I don’t often write much about the museums I have visited during my travels, but similar to Yad Vashem in Israel, the Canada Museum for Human RIghts was so profoundly moving that I wanted to share my experience. Let me start with this quote from the Museum’s visitor guide:
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.
Wherever we love, whatever our age, gender or nationality, regardless of color, religion, language, ethnic background or any other status, we are all entitled to human rights. Always.
Our rights and freedoms may be expressed in many ways – on paper, in our traditions, and in how we choose to live our lives and treat others.
Such a straight forward, simple statement. Such a simple truth. Yet throughout the world, throughout the ages people have had to fight for this basic right. People have been marginalized, tortured and murdered for who they are. Sadly, what should be a “given” is not.
The Museum’s eight levels explore this in vivid detail, with photographs, multimedia interactive displays as well as guided and self guided tours using a downloadable app. The architectural structure of the building itself also helps to add emotional impact. Made from steel.concrete, basalt stone, alabaster, limestone, intricate lighting and a spiraling design, the building itself represents the ever struggling upward journey for human rights going from darkness’s to light, from the earth to the heavens, searching for fully realized universal human freedom. Even Canada’s own topography – the grasslands, prairies, mountains, northern lights, snow, icebergs, water and sky are incorporated into the design. It is a breathtaking structure, especially the switchback ramps that lead from one level to the next:
I was not surprised to learn through my research that the museum is built on sacred ancestral ground of the Métis indigenous people – there was a definite spiritual feel throughout.
It was impossible to cover all the levels of the museum, but we did travel through the Holocaust exhibit which was once again quite difficult to get through. However there was a lightening of mood with exhibits that spoke of hope in efforts of change – starting with the 1948 Universal Declaration of Hope. Galleries showcased the righteous people who broke the silence about mass atrocities occurring – from global destruction of indigenous communities to “ethnic cleansing” that is still happening, sadly too many to recount here. We only have to look at daily headlines to see how far we still need to go to eradicate this hate, as well as the the secrecy and denial that keep human violations a daily occurrence.
A most striking declaration was found in a series of photo kiosks that displayed some very well known righteous people – Mahatma Gandhi, Raul Wallenberg, The Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela, etc:
One kiosk’s lights were dimmer and thinking it was an electrical malfunction, I moved closer to the photo of the present leader of Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi.
It was not a malfunction – the lights were deliberately lowered and the text next to the photo explained why:
Discussions are still being held to also possibly strip Suu Kyi of her honorary Canadian citizen title.
At some point we all must be held accountable.