Canadian Museum for Human Rights celebrates the wins and pays deep respect to the losses

I was born and raised in Winnipeg, and currently live just an hour north of the city. But it has taken me three years to finally visit the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR) that has been open to the public since, September, 2014.

human-rights-museum

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights is flagged by its mantra, “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”

Why did it take me so long to visit the CMHR–Canada’s first national museum outside of the National Capital Region (of Ottawa and area)? Why did it take me so long to visit this architectural wonder in my own hometown? Why did it take me so long to visit something that I clearly support and believe in, as I have been a donor to the museum since they launched the public fundraising campaign quite a number of years ago?

human-rights-museum

Our tour guide Nick gives us an intro of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, with the Welcome sign in the background. The Welcome sign contains living images that walk onto the screen and write welcome in one of more than 30 languages.

It’s because I thought that it would be a completely sad experience, and I admit to trying to limit the amount of negative energy that comes into my life. But I was wrong!  The CMHR is the first (and to my knowledge only) museum in the world dedicated exclusively to the evolution, celebration, and future of human rights. That means there are as many happy stories that are told and celebrated as there are horrific ones to acknowledge.

all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights

The mantra of the museum is celebrated throughout its exhibits: All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. If only the politicians of the world would act by that philosophy, we would see an end to war and crimes against humanity.

The Holocaust Gallery reminds us how volatile that dream can be, and even includes one of the gas canisters that would have been used to execute some of the six million Jews who were killed in Europe between January, 1933, and May, 1945. The adjacent “Breaking the Silence Gallery” is devoted to four other modern-day genocides that include the Holodomor in which 10-12 million Ukrainians are reported to have been starved to death by the Soviet leadership between 1932 and 1933. I found that figure to be alarming, as both my parents were of Ukrainian heritage and I had no idea of the magnitude of that genocide which undoubtedly took the lives of members of my own extended family.

human-rights-museum

This piece of art is entitled “Bitter Memories of Childhood” and appears as part of the Holodomor exhibit in the Break the Silence Gallery at the CMHR. Photo credit: Aaron Cohen/CMHR.

As the museum is built on Treaty One Territory, great care has been taken to respect the ancestral grounds of the indigenous people who–for more than 6,000 years–have lived near and met at the place where the Red and Assiniboine Rivers meet. Now a National Historic Site, this heart of Winnipeg landmark is called The Forks and is a must for any visitor to Winnipeg.

human-right-museum

The Indigenous Perspectives Gallery at the CMHR gives great insight into the challenges and lives of our indigenous people. Photo credit: Chronic Creative/CMHR.

During our 90-minute introductory guided tour we were ensured that consultation with indigenous elders is ongoing, to ensure that every step of construction, development, and expansion of the CMHR was, is, and will be respectful.

the human rights museum in winnipeg is a must see

The building itself is an architectural masterpiece, and for those with a keen interest in architecture, you can take a 90-minute tour devoted to the intricacies of building the CMHR. That’s next on my list! Hats off to American architect Antoine Predock for this inspirational design of hope that combines the vision of a mountain with other aspects of Canada’s natural landscape. It is awe-inspiring, inside and out.

human-rights-museum

The ramps at the CMHR are made of alabaster and beautifully lit, connecting your journey as you make your way up each level.

What also impacted me about the CMHR is how inclusionary it is. There are beautifully lit alabaster ramps that enable visitors to make their way between the seven levels of the museum. There are also glass elevators that enable you to see the work stations of everyone working in administrative roles at the museum as you rise above them. Close-captioning is used to describe exhibits to the hearing impaired. And there are even three-dimensional replicas of artwork to enable the visually-impaired to see the art in some of the galleries.

human-rights-museum

You get marvellous views of the city of Winnipeg from the 8th floor Israel Asper Tower of Hope. Pictured here is Old St. Boniface on the other side of the Red River, the Esplanade Riel walking bridge in the centre, and the St. Boniface Bridge on the left.

