Arctic Gallery at Canadian Museum of Nature prepares for June opening

The new, permanent gallery will include a space where Northern communities can curate and present their own exhibitions. 'The big picture is to get people to really understand the Arctic.'

New permanent gallery will include a space for exhibitions by Northern communities

An artist's rendition of plans for the climate section of the Canadian Museum of Nature's new Arctic gallery, set to open this summer. (GSM/Canadian Museum of Nature)

After three years in the making, the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa is preparing to open its new, permanent Canada Goose Arctic Gallery in June.

Part of the new gallery will include a space for rotating community exhibitions called Our Northern Voices.

The Kitikmeot Heritage Society, based in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, will be the first to open the space, with an exhibition called Inuinnauyugut: We are Inuinnait.

"It's been really exciting," said Brendan Grebel, a research associate with the Kitikmeot Heritage Society.

"What we're doing for the exhibit is pairing historical artifacts that were sourced by the Canadian Arctic Expedition from the Copper Inuit 100 years ago — which was kind of the first significant contact this group had with the outside world, the Western world — and we're pairing that with objects created in the community 100 years later."  

Some of the items that will be featured in an exhibition by the Kitikmeot Heritage Society, currently in storage and waiting to be moved into the Northern Voices Gallery at museum. (Cheryl Kawaja/CBC)
Grebel said the exhibit was created several years ago, on a smaller scale, in Cambridge Bay. 

"It's been real exciting for everyone to follow the process of it getting bigger, and being presented for an Ottawa audience."

Grebel said several members of the society hope to travel south for the June opening.

"There's a group of five elders who are so excited to come down to this and there's some of the artists from the community. They're all really excited about coming down and being able to explain to people what they've been doing," he said.

Showcasing the diversity of the Arctic

The museum is still working to finish the main components of the Arctic Gallery, but Ailsa Barry, who's in charge of "experience and engagement" for the museum, is confident it will be ready on time. 

'It's going to be phenomenal,' said Ailsa Barry, the museum's vice president in charge of experience and engagement. (Cheryl Kawaja/CBC)

"I'm sure it's all going to come together and it's going to be phenomenal," she said.

The museum hopes to bust stereotypes about the Arctic and provide context and perspective on things such as climate, sustainability, ecosystems and geography. 

"The big picture is to get people to really understand the Arctic — to understand its diversity, to understand that it's a homeland, to understand how people use the landscape, how it's been used throughout time, and to understand that it's a continually changing place," said Barry.

The museum has been working closely with an advisory council of 13 people from the Arctic. 

A skull from a bowhead whale, beached in the 1970s, will be on display in the gallery's sustainability section. (Cheryl Kawaja/CBC)

The approach represents a "seismic change" in attitude for museums, according to Natan Obed, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the national organization for Inuit in Canada.

"Historically, Inuit were studied and we were exhibits within the museums — our bones were taken. Now we get to a play a part in explaining ourselves and our environment, our land, to the world," Obed told CBC last year.

The new Arctic gallery will open June 21.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.