Manitoba Museum's new Prairies Gallery blends showcase of beauty, history and injustice
Newly opened gallery has greater emphasis on First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples, historical injustices
The Manitoba Museum lifted the curtain this week on the last in a long list of new and updated galleries it has been creating over the past four years.
The Prairies Gallery, formerly known as the Grasslands Gallery, opened to the public on Thursday, promising "a deep and layered view of history through geological time [that] explores human connections to the land across thousands of years."
Some familiar elements remain, including the pronghorn diorama, the teepee, and the Red River cabin and cart, but their stories have been updated and enhanced.
The gallery showcases the prairie plants and animals that have adapted to the environment, and gives visitors experiences ranging from examining layers of history in an eroding riverbank and to walking into an old-fashioned schoolhouse.
And now, rather than just looking at the exhibits, you can listen to the flurry of birds at Whitewater Lake and hear the stories of people who live and work in the region.
The refreshed gallery is part of the $20-million Bringing Our Stories Forward capital campaign that has transformed more than 40 per cent of the museum since 2017.
There is a greater emphasis on the roles that First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples played in the settling and formation of what is now the province of Manitoba — and on the historical injustices they endured — throughout the museum, including a new exhibit on treaties.
There is also a larger focus on new waves of immigration into the Prairie region.
The Nonsuch gallery was the first to get a facelift. That renovated gallery reopened in June 2018.
Since then, the museum has also unveiled the Winnipeg Gallery, which is dedicated to the history of the city and is the first new permanent exhibition space added since 2003.
The former Orientation Gallery, now called the Welcome Gallery, has been completely renovated. It still greets visitors with the popular bison diorama, but the exhibits surrounding it — most of which had been in place since the 1970s — are all different.
The museum says a visit to the Prairies Gallery will offer visitors "a greater understanding of the history, biodiversity, and stunning landscapes of our smallest and most densely populated biome."
Peguis descendant hopes display will spark conversation
But it will also expose other entangled roots.
Some of those will come from one of the more intriguing items in the gallery — a Bible that belonged to Chief Peguis.
The Saulteaux chief was a defender of First Nations rights but also a diplomat known for bringing four other chiefs together to sign the Selkirk Treaty of 1817 — which allowed for the settlement of land along the Red River.
It was through Peguis's leadership and the aid of his people that Hudson's Bay Company employees and Selkirk settlers were saved from starvation.
Peguis converted to Chrisitianity in 1838. The keeper of his Bible is his many-times-great-grandson Kyle Mason, who has loaned it to the museum.
"It's a very important heirloom for the community and for the family, so it was very touching to see it there on display," Mason said.
He describes it as the Peguis community's "long connection to the Christian faith and the complicatedness of those two things intermixing with residential schools and other different things — colonization.
"The history between Indigenous peoples and Christianity has been very tragic for much of it. But that being said, Chief Peguis converted to Christianity and Christianity has been a part of the Peguis community ever since then. And a number of my ancestors, after they stopped being chiefs, actually became ministers."
Mason hopes the Bible display helps generate conversations between Indigenous and settler communities around that troubled and complex history.
"My father was a residential school survivor, my mother was a day school survivor, so the tragic-ness, the evil of Canadian history and colonization in my family is very real and very present," he said.
"But it's fact that there are large numbers of Indigenous peoples who are still identify with that faith. And there's a good number of people that understand there's a difference between the teachings of the faith and the institutions behind all these atrocities and evil acts."
The Manitoba Museum's galleries are currently open Thursday to Sunday, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.