If you have the time, do plan to spend the day at the CMHR. You’ll find  the ERA Bistro at which you can enjoy lunch or a snack indoors or outdoors (weather permitting) as we did. And there is the lovely Boutique gift shop that sells all sorts of gifts, books, and even a nice selection of chocolate. I bought a mini-box of the Peace by Chocolate chocolates made in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada, by a family of Syrian refugees. And I bought a delicious bar by Winnipeg’s Chocolatier Constance Popp, whose shop in St. Boniface is just a short walk or drive over the Esplanade Riel bridge. Constance has lovely chocolate sculptures of the CMHR for sale in her shop.

human-rights-museum

The Boutique gift shop at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights sells chocolates made by a family of Syrian refugees who now live in Nova Scotia, Canada.

human-rights-museum

I really loved the White Chocolate Mango Bar from Chocolatier Constance Popp that I purchased in the boutique at the CMHR.

Have you been to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights? What most impacted you about this Winnipeg landmark? Please join the conversation and help me spread the word that the Canadian Museum for Human Rights isn’t all about doom and gloom. It’s filled with lots of natural sunshine and plenty of hope, too.

Doreen Pendgracs

Known throughout the Web as the "Wizard of Words", I've been a freelance writer since 1993. I'm currently researching and writing volume II of "Chocolatour: A Quest for the World's Best Chocolate". Volume I was published in September, 2013.

82 Responses

  1. Susan Cooper
    Twitter:
    says:

    How awesome – would love to visit this one. It’s something I worry we’re losing in the states.

  2. Donna Janke
    Twitter:
    says:

    Doreen, I’m glad you finally made it to the CMHR. I’ve visited a few times and written about it. It now tops my list of recommendations of what to see in Winnipeg. It is serious and thought-provoking and sometimes somber, but the message overall is definitely not negative but one of hope and inspiration.
    Donna Janke recently posted…Rural Manitoba History at a Multicultural Heritage VillageMy Profile

  3. Tami
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    says:

    There is a similar museum in Los Angeles that all of our children went to on school field trips. I think it is so important for everyone to be educated about our history and the ways we can avoid these tragedies in the future.
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  4. Tami
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    says:

    Yes, that’s right!
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  5. Emily
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    says:

    It can be quite sad and confronting but also very important for us to remember our past mistakes and learn from them and seeing museums like this is a great way to do it.
    Emily recently posted…5 Best Free Business Tools That Save You Time and MoneyMy Profile

  6. Giselle says:

    A trip to the Human Rights Museum is now on my Bucket List. Thanks Doreen! Why is it that when we travel we look for places to visit but when we are at home we don’t venture where we should in our own amazing backyard! Hoping this fall takes us exploring closer to home.

  7. Carol Colborn
    Twitter:
    says:

    This is the second piece I have read about the museum. Quite a different take especially with the chocolate add-on!

  8. I am Canadian but never been near Winnipeg…so had no idea we had a CMHR. Love their motto even if so hard things are show. I wrote about the Ukranian genocide not long ago too actually, well USSR starvation numbers.
    Evelyne CulturEatz recently posted…Styrian Potato Field Salad | Erdäpfel VogerlsalatMy Profile

  9. You had commented but it is a while back, here it is again http://cultureatz.com/ukrainian-crepes-nalysnyky
    Evelyne CulturEatz recently posted…Styrian Potato Field Salad | Erdäpfel VogerlsalatMy Profile

  10. Cindy
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    says:

    I share your aversion to things that sound depressing – there seem to be enough of those in the news most days, so was glad to get the sense that you found the museum enlightening and a uplifting. I didn’t realize the architecture was so impressive either. While we probably would have visited on our next trip to Winnipeg, now it is a reason to plan another trip to Winnipeg!

  11. Wendy Peck says:

    Well done story, Doreen. I’ve been a few times, and still am awestruck as much by the beauty of the building as the impact of the exhibits. I’m glad they chose to present such serious topics in a beautiful setting. I’m sure you could make an argument that a sombre, austere setting would be appropriate, but I think the beauty allows us to relax and absorb the bright spots, the stories of courage, etc., that we are seeing.

  12. Phoenicia
    Twitter:
    says:

    I always look forward to your posts Doreen.

    What a beautiful view taken from the 8th floor of the Tower of Hope.

