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first nations

Insider’s Scoop: The Epic Canadian History Hall

By Joseph Mathieu

This Canada Day, a new permanent addition to the Canadian Museum of History will mark a turning point in the way our country tells stories. The Canadian History Hall, a project five years in the making, will unveil three new galleries showcasing the unsung, much-loved, and even hard-to-swallow aspects of Canada. Described as the largest and most comprehensive exhibition on Canadian history, President and CEO of the Museum Mark O’Neill said the institution hopes that, “Canadians will come away with a new understanding of who we are today and with a new appreciation of the debt we owe to those who came before us.”

On July 1, stroll down the Passageway with mirrored silhouettes of 101 familiar Canadian symbols into the nexus of the  Hall. Inside a giant rotunda called the Hub, visitors will find themselves on a massive map of the country, all 10 million square kilometres of it — a perfect launching pad to learn new things about the land we know as Canada.

The Passageway into the Canadian History Hall. Photo: Canadian Museum of History.

The Passageway into the Canadian History Hall. Photo: Canadian Museum of History.

Named for the donors to the ambitious project, each of the three galleries showcases the story of Canada through multiple perspectives. The Rossy Family Gallery covers the dawn of human civilization until the year 1763. The era debuts with the Anishinabe creation story on a starry widescreen that depicts, “a view of how the world fits together, and how human beings should behave in it.”

The Anishnaabe entrance to the Rossy Family Gallery. Photo: Canadian Museum of History.

The Anishnaabe entrance to the Rossy Family Gallery. Photo: Canadian Museum of History.

The first gallery winds into a treasury of weapons, tools, and personal possessions that display the industry and creativity of Indigenous peoples across the continent. Alongside archaeological evidence of First Nations activity as far back as the Ice Age, there is a fossilized piece of a mammoth jaw and teeth, an intricate diorama of Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump in Alberta, and a game to see how every piece of the bison was used to make something useful.

Photo: Canadian Museum of History.

View from the Rossy Family Gallery. Photo: Canadian Museum of History.

You can meet the ancestors of the Inuit, the Thule, who proudly wore jewellery of copper and bear teeth, as well as stone facial piercings and hairstyles that may have been used to convey status. An impressive display of facial reconstruction technology introduces the bead family of Shíshálh, four family members of high standing who lived approximately 4,000 years ago.

The differences in habits and heritage of many different Indigenous peoples is elaborated with great detail. One display compares the Indigenous names alongside the simplified traditional European names attributed to them, like the Haudenosaunee, or Five Nations Confederacy (now Six Nations), which Europeans simply called the Iroquois.

Astrolabe thought to belong to Samuel de Champlain. Canadian Museum of History, 989.56.1, IMG2017-0092-0005-Dm

Astrolabe thought to belong to Samuel de Champlain. Photo: Canadian Museum of History.

The roles of Frenchman Samuel de Champlain played in the history of Canada were many. He was known as an observant chronicler, a diplomat and a soldier, and ultimately a settler whose statue on Nepean Point depicts him holding his famous astrolabe that went missing. A corner exhibition dedicated to the man known as the “Father of New France” houses an astrolabe that may or may not have belonged to him, but it was discovered along a route he is known to have travelled.

View from the Fredrik Eaton Family Gallery. Photo: Canadian Museum of History.

View from the Fredrik Eaton Family Gallery. Photo: Canadian Museum of History.

The second Gallery, named for the Fredrik Eaton Family, covers Colonial Canada until the eve of the First World War. Several aspects of life in Canada changed with the introduction of guns, horses, and disease, while a century-long conflict between English and French Canada raged over dominance of the fertile land. The integration of French and then British rule forever changed the lives of Indigenous peoples.

The Métis of the Northern Plain were one of the first people of mixed heritage to choose a flag: a blue banner with a white infinity loop. Some see the symbol as two peoples meeting to become one, while others identify with its message of hope that the Métis nation will never fade. There are also mentions of the growing reputation of Montreal as a world-class city, the complications with living next to the United States, and the trending fashion of hooded overcoats, known as “capots” or “canadiennes”, during the French regime.

