For me, there was one absolutely can’t miss when I was in Winnipeg back in April – the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. And as I write this a few months later, I know I won’t do it justice. Very simply, in all my travels, this museum left a mark on me that few others have. Outside of visiting the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, I’m not sure I’ve been more moved after any museum experience.
From the very first exhibit, a timeline of one hundred human rights moments lets you know this museum won’t be pulling any punches. Many of the events in the timeline are historical atrocities.
Juxtaposed against that timeline is a large canvas on the opposite wall, a reminder that what sounds so simple, has over history been far less of a reality.
To strike a further point on the first floor exhibits, also within sight of that mural is the first of a number of displays on Indigenous peoples in Canada. A beautiful video theatre is surrounded by “spirit panels” designed by Indigenous artists from across the country.
I could have spent an entire day here as the exhibits were rich and interactive. With only three hours squeezed into my busy work schedule in Winnipeg, I know I’ll be returning at some point to experience this museum again, but more deeply.
There were two areas of the museum that left the biggest mark on me. The first, and the one I spent the most time in, was a series of Canadian human rights vignettes called “Canadian Journeys”. The walls above the exhibits were a large ever-changing video collage. Beneath that were a series of exhibits telling a diverse set of stories of Canadian human rights and how people have experienced very different versions of Canada depending on their backgrounds.
The exhibits were outstanding and told stories of African Nova Scotians, the labour movement, religious persecution among so many others. As I circled the installations, I wondered where this history of my country was when I was in school… like the violence experienced by Indigenous women in Canada as highlighted through “The REDress Project” by Jamie Black.
… or the struggle for marriage equality, told through a piece of art of in the shape of a wedding cake with wedding photos and the stories of couples. These were but two of many exhibits that brought home that the human rights narrative in Canada diverse, and in many cases, a very unsettling narrative.
I’ve skimmed over a number of powerful exhibits throughout the museum that touched on human rights around the world, not because they weren’t exceptionally well done, but because on this trip, I found myself drawn more to my country’s history. In the last exhibit on the top floor of the museum, an interactive and simple one, I read what was mostly my fellow Canadians’ thoughts on human rights. Some of these brought tears to my eyes.
Thinking back on the Indigenous exhibits from earlier on in my visit, I left my reflection on reconciliation a bit overwhelmed about how much I have to learn.
I’ll be back someday soon to give this museum and its teachings the time it deserves. It was the highlight of Winnipeg for me.