    Love the photograph of the chocolates- nice end to what looks like an eventful day.
    Phoenicia recently posted…What is your motivator for reaching your goal?My Profile

  13. Linda Strange says:

    Wonderful article, Doreen ! The famous saying goes something like “those who don’t learn from the past are doomed to repeat it”. The MPI Retirees had a tour I think 2 years ago. Couldn’t possibly have covered the whole CMHR in a couple of hours. The historic aspects, both old and “new”, and the thoughtful, artistic way most things are presented is just mind-boggling. It’s hard to think that so many of our elder citizens who came to Winnipeg were personally affected by the atrocities in various parts of Europe. People the age of our parents.

  14. Lara Dunning
    Twitter:
    says:

    I haven’t been, and I can totally understand your hesitation in going. Sounds like a very moving experience. I’ll keep it in mind when I make it that direction.
    Lara Dunning recently posted…Wow Wine Moments in Washington’s Yakima ValleyMy Profile

  15. Jean says:

    What a beautiful museum and a very well written article. On a topic that could be presented so very differently.

  16. carrie @ frugal foodie mama says:

    This museum would for sure be on my itinerary if I ever plan a visit to Winnipeg. I am a former history & social studies teacher, so historical museums & sites always make my list when I travel. Plus, I think that in this day & age it is so important to be reminded of how far we have come in this world & to not let history repeat itself.

  17. It’s interesting to know that a museum exists for Human Rights as well. It will be a learning for everyone about the atrocities and violence our brothers & sisters had to go through in the past. Hope people take lessons from the museums and learn to respect humanity.
    Moumita De Sarkar recently posted…Indian weddings : 5 favourite discussion topics during the grand affairMy Profile

  18. Great write-up Doreen. It’s especially timely as the museum also recognizes the genocide of the Mayan people of Guatemala by the military and government forces. A persecution that continued for decades.
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  19. What a great idea for a museum! I like that it celebrates the ancestral lands it stands on.
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  20. Rosemary says:

    What a fascinating museum. Never heard of it, thanks for writing about it and one that I would love to check out. How interesting is the Treaty One Territory. What a respectful cultural and historical experience. Looking forward to visiting this museum.

  21. Pat says:

    Our last visit to Winnipeg was August 2014 so all we got to see was the building. Global did a story on it so we did get to see some of the displays. It will definitely be on our to do list on our next visit. Hoping you can be our personal tour guide!

  22. Hi Pat: thanks for stopping by my blog. It’s always great to hear from you. I would be delighted to accompany you to the CMHR on your next visit to Winnipeg. 🙂
    Doreen Pendgracs recently posted…Sutton, Quebec: a destination filled with culinary delightsMy Profile

  23. Mags
    Twitter:
    says:

    This seems like a heavy museum, but an important one. Unfortunately, it seems to be an issue that needs revisiting these days.

  24. I never knew there was such a musuem for showcasing human rights. I think its a great post, and I will share this on my feed. Its important for the next generation to think that everyone is equal and deserves equal rights. Politicians world over, spread negative karma and energies
    Katchutravels recently posted…Exploring Andamans-Part 9- Two Wheeler Ride to Radhanagar BeachMy Profile

  25. Looks like a very moving place to visit. The statue of the sad little girl is heartbreaking, yet so thought-provoking.

  26. The CMHR sounds like a really effective museum, and the architecture is wonderful! It’s an art to present a topic that can be grim in a way that isn’t just depressing. I’ve seen others that are effective in dealing with grim topics, especially Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Israel and the museum in Hiroshima too.
    Rachel Heller recently posted…25 Real Tips for Women Traveling SoloMy Profile

  27. What a wonderful place. As you know, I live near the Canadian border, and grew up on Canadian TV and culture.
    I have noticed, that in Canada, the wrongs of the past are exposed and expressed more openly than here in the US. I am glad to see a museum based on Human Rights, we must stop looking at others, as others. And start accepting them as rightful tenants of this planet.

