July 12, 2020

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Museum: the elephant in the room

But one nobody is afraid to talk about

Visitors file through the fourth gallery Protecting Rights at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights on Saturday. Thousands had reserved tickets for the four gallery preview tour on Saturday and Sunday. That is only four of 11 galleries, the rest of which open September 27.

MELISSA TAIT / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Visitors file through the fourth gallery Protecting Rights at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights on Saturday. Thousands had reserved tickets for the four gallery preview tour on Saturday and Sunday. That is only four of 11 galleries, the rest of which open September 27.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 20/9/2014 (2121 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

If there's one early indication of the impact of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, it may be that Winnipeg has one of the world's most expensive conversation pieces sitting smack dab in the city's living room.

After all, it's not hard to find visitors to sing its architectural praises.

Attendees look at the first gallery, Human Rights Over Time.

MELISSA TAIT / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Attendees look at the first gallery, Human Rights Over Time.

"It's a beautiful building," marvelled Reen Pacholik, who along with husband, Joe, was visiting from Ottawa on Saturday. "It's like the Canadian Museum of History (in the nation's capital). It has those incredible lines."

"It looks pretty awesome from the outside, for sure," added Lindsay Gerhart, who was making a pit stop in Winnipeg while in the process of hitchhiking across Canada. "I'm going to have to come back and see it sometime."

Yet even during the first day of RightsFest — a weekend of free concerts (some cancelled by rain Saturday) and stage performances — the shadow cast by the CMHR was palpable. One Portage la Prairie woman, after taking a preview tour along with her husband, was asked about her first impressions of the $351-million structure.

"My first thought," she replied, "was we could have fed a lot of homeless people with the money for this building. It didn't impress me."

The woman didn't want to give her name, only underscoring the baggage associated with the museum, which won't be officially open to the public until next week. Another woman approached for a comment on the CMHR replied, "I'd rather not say anything. It's so controversial. I'm just here for the concert."

Right, the concert. Just then onstage, the lead singer of Juno-nominated Winnipeg band Royal Canoe, Matt Peters, was pointing out to the crowd the weight of the museum's location, so close to the Red River, where police found yet another unidentified female body that morning.

"It (the museum) is right by the river, it's right by the downtown," Peters said, offstage. "It heightens the conversation. They're dragging the Red River as we speak."

The lineup in the rain at the main entrance.

MELISSA TAIT / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

The lineup in the rain at the main entrance.

Peters acknowledged members of Royal Canoe had concerns about playing RightsFest. They had considered withdrawing but wanted to take a wait-and-see approach, noting, "We thought it was more important to come and play. We haven't even seen what's inside yet."

A Tribe Called Red cancelled its Saturday-night performance earlier in the week, citing what they described as the museum's "downplay of the genocide that was experienced by indigenous people in Canada by refusing to name it genocide. Until this is rectified, we'll support the museum from a distance."

Meanwhile, Peters said the freedom of speech the museum aspires to foster will not be a one-way street.

"They (museum officials) say they want this to start a conversation," he said. "And the conversation is not always going to be nice."

Indeed, leading up to the initial limited tours this weekend, museum CEO Stuart Murray was welcoming protesters. Anti-abortion protesters lined the street leading to the CMHR on Saturday. Palestinian groups have criticized the lack of recognition of their struggle. Ukrainian organizations have long been lobbying the museum to increase content of the Holodomor.

Visitors wait in the rain, with museum-supplied umbrellas, for their preview tours at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights on Saturday.

MELISSA TAIT / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Visitors wait in the rain, with museum-supplied umbrellas, for their preview tours at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights on Saturday.

Even some who attended RightsFest -- and admittedly plan to tour the museum at the first opportunity -- expressed concerns.

For example, Jonathan Northam, a political science student at the University of Winnipeg, questioned the decision not to classify the historical treatment of aboriginals in Canada as "genocide" as opposed to "mass atrocity."

"Yet we're willing to open a museum to classify genocides in other countries," Northam said. "Because that's easier than recognizing our own history. It's patronizing. By making a museum, they get to dictate what genocide is."

"It's powerful, too," added Amanda Lievana, a social worker at the University of Manitoba. "(But) it's good it creates a dialogue, too. It may be a platform for change."

Dialogue. Disagreements. Protests. Education. A platform for grievances. These are already pillars of the museum, said Winnipegger Rollin Penner, who attended Saturday's festival.

"From what I've seen, the purpose of the museum is to get people talking," said Penner, who confessed his wife is a longtime member of Friends of the CMHR. "It's not to tell people how to think. It's to give people an opportunity to hear the stories. It's already given people a platform to get their stories out and it's not even open yet.

"If it turns out that one of these conversations leads to actual change -- such as the issue of murdered and missing women, for example -- that's what they (the museum) want. They want to make a difference."

randy.turner@freepress.mb.ca

CMHR visitors file through the Protecting Rights gallery.

MELISSA TAIT / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

CMHR visitors file through the Protecting Rights gallery.

Randy Turner

Randy Turner
Reporter

Randy Turner spent much of his journalistic career on the road. A lot of roads. Dirt roads, snow-packed roads, U.S. interstates and foreign highways. In other words, he got a lot of kilometres on the odometer, if you know what we mean.

