Within walking distance of Parliament Hill in Ottawa, the Canadian Museum of Nature (Musée canadien de la nature) stands as a testament to Canada’s rich natural history. This national treasure is a must-visit destination for enthusiasts of all ages, offering a captivating journey through time and the natural world. In this article, we will take you on a pre-tour of the museum, providing insights, historical context, and a glimpse into what you can look forward to during your trip.
History and Evolution
The Canadian Museum of Nature has a storied history dating back to its origins in 1856 when it was established by the Geological Survey of Canada. Originally located in Montreal, the museum found its permanent home in downtown Ottawa in 1881. The iconic Victoria Memorial Museum Building, a stunning 18,910-square-meter structure, became the museum’s new residence in 1911. Over the years, the museum’s focus expanded to include anthropology and human history, leading to its renaming as the National Museum of Canada in 1927.
However, the museum’s journey did not stop there. In 1968, the natural history department separated from the National Museum, forming the National Museum of Natural Sciences. Finally, in 1990, the museum gained autonomy, adopting its current name, the Canadian Museum of Nature. Significant renovations and expansions, undertaken from 2004 to 2010, have enhanced the visitor experience while preserving the museum’s historic charm.
Facilities and Architecture
The museum operates in two locations: the Victoria Memorial Museum Building in Ottawa and the Natural Heritage Campus in Gatineau, Quebec. The former houses the museum’s exhibitions, providing an awe-inspiring setting for visitors, while the latter serves as a hub for administrative offices, research facilities, and collection storage.
The Victoria Memorial Museum Building, a remarkable example of Tudor-Gothic Revival-style architecture, is a sight to behold. Designed by David Ewart, this purpose-built museum is adorned with intricate carvings of Canadian flora and fauna, showcasing the nation’s natural diversity. Visitors can’t miss the Queens’ Lantern, a glass tower erected during the 2004-2010 expansion, which not only enhances the building’s aesthetics but also improves visitor circulation.
One of the museum’s standout features is its impressive collection of over 14.6 million specimens relating to the natural world. Many of these treasures find their way into the museum’s permanent exhibitions, creating a captivating and educational experience for visitors.
Bird Gallery: Featuring over 500 specimens representing more than 450 species, this gallery provides a birdwatcher’s paradise. The stunning diorama backgrounds painted by James Perry Wilson add an artistic touch.
Mammal Gallery: Delve into the world of Canada’s mammals, accompanied by breathtaking dioramas painted by Clarence Tillenius. Learn about the diversity of species that call Canada home.
Earth Gallery: Explore the geological forces that have shaped our planet, with a special exhibit featuring a Lunar sample gifted to Canada by the United States.
Fossil Gallery: Travel back in time to the age of dinosaurs with fossils that include over 30 nearly complete sets of dinosaur skeletons, some dating back 85 million years.
Nature Live: Get up close and personal with live arachnids, insects, and other invertebrates in this fascinating gallery.
Water Gallery: Dive into the underwater world, focusing on marine animals and hydrology.
Canada Goose Arctic Experience: Opened in 2017, this gallery offers a comprehensive look at the Canadian Arctic, covering climate, ecosystems, geography, sustainability, and more.
Collections and Research
The Canadian Museum of Nature takes its role in research and collection seriously. With a mandate to promote interest, knowledge, and appreciation of the natural world, the museum houses an extensive collection of biological specimens. From algae to vertebrate fossils, the museum’s holdings are vast and diverse.
Research efforts are conducted in two disciplines, life sciences and earth sciences, with dedicated research centers focusing on species discovery and Arctic knowledge. The museum has been at the forefront of Arctic flora research for decades, and it continues to contribute significantly to the field of natural history.
Library and Archives
The museum operates a library with an impressive collection of books, periodicals, and publications related to natural history. The archives house valuable records, photographs, and artworks that provide insights into Canada’s natural heritage.
A visit to the Canadian Museum of Nature is an educational and awe-inspiring experience that offers a glimpse into the beauty and diversity of Canada’s natural world. From its rich history to its exceptional collections and engaging exhibitions, this museum stands as a beacon for those who wish to explore and appreciate the wonders of the natural world. Whether you’re a seasoned naturalist, a curious student, or a family looking for an enriching outing, this museum has something for everyone. Plan your visit today and embark on a journey through Canada’s incredible natural heritage at the Canadian Museum of Nature.