Canadian Museum for Human Rights: time-lapse and sunset

Canada's newest national museum, located at The Forks historic marketplace in downtown Winnipeg, is the brain child of the late media mogul Izzy Asper, who first envisioned it in 2000 and died just six months after launching the CMHR as a private initiative in April 2003.

Time-lapse: Sun sets on Canadian Museum for Human Rights

7 years ago
This time-lapse video shows the changing evening sky over the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in downtown Winnipeg. 0:26

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights, 14 years in the making, finally opens its doors on Friday.

Canada's newest national museum, located at The Forks historic marketplace in downtown Winnipeg, is the brain child of the late media mogul Izzy Asper, who first envisioned it in 2000 and died just six months after launching the CMHR as a private initiative in April 2003.

The $351-million museum looked very much like a construction zone during a media preview tour earlier this week as crews worked to get it ready.

The museum is to open to the general public in one week but Friday's opening ceremonies are the official kickoff. During the next week, dignitaries, tourism associations and people who managed to get some of the limited tickets to a preview will be given tours.

However, only four of the 11 galleries are completed.

More are expected to be ready on Sept. 27 for the general public opening, but even then some exhibits might still need "final touches," according to museum spokeswoman Angela Cassie.

Despite the scramble, museum officials and local politicians have been clearly pleased about the stone, steel and glass building, only the second national museum outside the Ottawa region.

Designed by architect Antoine Predock, it is designed to bring visitors from the earthy darkness of the stone, subterranean lower levels to progressively lighter and more airy upper floors, finishing in the glass Tower of Hope, which stands higher than the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill.

Inside, the museum seems a cross between a sombre educational institution and a high-tech playground. Some video screens take up entire walls. Images and words appear and disappear at different intervals and people on the screen seem to walk toward you as they recount key moments in history. Illuminated alabaster walkways take visitors from one gallery to the next.

In some galleries, silence and reflection are clearly the intent. The holocaust gallery — the only section dedicated to a specific event — is dimly lit and most displays are stark black and white.

Achieving a balance between serious information and engaging technology, while trying to cover human rights developments over more than 2000 years, was a challenge.

"It was this back-and-forth about how do we tell a story, what is an impactful experience for a visitor, and how do we have that visitor engaged at the end," said Corey Timpson, the museum's director of exhibitions and digital media.

"We can't have everything be read. It can't be too heavy. Otherwise the visitor is bored."

Canada's darker past

The museum does not shy away from controversial issues or from the checkered moments of Canada's past.

Anti-semitism within Canada is discussed, as well as aboriginal policies and residential schools. The aim is to learn, rather than blame, according to museum CEO Stuart Murray.

"This isn't a place where people are going to be pointing fingers about mass atrocities or issues that have happened in the past. It's rather from an education standpoint — what can we learn from this, why did it happen?"

But some groups have pointed fingers at the museum for what they say are slights. Some Ukrainian-Canadian groups have complained that the holocaust has been given much more prominence than the starvation of Ukrainians by the Soviets in the 1930s. Some aboriginal leaders have criticized the museum for not using the term "genocide" to describe government policies toward First Nations.

Murray has said the museum is meant to be a broad exploration of human rights successes and failures.

The museum also houses Canadian artifacts, some of which are on loan from the Library of Canada. There is a copy of the Bill of Rights signed by former prime minister John Diefenbaker in 1960; a 1763 royal proclamation by King George III that established protocols for relationships with First Nations; and head-tax certificates paid for by Chinese immigrants around the start of the 20th century.

'Incredibly satisfying'

Gail Asper, who took over the museum project when her father Izzy died in 2003, said it is "incredibly satisfying" to see his dream become a reality.

The family's charitable foundation had been sending students to museums in the United States to learn about human rights, and the Aspers wondered why there was no similar facility in Canada.

It took more than a decade to secure the necessary land and funding. Over that time, the museum's price tag soared from $200 million to $351 million. The federal government has put up $100 million in construction costs, while almost $150 million has come from private donations. The Manitoba government and Winnipeg city hall have also chipped in.

"The vision from back in 2000 has been respected. It's been improved on, it's been expanded," said Asper.