View from Gallery 2. Photo: Canadian Museum of History.

View from the Fredrik Eaton Family Gallery. Photo: Canadian Museum of History.

The third gallery is the size of the other two combined, named after donors Hilary M. Weston and W. Galen Weston, and it covers the period that is currently being written: Modern Canada. From 1914 until 2017, the mezzanine overlooking the Hub has no chronology, just a diverse layout reflecting the complicated nature of Canada.

The push for independence and prosperity, the interwoven story of First Nations told in their own words, and the identity of Canada on the world stage all play major roles in the top-floor gallery. The floor is filled with memorabilia like Terry Fox’s Marathon of Hope t-shirt, Maurice “Rocket” Richard’s Montréal Canadiens jersey, and Lester B. Pearson’s 1957 Nobel Peace Prize. How Quebec nationalism has shaped not only the province but the rest of the country is examined from province’s Quiet Revolution to patriotic separatism that almost bubbled over during two referenda in 1980 and 1995.


A T-shirt worn by Terry Fox during his 1980 Marathon of Hope. Photo: Canadian Museum of History.

There are painful panels to read that shine a light on the cultural suppression of Inuit and First Nations culture for many decades. One large pull quote from our founding Prime Minister John A. McDonald stands out: “Indian children should be withdrawn as much as possible from the parental influence.” Right around the corner are the colourful and vibrant art pieces in painting and dress that only the Haida of British Columbia could design. The #IdleNoMore movement also takes a prominent display amongst the sometimes uncomfortable history of the past federal stance on Indigenous peoples and their fight for respected rights.

“The Hall is unapologetic in its exploration of Canada’s history, depicting the moments we celebrate along with the darker chapters,” said O’Neill. “Chapters that absolutely must be told if we are to offer accurate account of this country’s past.”

Visitors will find conflicting images of a country far older than its 150 years of Confederation. The main message of the extensive and sometimes controversial Hall is that Canada is a great mix of conflict, struggle, and loss while also of success, accomplishment, and hope.

Hot Dining: First Nations Fare at the Squamish Lil’Wat Cultural Centre

Photo by Sheri Radford

Fluffy fried bannock enclosing thinly sliced smoked salmon, served with salad of crunchy red cabbage, carrot, sunflower seeds and bell pepper in a maple-syrup dressing…food for the gods! The elegant-but-unnamed little eatery at the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre whips up West Coast First Nations cuisine with a contemporary flair and serves it cafeteria-style for a snappy patio lunch. When you tour the centre, named for the two cultures it celebrates, leave time to taste a simple-but-superb salmon or venison dish created by chefs Theodora Sam and Ken Wright. Pair it with xusem, a cool drink made from the soapberries found all over Lil’wat territory and served free.—Louise Phillips

British Columbia’s First Nations Totem Poles


Totem poles at UBC’s Museum of Anthropology (Photo: Adam Jones)

The iconic Coastal Mountains may dominate the west coast skyline, but the landscape includes another native attraction: indigenous totem poles, original to this part of North America. (more…)

Hot Shopping: Learn About Totem Poles in New Book

Discovering Totem Poles: A Guide for Travelers by Aldona Jonaitis

Are totem poles worshipped as sacred by Natives? How old are most of the totem poles still in existence? These are just a couple of the questions answered in Discovering Totem Poles: A Traveler’s Guide by Aldona Jonaitis ($19.95; Douglas & McIntyre). Focusing on specific poles in Vancouver, Seattle, Vancouver Island, Haida Gwaii and Alaska, the book takes the reader on a fascinating journey through Native legends and lore. At bookstores, or order it online, below.—Sheri Radford

Olde Tyme Adventures

The “Gateway to the Rockies” exhibit at the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies provides insights into the origins of tourism that visitors can use to enrich their present day mountain experiences.

By Meredith Bailey

The history of the Canadian Rockies reads like an epic adventure rich with hidden treasure, daring acts of bravery, forward thinking mavericks and passionate conservationists.

