What happens when you combine world class design, thought provoking exhibits and fantastic storytelling? You get the Canadian Museum of Human Rights (CMHR). It is the only museum in the world dedicated entirely to exploring human rights as a way to inspire change and unlike many other human rights museums, was not established to commemorate a specific event, movement, victim group or regional history.
A visit to this museum was one of the things I was looking forward to the most while in Winnipeg. As a traveller and a world citizen, I believe it important to learn about the world, its past and its future to better understand others and respect different cultures. Whether through reading about it, as in the case of a museum or through travel itself. Either way, with the challenges our society is currently facing when it comes to differences, racism and xenophobia, the more opportunities there are for individuals to investigate others, the better. I had heard so many great things about the museum and wanted to see for myself what it was all about.
But first, why Winnipeg?
As the first national museum to be located outside of Ottawa, why Winnipeg? The city has a long history related to the struggle for human rights. From the resistance movements of Louis Riel to Nellie McClung’s suffragette rallies, the city has an inspiring human rights legacy and to have a museum dedicated to that was only natural. It sits on First Nations Treaty One land and in the heartland of the Métis people and its site has been a meeting place for thousands of years.
With its name and subject matter, you would be inclined to think that the museum is boring, stuffy and depressing. However, I found the complete opposite was true. They’ve done a fantastic job of making the subject matter interesting outlining issues from around the world and across time periods.
Exhibits are interactive and you’re free to dive as deeply as you like into the many images, videos and stories available. Instead of basing exhibits on race, ethnic group, nation, special interest group, ability or orientation, each of the museum’s 12 galleries are built around human rights themes.
One of my favourite interactive exhibits involved participating in a game around rights in court (found in the Protecting Rights in Canada gallery). It presents different cases that have been seen in the Supreme Court of Canada and you can vote along as information is revealed. You can see how you voted in relation to others playing at that time and at the end you can see if you voted the same way as the court.
It’s a very visual way of seeing how different people can interpret the same information differently and make different decisions based on their personal opinion and interpretation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
One of the highlights of this visit was checking out the exhibit on Malala Yousafzai. The youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize and an activist for female education, I’ve been following her story for years. My parents instilled in me the need for education from a young age and I resonated with her message of education for females. On exhibit is her Nobel Peace Prize and the school uniform in which she was attacked.
Most of all, the museum is set in a gorgeous building that slowly builds from dark into light, a metaphor for the hope that you should feel by the end of your visit. Building on Canadian imagery, the building combines the ideas of mountains, clouds, Prairie grass, ice and snow into its design. Every design element was thought over and human rights symbolism can be found everywhere. Over 80 per cent of the major walls are sloped at unusual angles, with no two intersections the same which made exploring the museum a photographer’s dream.
Before you leave, be sure to head to the top of the Israel Asper Tower of Hope for a panoramic view of the city. In staying true to their mission of creating an inclusive environment, the museum is accessible in a variety of ways for every visitor, setting new Canadian and world standards for universal accessibility.
I was only able to explore a small section of the museum and wish I had more time to thoroughly see all the exhibits. If you’re short on time like I was, sign up for one of the museum tours which will give you a great overview of the museum, highlighting some of the unique exhibits they have. You can also download the museum’s mobile app which contains a self-guided audio tour and provides extra information when you walk near one of 120 iBeacons located throughout the building – so cool!
If you find yourself in Winnipeg, I highly recommend you carve out a morning or afternoon to explore the museum. It will leave you feeling thoughtful but hopeful for the future.
Canadian Museum of Human Rights
85 Israel Asper Way
Winnipeg, Manitoba R3C 0L5
Hours: Tues, Thurs – Sun: 10 AM – 5 PM; Weds: 10 AM – 9 PM; select holiday Mondays
Price: Adult $16; Youth $8; Student / Senior $13; Children under 7 free. There is free admission on the first Wednesday of every month from 5 PM – 9PM.
Experiences in this post were made possible in partnership with the Canadian Museum of Human Rights and Tourism Winnipeg.