The Canadian Museum for Human Rights will open to the public on Sept. 20, 2014.

The opening date was announced Monday, more than 10 years after Winnipeg businessman and media mogul​ Izzy Asper first announced his plans to create the museum in the city's downtown.

"A national project of this scope and scale comes along just once in a generation," said president and CEO Stuart Murray.

"When the doors of this building open next September, it will be a historic moment for Canada and a proud day for Manitoba, as we welcome visitors from across the country and around the world."

Inaugural-year programs and celebrations will be family-friendly, and most will be free, according to a press release from the CMHR. Details of inaugural-year events will be announced throughout the first half of 2014.

Museum admission fees and membership details will be set early in the new year, after research and focus testing is complete.

Originally scheduled to open in 2012, the $351-million facility at The Forks has been delayed due to spiralling construction costs, which required additional fundraising.

Gail Asper, the national campaign chair for Friends of the CMHR, says she is happy to see her father's vision come to life.

"Opening the museum doors is not an end, but a beginning," Asper said. "With the help of more than 7,000 donors who believe in the power of human rights, we have been able to set the dream in motion.

"However, there is still much work to be done to ensure this inspiring project lives up to the potential we all envision, helping our children and grandchildren become educated and aware of the value of taking action for human rights in Canada and around the world."

First national museum outside Ottawa

It is the first national museum to be established in Canada since 1967 and the first outside the Ottawa region.

It is also the first museum in the world "solely dedicated to the evolution, celebration and future of human rights," according to a press release from the CMHR, which adds that an estimated 250,000 people are expected to visit the museum each year.

The museum has been in the works since 2003 and has been the subject of controversy over its content and its cost.

The Ukrainian Canadian Congress has complained the museum is giving a full gallery to the Nazi Holocaust, but not to the suffering of Ukrainians under the Soviet regime of Joseph Stalin.

The museum's price tag has also gone up almost $100 million to $351 million.

The federal government essentially took over the project in 2007 and has committed to cover $21.7 million in annual operating costs.

Economic Development Winnipeg has projected the museum's annual gross economic impact at $159 million, with estimated annual direct expenditures of $79 million.

"The Canadian Museum for Human Rights is putting Winnipeg and Canada on the map as a destination for human rights scholarship and tourism," said Greg Klassen, senior vice-president of marketing with the Canadian Tourism Commission.

"People are more aware of human rights issues than ever before, which opens exciting new tourism markets for travellers who want unique experiences that will move and inspire them."

Klassen added that the museum will attract a wide range of visitors, including students, investors and others.

"This museum isn't saying they have all the answers. It's saying that they have the dialogue, they're discussing the world's greatest issues," he said.

"We think that this is a great alignment for not just travellers from around the world, but mission-based organizations who want to host their conferences."

Already getting inquiries

CMHR officials said they are already receiving inquiries about using the museum as a venue for national and international conference events.

"Every week, it receives 10 to 15 new inquiries about spaces for receptions, weddings, conventions and corporate events," according to the CMHR news release.

The museum begins accepting bookings this month.

Tourism Winnipeg's Chantal Sturk-Nadeau said tour operators and independent travellers can now add the CMHR to their leisure and group travel plans.

"Winnipeg is undergoing an exciting renaissance thanks to the opening of CMHR, a world-class polar bear exhibit being built at Assiniboine Park, the return of professional hockey, a brand new airport and many other exciting developments," she said.

"This creates a tremendous opportunity to package Winnipeg as a distinct travel destination in ways that were not possible before."

Countdown to opening

  • Construction of the museum's interior spaces is nearing completion. Installation of museum exhibits has already begun and will continue through the winter and spring.​
  • CMHR staff and contractors are busy finishing exhibits, educational programs and public tours that will tell hundreds of stories using immersive multimedia technology and other innovative approaches, creating an inspiring human rights journey unlike anything visitors will ever have experienced before.
  • Local community organizations, businesses, schools and individual citizens will be invited to be part of a team of more than 200 volunteers that will be needed to welcome visitors to Winnipeg as part of inaugural-year activities.​
  • Local businesses and tourism organizations are already preparing for opening-year visitors. The museum is collaborating with tourism partners at the local, provincial and national level to promote Winnipeg as an exciting travel destination for visitors from around the world.
  • Tourism Winnipeg and the CMHR will be jointly targeting large human rights conventions and congresses from national and international markets, which will help bring in new tourism dollars.

With files from The Canadian Press