While in Banff, visit the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies’ new exhibition Gateway to the Rockies that showcases our region’s starring players and pivotal moments. And don’t forget that Canadian Rockies heritage remains alive and well. Indeed, today’s favourite hikes, historic buildings, interpretive tours and works of art are steeped in tradition. Armed with the knowledge of Then, take the next step and discover what you can do Now! (more…)

6 Must-See Quebec City Museums


Maison Chevalier (Photo: genevieve.ducret)

Quebec is one of Canada’s oldest cities, founded in 1608, and arguably the best preserved, so doing at least one museum on your trip here is essential. Explore French-Canadian and native history, art and even 17th-century medical technology at these fascinating museums in a fascinating city. At the very least, they can provide a respite from the summer heat! (more…)

Inside the Piikani Nation Powwow


Photo: Alina Seagal

The Piikani First Nation is a small reserve in the corner of southern Alberta. In the wide-open Prairies countryside between Lethbridge and Waterton Lakes National Park, it’s no prime tourist destination, but thousands flock to it for the annual powwow. (more…)

Hot Shopping: Flip-Flops by Claudia Alan

AYA flip-flop by Claudia Alan

Summer days aren’t too far away. Give your tootsies a treat with a pair of AYA flip-flops by Claudia Alan. The Canadian company adorned its comfy rubber-soled sandals with frog and raven motifs by local First Nations artist Corrine Hunt, who designed the medals for the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter  Games. Now that’s what we call a winning combination. Available at www.claudiaalanstore.com. —Kristina Urquhart

Hot Art: Abundance Fenced by Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas

"Abundance Fenced" by Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas. Photo by KK Law

Vancouver’s public-art scene just got a little edgier with “Abundance Fenced” (pictured) by Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas. The First Nations artist fuses Northwest Coast motifs with Japanese graphics, which he’s dubbed “Haida manga.” The sculpture, atop a retaining wall at the Knight Street and 33rd Avenue intersection, depicts orcas pursuing salmon and is inspired by the bountiful Fraser River salmon run of 2010.—Kristina Urquhart

Hot Dates: Rex Homan

"Snowy Owl" by Rex Homan

March 31 to April 21

Aboriginal art aficionados and avian enthusiasts alike will appreciate the 33 graphic carvings in Rex Homan: Raven Dreaming at Spirit Wrestler Gallery. Homan, a New Zealand Maori artist, pays tribute to the Canadian birds that play a role in Northwest Coast First Nations mythology and tradition (“Snowy Owl,” pictured).—Kristina Urquhart

Hot Art: Northwest Coast Cool

"Raven and Light Bentwood Box" by Kevin Cranmer

Be sure to add a visit to a First Nations art gallery to your must-see-in-Vancouver list. At Coastal Peoples Fine Arts Gallery, you’ll find gorgeous examples of fine sculpture and totem poles. You can also preview the spring show Cranmer + Gray: A dual exhibition, which highlights the regional and creative differences between Tsimshian artist Philip Gray and Kwakwaka’wakw carver Kevin Cranmer (“Raven and Light Bentwood Box,” pictured).—Kristina Urquhart

Hot Dining: Keriwa Café’s Canadian Identity

photo by Alexandra Grigorescu

It’s a bit of a cliché that most citizens of this country are defined by a hyphenated identity—you’re Italian-Canadian, or Polish-Canadian, or even, in the case of Keriwa Café chef-owner Aaron Joseph Bear Robe, Aboriginal-Canadian. The Alberta native, son of a Blackfoot father and Scotch-Nova Scotian mother, fittingly combines the influences of his heritage at his Parkdale restaurant, in seasonal and locally sourced dishes that do modern justice to time-tested culinary traditions. While First Nations staples like bison pemmican with red fife fry bread ($14) are on offer, don’t head into this woodsy-chic dining room expecting an exclusively (and anachronistically) “Native” experience. Order up possible mains like rainbow trout with dill gnocchi ($23) or duck with rutabaga and quince ($25), too, and enjoy an encompassing taste of Canadian-ness.