Royal Proclamation to 'kitchen accord;' Canada's history on display in Winnipeg

A rare glimpse into Canada's and Manitoba's history is on display at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.
Canada's 1960 Bill of Rights is on display at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. (Canadian Museum for Human Rights )

A rare glimpse into Canada's and Manitoba's history is on display at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

The collection of 11 documents, on loan from Library and Archives Canada, includes some of the most important original records in the country's history, spanning The Royal Proclamation of 1763 to more recent Constitution Act of 1982 created on made-in-Manitoba flax paper.

Manitoba figures highly in the exhibit, said  the museum's head of collections, Heather Bidzinski. 

"One of my favourite documents in the display is the proclamation of the Constitution Act of 1982," she said. "The Manitoba tie there is that it was actually created on paper that was made from Manitoba flax.

"The other connection we have is Western Treaty Number One which is from 1871. This is the first treaty signed by prominent representatives of the Chippewa and Cree First Nations," she added, pointing out that the museum is itself built on Treaty One land. 

Bidnizski said some of the records come from humble beginnings, which are also part of the exhibit. 

'Study of La Coutume de Paris,' written around 1793 and on which Lower Canada based its early civil code, is part of the exhibit at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. (Canadian Museum for Human Rights )
"We've got everything from the notes from the 'kitchen accord,' hand written in 1981," she said. "Basically the rumour or the myth is that it was drafted in the kitchen of the Ottawa National Conference Centre from late night meetings where this informal agreement was reached for a constitutional deal. It was really ...  a last minute compromise and it was [for] the patriation of Canada's constitution. So we've got that. It's really new. It's basically on a scratch pad of hand-written notes."

She said at the other end of the historical spectrum is the 'Study of La Coutume de Paris,' the document Canada based its early civil codes on in Lower Canada.

Part of Canada's human rights history, alongside the latest technology to preserve that history, is also on display. 

"We've got 250 years of Canadian legal traditions and human rights history all in one case. We've got everything from really new technology protecting some of these documents to the 1763 Royal Proclamation and when you look at that you can definitely tell it's seen some wear and tear. It's over 250 years old and it was an every day document so it wasn't really meant to be protected like some of our historical records were. It would have been used every day and put up like a hand bill or a poster and you can see the dirt and there's some tears on it and creases in the paper. So you can really see the age and it's really phenomenal." 

The documents will be on display until September 2015, with one exception. 

"The one caveat on that is that the proclamation is only granted to us for a certain number of viewing hours because we have to protect this precious document. It can only be exposed to light for so long, so we have it for 625 hours of exposure to light. We're predicting that we'll have it till at least the spring of next year."

Visitors will have to press a button to illuminate the proclamation for about 20 seconds. 

It's also in a special case to protect it against humidity. 

Bidzinski's excitement is palpable and she invited everyone to "come down and take a look at these magnificent historical documents." 

"It is such a thrill to have them here. My background is actually in archives so this is a double whammy for me. This is really a career highlight to be able to interact with these documents and have them at my institution. It's been such a privilege to work with Library and Archives Canada on this monumental loan agreement."


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