Canadian War Museum
The exterior of the Canadian War Museum
Established 1880 (2005)
Location Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Type National museum
Collection size 500,000 items
Director James Whitham
Curator Dean Oliver
The Canadian War Museum (CWM) (French: Musée canadien de la guerre) is Canada’s national museum of military history. Located in Ottawa, Ontario, the museum covers all facets of Canada’s military past, from the first recorded instances of death by armed violence in Canadian history several hundred years ago to the country’s most recent involvement in conflicts. It includes major permanent exhibitions on wars that have been fought on Canadian soil, the total wars of the twentieth century, the Cold War and peace support operations abroad, and Canada’s history of honouring and remembrance. There is also an open storage area displaying large objects from the Museum’s collection, from naval guns to tanks, from motorcycles to jet aircraft. The exhibits depict Canada’s military past in its personal, national and international dimensions, with special emphasis on the human experience of war and the manner in which war has affected, and been affected by, Canadians’ participation.
Much of the Museum’s public exhibition space is devoted to its Canadian Experience Galleries. These displays underline the profound effect that war has had on Canada’s development and the significant role Canadians have played in international conflicts. Their content is a rich mixture of some 2,500 objects from war art to armoured vehicles, as well as scores of audio-visual displays and many hands-on activities. A changing program of temporary or special exhibitions, plus public programs and special events, complement the experience offered in the permanent galleries. The CWM also houses the Military History Research Centre, a leading library and archival research facility, and a large collection of some 500,000 artifacts, including uniforms, medals, weapons, war art, aircraft, military vehicles and artillery.
The CWM originated in 1880. Its current building opened in May 2005 and is located less than 2 km west of Canada’s Parliament Buildings. The building’s architecture has received professional and public acclaim. The CWM is part of the Canadian Museum of History Corporation, which also operates the Canadian Museum of History, the Canadian Children’s Museum, the Canadian Postal Museum, and the Virtual Museum of New France.
The former Canadian War Museum building
The Museum originated in 1880 as a collection of military artifacts in the possession of the Canadian federal government, organized by militia officers of the Ottawa garrison. Its first facility was a series of rooms in the Cartier Square Drill Hall. The collection was later adopted by the Public Archives of Canada. The Canadian War Museum was officially established in 1942. The collection of war artifacts gained its own dedicated facility in 1967 when it moved to the former Public Archives building on Sussex Drive in Ottawa (currently the Global Centre for Pluralism). That location was too small for the Museum’s growing post-war collection, most of which was eventually stored at a west-end Ottawa warehouse known as Vimy House.
Aerial view of the new Canadian War Museum site in LeBreton Flats
In the 1990s, the federal government made plans to relocate the War Museum to a new site east of central Ottawa, near the Canada Aviation Museum. The proposed site was criticized for its distance from the downtown core, and a more prominent location on the Ottawa River was later selected on LeBreton Flats, just west of Parliament Hill. The new location also allowed for ceremonial processions between the National War Memorial and the new War Museum, and was situated in an urban space soon to begin redevelopment.
The new facility, designed by a joint venture of Moriyama & Teshima Architects of Toronto and Griffiths Rankin Cook Architects of Ottawa, opened on 8 May 2005, the 60th anniversary of the end of the Second World War in Europe, or V-E Day, with new permanent exhibitions designed by Ottawa’s Origin Studios and England’s Haley Sharpe Associates. The new, modern building emerges from the ground just west of Booth Street and rises progressively higher at its eastern end, closest to Parliament Hill. Its textured concrete walls and roof are somewhat reminiscent of a bunker, while a partially grass-covered roof is consistent with the Museum’s theme of regeneration and its environmentally friendly design. The building rises in the east to a large fin, clad in copper that matches the rooftops of other prominent public buildings in the national capital. The small windows on the fin spell out in Morse code “Lest we forget” and its French equivalent, “N’oublions jamais”. The copper used on the interior of the building was recovered from the Library of Parliament during refurbishment of the Library’s roof in 2004.
On 6 May 2005, Canada Post issued a 50¢ stamp, designed by Tiit Telmet and Marko Barac, honouring the opening of the new museum. In its first year of operation the museum attracted 500,000 visitors and in 2010 there were 470,000 visitors.
Sun-dried grass on the roof of the museum, with Parliament Hill visible in the distance
The Canadian War Museum contains several permanent galleries and other important display spaces.
Battleground: Wars on Our Soil, from earliest times to 1885
This gallery explores the history of war on Canadian soil and the way in which armed conflict affected the evolution of the country and its peoples. It includes First Peoples warfare, the alliances and conflicts that marked the relationship between First Peoples and Europeans, and the imperial rivalries that marked most of North America’s early history. Content includes the Seven Years’ War, the American Revolution, the War of 1812, and conflicts in the Canadian West in 1870 and 1885.
