Exploring Canada’s Museums Online: 4 of the Best

Canada is a country of diversity, in landscape, in people, in culture, in history, in heritage, in language. Canada offers new things to explore and places to learn about, whether you call it home, or whether you visit.

canada museum  red maple leaf

Canada is a fine place for creativity. The ways Canadian museums share their resources online offer great opportunities to explore that. From human rights to lighthouses, dinosaurs to accordions, here are ideas for you to explore.

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights is one of Canada’s newest museums. After more than a decade of planning and construction, the museum first opened its doors to the public in September 2014. It is located in Winnipeg, Manitoba, at The Forks, where the Assiniboine and the Red rivers meet, a crossroads that has marked the beginnings of new journeys throughout history. It is the first museum in the world dedicated to human rights, with a vision to explore the subject of human rights, with special but not exclusive reference to Canada, in order to enhance understanding, to promote respect, and to encourage reflection and dialogue.

canada museum hand respect

Online , you may explore stories (which include video and audio resources as well as written materials) about the making of the Witness Blanket, an art installation drawing on the history of residential schools (in which First Peoples children were separated from their families), grandmothers fighting AIDs, Canadian musicians confronting human rights issues, and many more. You may also take a virtual tour of the whole museum, and explore teaching resources. “The Museum is temporarily closed, but you can use our website to discover stories of compassion, tenacity, courage and resilience,” the museum staff write.

The Royal Ontario Museum, in Toronto, was founded in 1914. More than one hundred years on, it has become one of the top cultural institutions in North America if not the world, with collections and research projects spanning history, artifacts, art, nature and more. These are usually displayed in across 40 galleries and exhibition spaces in the museum’s iconic, and sometimes controversial, building in Queen’s Park..

At this writing, you can explore the museum’s collections online, through guided collections, searches for topic and for specific objects, and through the educational resources area. Take a look at that last even if you are not teaching children: it offers great ways to get in to the stories of the Royal Ontario Museum’s extensive and varied collections. There you’ll find, for instance, Our Voices Our Stories, which explores how various indigenous people of Canada told the origin stories of North America. You can also find games including Paleo Puzzle, where players help a scientist assemble a dinosaur skeleton.

canada first nations man pow wow

The Canadian Museum of History, as its name might suggest, has extensive collections too. They are well displayed in the museum’s location in Gatineau, Quebec, just across the river from Ottawa. The museum has a strong online presence as well.

You might, for example, explore The Canadian Personalities Hall. where you may learn about 27 well known and lesser known folk who have helped shape Canada by governing, inspiring, fighting, and building in ways that make the country what it is today. You can learn about them by playing a game, too.

You could also learn what archaeologists have discovered in the Ottawa area, and about what stamps Queen Elizabeth II has collected. Hockey, opera, Vietnamese communities in Canada, places sacred to First Peoples in the Canadian arctic: those are just a few other subjects you might explore. There are online resources for educators and researchers as well. The story behind this Morning Star mural by Alex Janvier, which rises seven stories above the Haida Gwaii area of the museum is available for your exploration too.

canada museum history morning star mural

The Canadian Museum of History also manages the Virtual Museum of Canada. This gives digital capacity and presence to many (especially smaller) Canadian museums and heritage sites. There are two main categories: Virtual Exhibits and Community Stories. There are extensive teacher resources, too.

canada museum pei lighthouse

I was interested to see that there was a virtual exhibit on the lighthouses of Prince Edward Island, for example, which included not only maps and information on the buildings and their history, but for each lighthouse a page about what the keeper’s life would have been like at that specific place. There’s community story on the Carrefour mondial de l’accordéon, a festival which has been sharing music in Quebec for 30 years. You can search the exhibits and stories in all sorts of ways or just see what comes up on the main page, but take note: you could lose yourself for days in this place.

Side note: If your first language is French, or if you are looking to brush up your knowledge of it, these sites will be readily accessible to you. Both English and French are official languages in Canada. There will usually be a tab in the navigation bar or menu which will let you switch between languages. Also, some of the First Peoples material, especially in the education resource areas of these sites, includes material in Native languages.

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg, The Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, and the museums and heritage sites you’ll discover through the Virtual Museum, are all well worth exploration in person. Until that’s possible again and after it is as well, these sites are filled with great stories to explore.

canada toronto night street

Perhaps you’d enjoy a soundtrack as you explore these sites? The album One from two of Canada’s finest musicians, Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy, makes a good companion.

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