Read full biography

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Visitors wait in the rain, with supplied umbrellas, for their preview tours at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights on Saturday. The rain kept away some of the people with reserved tickets, allowing walk-ups to gain access to the guided tour of four of 11 galleries. The rest of galleries open Sept. 27. (Melissa Tait / Winnipeg Free Press)
Canadian Museum for Human Rights: Sneak peek at the galleries
Rain kept away some reserved ticket holders for free previews tours at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights on Saturday. Thousands had reserved tickets for the four gallery preview tour on Saturday and Sunday. That is only four of 11 galleries, the rest of which open Sept. 27. (Melissa Tait / Winnipeg Free Press)
Frank Yong snaps a photo of his wife Teresa and her friend Jenny Lee, all from British Columbia, while they wait in the rain for their preview tour at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights on Saturday. The rain kept away some of the people with reserved tickets, allowing walk-ups to gain access to the guided tour of four of 11 galleries. The rest of galleries open Sept. 27. (Melissa Tait / Winnipeg Free Press)
A preview group's first glance of the alabaster ramps between galleries at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights on Saturday. Thousands had reserved tickets for the four gallery preview tour on Saturday and Sunday. That is only four of 11 galleries, the rest of which open Sept. 27. (Melissa Tait / Winnipeg Free Press)
Teresa Yong, who travelled from British Columbia, glances up at the dozens of alabaster ramps stacked throughout the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. Thousands had reserved tickets for the four gallery preview tour on Saturday and Sunday. That is only four of 11 galleries, the rest of which open Sept. 27. (Melissa Tait / Winnipeg Free Press)
Visitors take photos of the alabaster ramps between galleries at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights on Saturday. Thousands had reserved tickets for the four gallery preview tour on Saturday and Sunday. That is only four of 11 galleries, the rest of which open September 27th. 140920 - Saturday, September 20, 2014 - (Melissa Tait / Winnipeg Free Press) (Melissa Tait / Winnipeg Free Press)
Visitors stop to look at the first gallery Human Rights Over Time at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights on Saturday. Thousands had reserved tickets for the four gallery preview tour on Saturday and Sunday. That is only four of 11 galleries, the rest of which open Sept. 27. (Melissa Tait / Winnipeg Free Press)
A couple on the walkway above the main entrance during the public's first look inside the Canadian Museum for Human Rights on Saturday. Thousands had reserved tickets for the four gallery preview tour on Saturday and Sunday. That is only four of 11 galleries, the rest of which open Sept. 27. (Melissa Tait / Winnipeg Free Press)
Antoine Predock (right) the architect of the the Canadian Museum for Human Rights laughs with a volunteer on Saturday during free public previews. Thousands had reserved tickets for the four gallery preview tour on Saturday and Sunday. That is only four of 11 galleries, the rest of which open Sept. 27. (Melissa Tait / Winnipeg Free Press)
Visitors walk past the inverted woven basket in the Indigenous Perspectives gallery at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights on Saturday. Thousands had reserved tickets for the four gallery preview tour on Saturday and Sunday. That is only four of 11 galleries, the rest of which open Sept. 27. (Melissa Tait / Winnipeg Free Press)
Visitors try out the lights of inclusion game in the Canadian Journeys gallery at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights on Saturday. Thousands had reserved tickets for the four gallery preview tour on Saturday and Sunday. That is only four of 11 galleries, the rest of which open Sept. 27. (Melissa Tait / Winnipeg Free Press)
A group of visitors in front of a display on the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in the Protecting Rights gallery at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights on Saturday. Thousands had reserved tickets for the four gallery preview tour on Saturday and Sunday. That is only four of 11 galleries, the rest of which open Sept. 27. (Melissa Tait / Winnipeg Free Press)
A preview group walks up the alabaster ramps between galleries at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights on Saturday. Thousands had reserved tickets for the four gallery preview tour on Saturday and Sunday. That is only four of 11 galleries, the rest of which open Sept. 27. (Melissa Tait / Winnipeg Free Press)
A young visitor enjoys the lights of inclusion game in the Canadian Journeys gallery at that the Canadian Museum for Human Rights on Saturday. Thousands had reserved tickets for the four gallery preview tour on Saturday and Sunday. That is only four of 11 galleries, the rest of which open September 27th. 140920 - Saturday, September 20, 2014 - (Melissa Tait / Winnipeg Free Press) (Melissa Tait / Winnipeg Free Press)
Visitors file through the fourth gallery Protecting Rights at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights on Saturday. Thousands had reserved tickets for the four gallery preview tour on Saturday and Sunday. That is only four of 11 galleries, the rest of which open September 27. (Melissa Tait / Winnipeg Free Press)
Visitors finish their preview tour in the Garden of Contemplation at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights on Saturday. Thousands had reserved tickets for the four gallery preview tour on Saturday and Sunday. That is only four of 11 galleries, the rest of which open September 27th. 140920 - Saturday, September 20, 2014 - (Melissa Tait / Winnipeg Free Press) (Melissa Tait / Winnipeg Free Press)
An image from Peace The Exhibition, from the Canadian War Museum.  (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)
Installation #2 - Indigenous Perspectives. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)
Gallery Installation #4 - Protecting Rights in Canada. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)
 Installation # 1 - Human Rights Over Time. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)
Examining the Holocaust installation, with exhibits on death marches, genocide of groups and maps of Auschwitz, among others. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)
Installation #7 Breaking the Silence includes a study table. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)
Installation # 8 - Actions Count Gallery, which includes an interactive table.  (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)
Installation # 9 - RIghts Today. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)
 Installation #10 - Inspiring Change. Museum goers will be asked to leave their comments of hope on 'I Imagine' cards and place them along a wall in the final installation.   (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)

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