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Winnipeg Objective Achieved: #VisitCMHR – The Canadian Museum for Human Rights

Canadian Museum for Human Rights

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights, as seen from the main entrance for those not in groups and those who are not physically challenged.

When I started setting up my around the world trip, exactly how I was going to get from New Zealand back to Europe was a bit unclear. After doing some thinking, I knew that I wanted to stop in Toronto, but the question remained, what came before or after it.

In the end, I went with a stop before Toronto: Winnipeg.

Winnipeg offered me one big thing that I wanted to do, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

The museum caught my attention when it opened for two reasons: first there was some controversy over the content of the museum and what information it presented, specifically with respect to the first peoples.

Second, the building’s architect was Antoine Predock.

Starting with the latter, the architect: I first encountered the work of Antoine Predock while a student at the University of Wyoming. He’d designed the American Heritage Center and UW Art Museum (aka “The Centennial Complex”) facility at UWyo – it sits just north of the basketball arena (which is to say, it’s not at all central to UW’s daily life as it sits fairly far east of the core, walkable, campus).

American Heritage Center

This is the Centennial Complex at the University of Wyoming. The “mountain” houses the American Heritage Center.

As a student at UW, the Centennial Complex and how it managed to not only be unattractive to look at, but awkward to use fascinated me. Although it was built in the era of the Americans with Disabilities Act, it was inaccessible to anybody in a wheelchair. The university would deny this, pointing out the wheelchair access ramp, but the access ramp was one of the world’s longest access ramps – at some point the university must have conceded defeat because the entrance to the complex has been altered and there is an elevator from the public parking areas to the original entrance area of the building.

Top of The Shard

This is the top of The Shard in London.

The Canadian Museum of Human Rights (CMHR) shares some of the strangeness of the UW Centennial Complex: It’s not quite the “mountain” that UW has, but there is a clear peak to the CMHR. That said, the actual peak reminds me very much of The Shard in London—with its seemingly disjointed and disconnected glass top.

Canadian Museum for Human Rights Walkways

Canadian Museum for Human Rights — these are some of the ramps that you walk up from the ground floor until you reach the seventh floor.

I suppose, theoretically, that somebody in a wheelchair could enjoy the CMHR, as it was intended for the able-bodied, but I doubt that most would enjoy it: The CMHR consists of 8 levels, connected with ramps. On paper that doesn’t sound bad, but in reality, the ramps are incredibly long. There’s probably no way that the average wheelchair user could manage to wheel themselves all the way from the ground level, up through all the ramps needed to reach level 7. It’s hard to really describe here how long the ramps are, but trust me when I say that the ramps are long. Thankfully there are two elevators (although neither go the full height of the building, one is compelled to transfer somewhere when going the full distance) in the building that pretty much allow direct access to the actual exhibit spaces for those that are unable to walk the ramps as the architect intended.

The museum’s architecture also leads to some interesting spaces and design choices: there are a fair number of exposed I-beams, and at a couple points it is easy to see the fireproof coating on the I-beams. There were also some areas that appeared to be wasted space and potential dust collectors, which I doubt the museum will ever be able to make effective use of in their work.

Canadian Museum for Human Rights Model

This model of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights is in the center of the welcome space.

I guess that I continue to be underwhelmed by Antoine Predock and his work as an architect – the museum’s spaces are a bit too awkward and a bit too strange. The access for the physically challenged means that those accessing the exhibits via elevator will miss the intended effects that comes with walking up the ramps into each successive exhibition.

Canadian Museum for Human Rights

This is first gallery in the Canadian Museum for Human Rights; the wooden tower in the back is actually the theater housing the film presenting indigenous perspectives.

As for the former issue, the Canadian Museum for Human Right’s actual content: it’s actually surprisingly good. Starting with a gallery that attempts to define human rights, it continues with indigenous perspectives – these two galleries work together – although clearly the indigenous perspectives gallery is intended to be an olive branch to the first peoples of Canada – those who were here before the Europeans “settled” North America. The initial gallery space is pretty strong – although I think that some of the key moments presented on the timeline are a bit weak or irrelevant. The indigenous perspectives gallery is definitely a work in progress – pretty, art focused, but not much actual content.

Canadian Museum for Human Rights

Some of the timeline presented in the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

The strongest gallery in the museum is the third gallery: Canadian Journeys, which focuses on the wide variety of oppression that Canadians have faced, often from their own government. This part ate up the largest share of time of any of the spaces. While in the space a number of school groups came through learning about human rights, as well as a group of older citizens who were getting a more theoretical tour of what the museum’s objectives were and how it attempts to fulfill the objectives.

Canadian Museum for Human Rights

The Canadian Journeys gallery at the CMHR — each of the boxes below the large screens is a mini-gallery exploring one area of human rights in Canada and how they have changed over time.

The fourth gallery examined how human rights are legally protected in Canada. Because there was a group tour in that area, I didn’t really explore it – so I cannot say much about it. Right next to it was the “Garden of Contemplation,” which from a distance reminded me of the Jewish Holocaust Memorial in Berlin – in the sense that rocks were emerging from the group.

Canadian Museum for Human Rights

The Garden of Contemplation at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

The next grouping of exhibits (on level 4), started with the holocaust, looked at the role of breaking secrecy in order to make sure human rights abuses are not hidden forever, the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and how Canadians are working to make a difference. I’ll admit that since I live in Germany, I have reached a personal saturation point with respect to the holocaust – I jumped right through the exhibit and into the turning points for humanity section, which examined social movements and subsequent change.

Again, some of it was well done, some of it wasn’t – probably the weakest link on this floor was the “actions count” portion, which attempted to bring the work of select (usually young) Canadians into focus. I find that I didn’t care and moved onward rather quickly.

The next level’s gallery, “Rights Today,” was, at least for me, entirely forgettable. Perhaps I had reached sensory overload by this point: this was about two hours after starting exploration. When dealing with heavy issues continuously I tend to reach mental overload points after awhile.

The next to last gallery has rotating exhibitions – currently featuring an exhibition about Peace – put together by Ottawa’s Canadian War Museum. Again, I had reached information overload, so my engagement with this exhibition was limited.

Canadian Museum for Human Rights

Contemplation by the “Peace” exhibition.

Finally the “Inspiring Change” gallery was for true believers, emotive types. As I tend to be a cold hearted asshole, I don’t tend to like these touchy feely moments, where we are suppose to write down what we will do as we make a commitment to bettering the world.

The last stop is at the top of the “Tower of Hope” – which, as I noted before, reminds me of The Shard. From it’s name its suppose to be a tower of hope, but it actually provides some interesting views of Winnipeg. Perhaps hope got lost on the way to viewing the vista.

As a component of my around the world adventures, Winnipeg and the CMHR has been a worthwhile stop on my road from Auckland to Toronto, but I’m not sure I would make a huge detour to come here just to view the museum.

1 comment to Winnipeg Objective Achieved: #VisitCMHR – The Canadian Museum for Human Rights

  • Cari-Ann

    perhaps you could have just written “this cold-hearted asshole will live my life as I see fit” in regards to your commitment. Hope all are enjoying themselves. Safe flight tomorrow.