  28. Amanda
    Twitter:
    says:

    I’ve been to events at the museum but have not yet been through the exhibits; my out-of-town guests have been and have been admiring of the content. I must get myself there! In the meantime, I love the spire in the city’s skyline, and I love having this museum in Winnipeg. I’m sure it’s not perfect, but then I believe that perfection is the enemy of achievement: We have the museum and I know it’s contributing to dialogue, thought and community building.

  29. About time you got there! How can this museum be a sobering and uplifting experience at the same time?! So well done! We encourage our guests at Evergreen Gate B and B to go , and even those who are not normally ” museum types” engage with the displays and messages and find they have not allowed enough time…..One of the best surprises for me in the museum was finding a couple of Winnipeg friends profiled on the main floor, for their accomplishments in the LGBQT (did I get all the letters?) area.

  30. I think I would have been like you – not wanting to visit a place which I thought might be depressing. How lovely that it is not like that at all. For much the same reason David and I have decided not to visit The Killing Fields when we are in Cambodia next year, notwithstanding that we could sign up for a tour from our river cruise boat. David, in particularly, feels very strongly that suffering and misery should not become a tourist attraction. I agree with him but I don’t think I could stick to my principles as solidly as he does.
    Lyn aka The Travelling Lindfields recently posted…Mantra Geraldton on Western Australia’s Coral CoastMy Profile

  31. Sherryl Perry
    Twitter:
    says:

    Not sure if I’ll ever make it to Winnipeg Doreen but if I ever do this museum will definitely be on my must see list.
    Sherryl Perry recently posted…Do You Want to Consolidate Multiple Websites?My Profile

  32. I love that Donna’s post inspired you to visit. Like you I had reservations about visiting he Human Rights Museum in Atlanta. Especially with all the negative news surrounding us. It was an intense and thought provoking experience, one that brought me to tears. If we are to learn from our history, it’s so important to try and understand our past. If i’m ever in Winnipeg, I’ll make sure to get there.
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  33. Sandy N Vyjay
    Twitter:
    says:

    This museum is indeed unique and also the message it is spreading is so much needed as well as commendable.The world would be a better place if the countries and politicians of the world believed in the motto of this museum. I was touched by the peace by chocolate message too.

  34. neha
    Twitter:
    says:

    I never knew there is a museum of human rights as well. When I visit Canada, I am not going to leave without visiting here. What an experience it must be. I am a firm believer and advocate of human equality, the museum resonates my sentiments
    neha recently posted…A cheese factory tour in SwitzerlandMy Profile

  35. Marc Smith
    Twitter:
    says:

    Never been but it is on my list. And in this day and current political climate even more important to see.

  36. This is the kind of museum that should be on everyone’s list. So thought provoking and important to look back at the mistakes we have made and what they have led to.
    Rossana Wyatt – Life is Full of Adventures recently posted…Learn more about AlarmForce, protecting home while travelling.My Profile

  37. Ayngelina Brogan
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    says:

    Winnipeg is one of my favourite cities! Although I have to say I haven’t been to this museum…yet!
    Ayngelina Brogan recently posted…Dandelion Puntarelle SaladMy Profile

    • Hi Ayngelina and thx for stopping by. Winnipeg is definitely a city that you have to experience to love. I get frustrated by media that use ridiculous stereotypes to describe Winnipeg. I’m glad you have had some great experiences in our city and hope that you will soon add a visit to the CMHR to that list. 🙂
      Doreen Pendgracs recently posted…my salute to Canada 150My Profile

  38. Abhinav Singh
    Twitter:
    says:

    Holocaust has been one of the darkest chapter of the human history. The gas canisters on display must give some goosebumps. It’s heart breaking to know the bit about your Ukrainian connection and how your extended family could have been a victim. Poignant places like these make me silent in contemplation.
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  39. Lord says:

    “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” – what a beautiful mantra! Hopefully I can visit Canada soon! If I do, I will check out this museum 🙂

  40. Mike OReilly says:

    Thanks Doreen, you’ve inspired me to make a visit to the museum.

  41. Congrats to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights for being featured on the new (2018 issued) Canadian $10 bill. On the other side of the bill is an image of Viola Desmond, who is featured at the CMHR in an exhibit championing her fight for human rights in Nova Scotia.

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