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Winnipeg General Strike is out: Federal museum dumps exhibit of seminal event

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 26/5/2015 (762 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

OTTAWA -- Critics railed Monday at news a 16-year-old exhibit on the Winnipeg General Strike will not be included in the Museum of Canadian History in Gatineau, Que.

The museum, formerly called the Canadian Museum of Civilization, is being renovated.

Strikers and citizens gather at Portage Avenue and Main Street during the 1919 General Strike.

WINNIPEG FREE PRESS ARCHIVES

Strikers and citizens gather at Portage Avenue and Main Street during the 1919 General Strike.

The Union Hall exhibit, as it used to be at Canada Hall in Gatineau, Que.

The Union Hall exhibit, as it used to be at Canada Hall in Gatineau, Que.

"This has the stink of political interference all over it," said Winnipeg NDP MP Pat Martin in question period Monday.

In the mid-1990s, Martin loaned a photograph of meeting room 10 at the James Street Labour Temple to the museum. That photograph was used to recreate the meeting room as part of a multimedia exhibit on the General Strike known as Union Hall. It was part of Canada Hall, a popular space that took visitors on a tour of Canadian history from east to west.

'This has the stink of political interference all over it' -- Winnipeg NDP MP Pat Martin

In an interview with the Free Press, Martin said the strike helped create the middle class all political parties are "clamouring over now," and said it's unacceptable to dismantle the exhibit.

The strike, from May 15, 1919 to June 25, was the largest social revolt in Canadian history.

News the exhibit is being eliminated came from a risk assessment the museum did that was obtained by the media through an access to information request. That document says the exhibit wasn't living up to expectations and that changes could be made to the exhibit "with few political or institutional risks."

Martin said the fact the assessment looked at political implications suggests the museum was influenced by the government's concerns.

However, Chantal Schryer, vice-president of corporate affairs at the museum, said all of the modules that made up Canada Hall, including the Winnipeg General Strike vignette, have been torn down as the gallery is remade into the Canadian History Hall set to open on Canada's 150th birthday, July 1, 2017.

The Union Hall exhibit wasn't singled out and risk assessments were done of all the vignettes in Canada Hall as part of the work to dismantle them, not in an effort to decide which ones to keep, Schryer said.

"Everything is gone," Schryer said. "We are starting from a fresh new plate. It will not be the same at all."

Schryer said the Winnipeg General Strike will be mentioned in the new Canadian History Hall.

Paul Moist, national president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, said he's skeptical because as far as he knows, labour leaders were not consulted.

"In the past, they would have sought out our input," he said.

Moist said it's a shame the exhibit will not be around for the 100th anniversary of the strike in 2019.

Martin dismissed Schryer's claim as "damage control" and insisted the government had its hands all over the decision because it is trying to rewrite Canadian history with a Conservative slant.

"Why doesn't the minister of Canadian heritage and official languages butt out of the museum business and let curators curate?" he asked during question period.

Shelly Glover, minister of Canadian heritage and official languages, responded that the museum is a Crown corporation operating at arm's-length from the government. She told Martin he was wrong. "I hate to suggest this, Mr. Speaker, but I think the member's underwear is tight again," she said, referring to an incident last winter in which Martin tried to get out of trouble for being out of his seat during a vote by complaining his underwear was too tight and he was uncomfortable while sitting down.

Critics accuse the Tories of trying to rewrite Canadian history since the government announced in 2012 the Canadian Museum of Civilization was to be rebranded the Canadian Museum of History, and overhauled as part of the birthday celebrations. The government denied that suggestion. The museum was given $25 million for the work.

mia.rabson@freepress.mb.ca

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Updated on Tuesday, May 26, 2015 at 6:01 AM CDT: Replaces photo, changes headline

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