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Tour of museum is your human right

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Pre-opening tour of Canadian Museum for Human Rights underscores how Winnipeg's history formed an important part of struggle for human equality.

RON PRADINUK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Pre-opening tour of Canadian Museum for Human Rights underscores how Winnipeg's history formed an important part of struggle for human equality. Photo Store

Why was Winnipeg selected to be the home of Canada's first museum for human rights?

While the driving force for its creation may be credited to the determination of the late Israel Asper, a pre-opening tour being offered will add a greater dimension to the answer.

With family visiting us from the East Coast last week, I wanted to show off our landmark achievements inside and out, with the hope of impressing them with both The Forks and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

It was disappointing to learn the tour of the museum would not get us inside to see at least the preliminary internal setup of the facility, scheduled to be completed in 2014. Maureen Fitzhenry, the new media relations manager of the museum, assured me neither I nor my Maritime guests would be disappointed with the guided tour they had put together for visitors and locals alike.

Since the tour is free to all, I concluded that since the price was right I could not lose by following her advice. And good advice it turned out to be.

Starting at the Via Rail Union Station, guides Javier Torres and Brigitte Savard began the experience with an interactive discussion of how each of us perceived the concept of human rights from our own personal perspectives.

Rights for an education, religious freedom, democracy, women's issues and many more; all interpreted through the minds of the beholders.

Then Torres, who would be our main guide during the next hour, began to outline the rights that have been fought for and achieved right here in our home city and province.

Torres explained how the nearby Exchange District was the home of important actions in the women's suffrage movement.

It was in the Walker Theatre in 1914 (now the Burton Cummings Theatre) where Nellie McClung and a group of determined women led a mock parliament with a debate about why men should not have the vote.

Poking fun at male arguments about why women should not have a right to vote, its pointed reverse logic, if not humour, led to women in Manitoba becoming the first in Canada to gain the right to cast electoral ballots in January of 1916.

Just down the street from Union Station, in June of 1919, 30,000 workers took their grievances to the streets in what was known as the Winnipeg General Strike, walking off their jobs in protest as they demanded better conditions.

In a climax known as Bloody Saturday, June 21, 1919 could be marked as a significant milestone in determining rights workers have in negotiating fair labour practices in the workplace.

The strike ended a few days later with one person dead and many injured. The demonstrations changed the conversations about workers' rights forever. The labour movement in Canada still harkens back to the Winnipeg General Strike as a cornerstone to achievements that were accomplished over the next decades throughout Canada.

The tour became meaningful for our New Brunswick visitors when the history of French-language rights was outlined in our province. Torres explained how they were enshrined, then shelved, and finally permanently returned after legal challenges.

As our guide pointed out, today New Brunswick is still the only Canadian province that is truly bilingual, a fact our visitors did not have to be told.

As the design and construction features of the museum were pointed out, so too was it explained we were near the place where treaty rights officially started with the signing of Treaty 1 in 1871.

As we rested by the Esplanade Riel, Torres incorporated a discussion about the place of St. Boniface in the history of human rights in Canada. It was the now famous Louis Riel, who we celebrate with a winter holiday in February, who would draft one of Canada's first bill of rights.

Unfortunately, he would be hanged for his efforts. His remains were laid to rest in St. Boniface, and only decades later did we begin to realize the true visionary he was.

While we could not go inside the museum, it was not hard to imagine how the actual tour of the museum would begin with a foreboding overview of man's inhumanity to his fellow beings, and end with a tower of light and hope.

It is easy to see how visitors will look back on their experience at the museum with a greater sense of understanding and awareness. It will help people of all ages accept the differences in others with grace and understanding. And the discussions that should ensue between friends and families will lead to positive reflection and even greater dialogue.

There is a second tour the museum offers to visitors. It is a different view of human rights with a focus on food and poverty in Canada. The right to go to bed without hunger; how often do we even give it passing thought?

The first tour, Rights Around Us, takes place Wednesdays to Saturdays at 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. The second, Growing a Better Future, is available Thursday evenings at 7 p.m.

The tours begin at the Via Rail Union Station. You are advised to arrive early, as space is limited. A special group tour of up to 15 people can be arranged by contacting the museum at info@museumforhumanrights.ca.

Ron Pradinuk is president of Journeys Travel & Leisure SuperCentre and can be heard Sundays at noon on CJOB. Previous columns and tips can be found at www.journeystravelgear.com or read Ron's travel blog at www.thartravelguy.ca.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 20, 2013 E2

History

Updated on Monday, July 22, 2013 at 8:44 PM CDT: Corrects typo.

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