The Re-Opening of the Canadian Museum of Nature and their
new Lantern tower
by John Whelan
The Canadian Museum of Nature is
showcased in the "Victoria Memorial Museum Building", located at 240
McLeod Street (at Metcalfe) in Ottawa.
The museum has a rich and fascinating history.
The land which this museum rests on was
originally owned by farmer. It was purchased by the Government of
Canada and work began in 1905 to build a castle out of sandstone which was
designed by chief architect and designer, David Ewart. According to
the Canadian Museum of Nature website, the castle "was intended to mirror
the Centre Block of Canada's Parliament Buildings, due north of the
museum's site. Both buildings share similar stonework on the facade
and, at one time, shared a similar tower. Unfortunately, in 1915,
the top of the museum's tower was removed because the foundation could not
sustain the tower's weight."
is because the land on which the castle was built rests on marshy
ground. I suspect back then the soft clay was something unknown (or
perhaps unproven because of primitive technology) to the government when
they purchased it. But today, a visitor to the museum can easily
verify how far into the ground the building has sunk by examining the
basement windows. The basement windows are no longer at ground
level, they are much deeper into the ground. I recalled about this
problem as far back as 1960 when I was a 5-year-old visiting the museum
for the first time.
What this writer
didn't know back then is that in 1916 the building "became the emergency
headquarters for the Canadian government after the Parliament Buildings
were consumed by a great fire" writes the Canadian Museum of Nature
website. It remained that way for the next four years until the new
Parliament Buildings were built. This historical information is displayed inside
the museum's Lantern tower.
another bit of unusual museum history, in 1919 the body of Sir Wilfrid
Laurier rested in state in the museum's auditorium. He was Canada's
seventh Prime Minister.
The museum first
opened to the general public in 1912. "Through its 100-year history, it has housed the
collections and exhibits of the Geological Survey of Canada, the National
Gallery of Canada, the National Museum of Man (now the Canadian Museum of
Civilization) and the National Museum of Natural Sciences (now the
Canadian Museum of Nature)," writes artdaily.org.
May 22, 2010 is "International Day
for Biological Diversity" and this day was chosen as a backdrop to re-open
the Canadian Museum of Nature. It is announced at the official
ceremony the restoration costs (including the Lantern) to the Federal
government came in at $216 million "leaving the museum to raise its
“gallery-development” funds from private, mostly corporate sources,"
writes the Globe and Mail. Media reports all agree about the actual
figure for private funding: "Support for the development of the new
signature galleries, national travelling exhibitions and educational
programs was generated through the museum's Natural Partnerships Campaign,
which has received its $12-million goal with the announcement today of two
new $1-million contributions," wrote artdaily.org. The final tally
for the rejuvenation of the museum came in at $250 million.
This writer agrees
with the investment: the former layout and footpath of the museum was
always very predictable and much of it back then wasn't even a "hands-on"
experience for kids. But today that's all changed. The
museum's fresh facelift includes three new themes: RBC (Royal Bank of
Canada) Blue Water Gallery; the Animalium; and the Vale Earth
Gallery. The museum provides the visitor with more space to view
things without having that feeling of overcrowding.
But getting there and
getting the job done became a bit of a political juggernaut for senior
museum officials to deal with. Restoration of stonework and
windows commenced in 1989 because the museum had cracks and it was
leaking. The roof of the museum was in
bad shape as well. The Toronto Star reported that "[t]he big remake
didn’t come along until 2001, when then Prime Minister Jean Chrétien
approved a top-to-bottom overhaul. Subsequent PM’s — Paul Martin and
Stephen Harper — both tried to kill the scheme, but by then, it was too
far along to halt."
With restoration well under way, a new piece of architecture
was being added to the building: the stunning glass Lantern. "This structure replaces the original stone tower that was
removed in 1915, and houses an essential new staircase to the upper three
floors, a functional need that was resolved with the renovations," writes
artdaily.org. "Behind the scenes, more than
4 million pounds of steel were installed to reinforce the building in
event of an earthquake, while an interior "buffer zone" wall in the new
gallery spaces ensures control of temperature and humidity to preserve the
unique natural treasures on exhibit," it went on to say in their
Lantern is playing an important role during the three-day re-opening
celebrations: Sunday, between 7:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m., a Tribute to Light
Event takes place throughout the museum. Activities include "costume
lantern people, stilt walkers, Dr. Kaboom and his fire spinning spectacle
(featuring Acacia Lyra harpists / singer Natalia Spirina and Andrei Krylov
on guitar), the award-winning choire from the De La Salle school, actors
in fairy costumes and more!" wrote the Museum of Nature leaflet.
This is a build up for the Lighting of the Lantern at 10:00 p.m. which is
described in their leaflet as "a spectacular sound and light show in the
Museum's new Lantern, choreographed to create a moving and unforgettable
experience for all." Best viewed locations for the event: Exterior
Front Entrance / Lantern / Atrium of the museum.
The third day of
festivities is a salute to the Victoria Day celebrations; a great big
cake-cutting ceremonies and a Victorian Tulip Tea party.
The rejuvenation of the
museum has already proved itself successful. According to OttawaStart website, the 1st day of celebrations
by 7:00 p.m. drew 12,000 visitors which is a record number for a single
day at the museum. When questioned about the total
attendance figure during the long-weekend festivities at the museum, "We are guestimating about 35,000 for the
weekend but final numbers not in yet," wrote Elizabeth McCrea, Manager of
Communication Services in an e-mail correspondence to this website
The Canadian Museum of Nature boasts world-class permanent
● Talisman Energy Fossil
● RBC Blue Water
● Vale Earth
Special exhibitions (until September 6, 2010)
● Aqua: A Journey Into
the World of Water
● Frogs: A Chorus of
● Canadian Wildlife
Photography of the Year
And finally, this interesting comment by Christopher Hume of
the Toronto Star: "...thanks to a major makeover, we will be able to see
more of the 10.5 million objects in its collection than ever before. That
collection, 150 years in the making, includes 24 discreet categories
ranging from botany and earth science to animals and insects."
artdaily.org: “Canadian Museum of Nature Unveils Renewed
Historic Public Exhibitions Site”, May 23, 2010.
Canadian Museum of Nature: “Grand Reopening – Weekend
Activities & Events” leaflet
Canadian Museum of Nature website: “Museum History” and
“Birthplace of National Museums”
The Toronto Star: “Hume: Newly renovated museum of Nature
opens”, May 21, 2010
Globe and Mail: “Canadian Museum of Nature sports
$250-million makeover” by James Bradshaw, May 19, 2010
OttawaStart website: "Canadian Museum of Nature -
record number of visitors attend 1st day of Grand Reopening", May 23,
*E-mail correspondence from Elizabeth McCrea, Manager of
Communication Services, Canadian Museum of Nature, May 25, 2010.
This page was updated on
June 12, 2010.
Museum of Nature's official website