The Canadian Museum for Human Rights had not existed when I lived in Winnipeg, but since its opening in 2008, it has generated fairly positive reviews. As I like topical (as opposed to art) museums, I took advantage of a few free hours to see it. Located at the Forks (where the Red and Assiniboine Rivers meet), the building is an architectural gem:
The Museum is composed of 8 levels, each connected by long, barren ramps. The first level defines human rights and has a panorama of different milestones in the history of human rights.
Some levels focus on particular aspects of human rights: Aboriginals in Canada, the Holocaust, the Courts and the Charter. One exhibit showcased human rights failures and successes in Canada, with booths containing information and memorabilia from such varied events as Viola Desmond’s refusal to move to the non-white section of a movie theatre, the Chinese head tax, Japanese internment, the Indian Act‘s disentitlement of status to Indian women marrying non-Indians and gay marriage. There were numerous different displays, reminding Canadians that our past was filled with discrimination.
Other levels focused on international genocides and how the media played a significant role in reporting on human rights abuses. Two films demonstrated the power of the press. The Holodomar documented the famine in the Ukraine resulting from Stalin’s collectivization experiments (and arguably the deliberate attempt to eradicate millions of Ukrainians) and the near collusion of Western reporters with the official Soviet propaganda as to its causes and effects. Another film addressed an Israeli military strike in Gaza, with the Jerusalem Post emphasizing the success of eliminating terrorists and the Arab newspaper focusing on the death of innocent civilians.
I finally made it to the top of the building, opting for an elevator to take me to the final level, where I was rewarded with 360 degree views of Winnipeg. My vertigo prevented me from going much closer to the windows.
I was pleasantly surprised by the Museum. The anti-Semitism in Canada and the Holodomar films were informative , but other exhibits were too superficial for my liking. An entire level is devoted to Aboriginals in Canada, but it barely mentions the Indian Residential Schools or other atrocities. Horrors around the world are identified (the Rwanda genocide, Korean comfort women, North Korea), but little or no explanation is provided. My major complaint lies with the building itself. It is stunning and the 8 levels of ramps symbolically lead from the dredges of human rights abuses to light and a message of hope for the future. I just felt (and this is my own personal view) that I didn’t need a building to remind me that the past had been pretty dark and we all need to work toward a better future. I would have preferred more in-depth information about many of the events noted rather than the focus on the architecture.
That being said, it was a worthwhile visit and I am glad I went. Now back to Las Vegas.