For Crown and Country: The South African and First World Wars, 1885–1931
Canadian forces went abroad in 1899 and again in 1914 to fight in wars as part of the British Empire. This gallery covers the South African War and the First World War, and ends with the Statute of Westminster (1931), which granted Canada and the other dominions political autonomy within the Empire. The gallery covers the battles and campaigns of both wars, but especially the trench warfare in France and Belgium from 1915 to 1918, and battles such as the Somme, Vimy, Passchendaele, and the Hundred Days. It also covers the home front, air and naval warfare, military medicine, artillery, the plight of enemy aliens, and strategy and tactics.
Forged in Fire: The Second World War, 1931–1945
Copper cladding on the walls is recycled from the roof of the Library of Parliament
This gallery starts with the rise of aggressive dictatorships in Germany, Italy, and Japan in the 1930s and follows Canada’s role in the ensuing world war until it ended in 1945. Early displays cover Adolf Hitler and the rise of fascism including an infamous Mercedes limousine used by Hitler at Nazi rallies. The main exhibits cover Canada’s initial land, sea and air responses to the fighting in Europe, the costly Battle of the Atlantic, and the gradual mobilization of the Canadian home front for a total war effort. Later displays include Dieppe, the air war, the fighting in Italy, Normandy, and the Netherlands, and the eventual surrender of the Axis powers and the cost of war. Homecoming is the final exhibit in the gallery.
A Second-World War era Sherman tank nicknamed “Forceful III”, is dedicated to the memory of the members of the Governor General’s Foot Guards killed during the Second World War while operating as an armoured regiment.
The Canadian War Museum erected the Thomas Fuller memorial passage: “The name of this passageway honours the late Captain Thomas G. Fuller, D.S.C.**, M.I.D., R.C.N.V.R., whose operational exploits on loan to the Royal Navy during the Second World War, serving in and commanding flotillas of Motor Torpedo Boats and Gun Boats, earned him great distinction as “The Pirate of the Adriatic”. His “Nelson-like” tactics of thwarting, sinking, boarding and capturing enemy shipping revolutionized coastal forces small boat warfare, insufficiently recognized as R.C.N.V.R. operations that deserve a better place in Canadian military history. Acknowledged by Marshal Tito as an “Hon. Commandant National Army of Liberation” for his strategic support of the Partisans in liberation of Yugoslavia, Thomas George Fuller is fondly remembered as a genuine Canadian hero, a wonderful husband and father, “master builder” and philanthropist.
A Violent Peace: The Cold War, Peacekeeping and Recent Conflicts, 1945 to the present
This gallery covers the period from the immediate onset of the Cold War following the end of the Second World War to the present, detailing Canadian defence efforts at home and abroad, including those in NATO, NORAD, and the United Nations; wars in Korea, the Persian Gulf, Kosovo, and Afghanistan; espionage, domestic security, civil liberties, and popular culture; and Canadian involvement in wars since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. The material in this gallery ranges from Cold War comic books and board games to peace signs and the story of Nobel Prize winner Lester Pearson, and includes an interactive space for visitors to leave their own reflections on war, peace, and remembrance.
Also this meuseum include:
The Royal Canadian Legion Hall of Honour
The LeBreton Gallery
Located outside the ticketed exhibition area in the Museum’s spacious foyer, Memorial Hall is a space for quiet remembrance and personal contemplation. The hall contains a single artifact: the headstone of Canada’s Unknown Soldier from the First World War. Sunlight through the Hall’s only window directly illuminates the headstone every Remembrance Day, 11 November, at precisely 11 a.m., the moment the Great War ended in 1918. The hall is also aligned on one axis with the Peace Tower of the Parliament Buildings.
Additional galleries and halls
Wars on Our Soil, from earliest times to 1885
The Second World War, 1931–1945
The Cold War, Peacekeeping and Recent Conflicts, 1945 to the present
The Royal Canadian Legion Hall of Honour
War Art Collection
War art displayed on the slanted concrete walls
The Canadian War Museum includes a large collection of war art. The collection of over 13,000 works of art from World War I to the present day was begun in 1916 by Max Aiken (Lord Beaverbrook). It was transferred to the War Museum from the National Gallery of Canada in 1971. Select works are displayed at the museum within the individual permanent galleries as well as in approaches to the Lebreton Gallery and the entrance lobby.
Military History Research Centre
The Military History Research Centre (MHRC) houses the George Metcalf Archival Collection and the Hartland Molson Library. These extensive national collections of primary and secondary research material document Canada’s military history from the pre-contact period to the present. The Archival Collection contains unique documents including original letters, diaries, scrapbooks, maps, blueprints, sound recordings, oral history tapes and 65,000 photographic materials in a variety of formats. The Library Collection includes regimental histories, personal memoirs, wartime pamphlets, and military and technical field manuals.