5 things to know about the Canadian Museum for Human Rights

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By now you must’ve seen this building that is fast-becoming one of Canada’s most iconic symbols. The Canadian Museum for Human Rights, a world-class museum in the heart of Winnipeg, opened its doors in September 2014. It is the only national museum outside of the National Capital Region and is the “first museum solely dedicated to the evolution, celebration and future of human rights” (CMHR, About the Museum).

If you haven’t been to the CMHR, here are 5 things you need to know to fully appreciate this national gem:

  1. It is a marvel of design and architecture

    The CMHR is designed by world-renowned American architect Antoine Predock who took inspiration from the Canadian landscape. It is the winning design from an international architectural competition launched in 2003 by the museum’s proponents. Predock’s design bested 64 entries from all over the world.

    The building is rich in symbolism and meaning. The towering structure of glass, stone, concrete and steel is an abstract representation of a white dove embracing a mythic stone mountain. It uses local Tyndall stone and glass wrapped around the northern façade, designed as the dove’s wings. The building is set amid Prairie tall-grass. Meanwhile, the inside of the museum is designed so that visitors complete a journey from dark to light as they ascend the building from its roots to the Tower of Hope.

    Must-see features include the enormous glass “cloud” wrapping the northern façade (the wings); the Garden of Contemplation which features water, greenery, Mongolian basalt rock and is designed as a space for serenity and contemplation; the Welcome Wall at Buhler Hall which greets visitors in various languages; and kilometres of glowing ramps clad in Spanish alabaster.

    The CMHR is built on Treaty One land near the site of the historic Metis rebellion under Louis Riel and is near the juncture of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers. The site is said to have been a meeting place for thousands of years.

  2. Exploring CMHR will take more than one visit!

    The CMHR has dynamic, interactive exhibits; artifacts and artworks; as well as storytelling and performance presentations. The museum’s exhibits include over 100 hours of video; four feature films; an immersive multi-media experience; 26 small format films; 37 large scale linear media projections; 512 video clips; more than 250 artifacts and works of art; 18 mixed-media story niches; 19 digital interactive elements, and seven theatres. Whew! You have to plan your visit to prevent sensory overload.

  3. It has 11 main galleries spread in five floors

    All of the main sections are built around human rights themes. These are:

    • What are Human Rights? – features a timeline that presents human rights concepts throughout the ages and around the world.
    • Indigenous Perspectives – presents Aboriginal concepts of humanity and our responsibilities to each other. The space features a circular theatre of wooden slats playing a 360-degree film.
    • Canadian Journeys – features dozens of Canadian human rights stories through the years as told through presentations on a digital canvas across a 96-foot screen, in floor stations and story niches.
    • Protecting Rights in Canada – explores legal aspects of Canadian human rights. It features a “living tree” projection and a digitally-interfaced debate table.
    • Examining the Holocaust – features a “broken glass’ theatre examining Canada’s experience with anti-Semitism. It also has touch-screen monitors analyzing Nazi techniques of genocide.This gallery may be intense for kids and the faint of heart.
    • Turning Points for Humanity – the central focus of this gallery is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It also explores the role of activism and social movements in influencing change in the society.
    • Breaking the Silence – examines the Ukrainian Holodomor, the Armenian genocide, the Holocaust, the Rwandan genocide, and the Srebrenica genocide in Bosnia.
    • Actions Count – features an interactive table about action against bullying. It also presents the stories of many Canadians who have worked to make a difference.
    • Rights Today – highlights contemporary human rights struggles. It features an interactive wall map, a tapestry of human rights defenders, and a media literacy theatre.
    • Expressions – a section for temporary exhibits that explore the many aspects of human rights.
    • Inspiring Change – showcases objects and images from events that have promoted human rights.
  4. It houses a modern restaurant and a boutique

    Need a bit of rest and a snack after all the deep musings and reflections? You can take a load off at ERA Bistro. The restaurant is located at the level one near the coat check booth. It offers a full range of menu items, serving brunch to dinner (dinner only on Wednesdays) with emphasis on locally sourced, Certified Fair Trade and sustainable products. You will love its modern and open-concept ambiance.

    Right across the restaurant is the museum boutique, which is a treasure trove of souvenir items. Items featured are not only well-crafted and of high quality, they make sure that these are socially-conscious items that “challenge thought and action, championing and promoting human rights.”

  5. Tickets are affordable (sometimes even free)

    The museum usually offers free general admission on the first Wednesday of every month from 5-9 pm. On all paid Wednesday evenings (5-9 pm), adult, seniors and youth can enjoy a $5 admission fee (check the website to confirm).

    General admission price to the museum is $18 (2021). Tickets for youth, Seniors (65+ with ID), post-secondary students (with ID), and families are discounted. Children younger than seven are admitted for free. For the latest admission prices and hours of operation check: Hours & Admission fees.

For more information on the CMHR and their current exhibits, check the website.

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