report prepared for Manitoba Field Unit, on file, Cultural Resource Services Unit, Western Canada Service Centre, Parks Canada
  23. ^ Canadian Museum for Human Rights – a call for inclusiveness, equity and fairness. Ukrainian Canadian Congress. Retrieved 20 Jan 2011.
  24. ^ German-Canadian group assails Holocaust exhibit. National Post, December 17, 2010. Retrieved 20 Jan 2011.
  25. ^ Protest grows over Holocaust ‘zone’ in Canadian Museum for Human Rights. (Adams, James). The Globe and Mail, February 14, 2011. Retrieved 24 Feb 2011.
  26. ^ a b Ukrainian groups oppose museum’s Holocaust exhibit. The Canadian Jewish News, January 20, 2011. Retrieved 20 Jan 2011.
  27. ^ This refers to the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was, in part, a response to the atrocities of World War II.
  28. ^ a b "Ukrainian group wants review of human-rights museum plan." Globe and Mail, December 21, 2010. Retrieved 3 Feb 2011.
  29. ^ Rights museum will be inclusive. National Post, January 17, 2011. Retrieved 20 Jan 2011.
  30. ^ Murray plugs in big - Great museum pork-barrel job. (Brodbeck, Tom). Winnipeg Sun, February 23, 2011. Retrieved 24 Feb 2011.
  31. ^ Canada's Forgotten Internment Camps. The Mark. Retrieved 5 Feb 2011.
  32. ^ Human rights museum plan irks Ukrainian group. CBC News, January 5, 2011. Retrieved 4 Feb 2011.
  33. ^ Comparing genocides. National Post, January 10, 2011. Retrieved 3 Feb 2011.
  34. ^ Statement By MP James Bezan On The Canadian Museum Of Human Rights. Ukrainian Canadian Congress, February 2, 2011. Retrieved 4 Feb 2011.
  35. ^ Petition for equity and fairness at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. Ukrainian Canadian Congress, February 2, 2011. Retrieved 4 Feb 2011.
  36. ^ UCC Press release - "Claims of Inclusiveness by Human Rights Museum Disingenuous"
  37. ^ Nobel winner accuses Ukrainian authorities of 'historical revisionism'. April 2, 2008. Retrieved 6 March 2011.
  38. ^ Yanukovych: Holodomor a crime of Stalin's regime. ForUm, 25 October 2010. Retrieved 30 March 2011.
  39. ^ Interfax-Ukraine. "Yanukovych: Famine of 1930s was not genocide against Ukrainians". Kyiv Post. Retrieved 30 April 2010. 
  40. ^ Soviet Genocide in the Ukraine, 1953. (Lemkin, Raphael). Retrieved 30 March 2011.
  41. ^ a b Lett, Dan (December 14, 2010). "Fighting over exhibit size no way to advance debate". Winnipeg Free Press. Retrieved February 4, 2011. 
  42. ^ Martin, Melissa (January 6, 2011). "Holodomor drive intensifies - Rights museum lobbied on issue". Winnipeg Free Press. Retrieved February 4, 2011. 
  43. ^ The Human Rights Museum Responds to Misconceptions in the Media. News - Canadian Museum for Human Rights, January 6, 2011. Retrieved 4 Feb 2011.
  44. ^ CMHR - Public roundtables. Retrieved 24 Feb 2011.

External links

Coordinates: 49°53′37″N 97°08′14″W / 49.893616°N 97.137139°W / 49.893616; -97.137139

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