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War of 1812 Exhibition
Canadian War Museum

 

Judiby Judi McWilliams

“History is Objective” …. “It Does Matter”
Interview with the Canadian War Museum
Featuring Dr. Peter MacLeod, Historian, Pre-Confederation

“Our Journey Begins” …
During a recent visit to Ottawa, Ontario Visited had the privilege of spending some time speaking with Dr. Peter MacLeod, Historian, Pre-Confederation with the Canadian War Museum. The Canadian War Museum is Canada’s national museum of military history. Its mission is to promote public understanding of Canada’s military history in its personal, national, and international dimensions.

Ontario Visited/War of 1812 Celebrations website has had the pleasure of interview many Historians, re-enactors, Politicians, organizers and leaders about Canadian History. As a prelude to our interview with the Canadian War Museum, I wanted to refresh you with a discussion Ontario Visited had with The Honourable James Moore, Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages he stated … “The War of 1812 is a decisive event in our country’s history”“it is important to understand as this War defined the fact of Canada. This War is especially important to remember, as it is very, very rare story line in that it was an event that was National in Consequence. Again, it defined Canada.” Minister Moore continued to comment on some of the challenges in presenting the War of 1812 to all Canadians … “The first challenge is our physical boundaries. He stated that New Canadians are already engaged as they learn about Canada and go through courses to study to become Canadian Citizens. The second challenge is that it is important that the Quebec Story is understood. That although the War of 1812 was between the American/British and Upper Canada, there if the French Fact. The third challenge is to engage the Youth of our society and communities”….

With that being said, Ontario Visited was able to ask what message the Canadian War Museum – War of 1812 Exhibition planned to achieve through the activities and events planned. They replied …“We would like visitors to come to the Canadian War Museum to explore the history and some of the key battles and outcomes of the War of 1812 as seen from the four different perspectives: Canadian, American, Native American and British. We hope that the visitor will come away with the sense that there is more than one way to look at the War of 1812: that each participant saw it in a different way.”

I repeated our question to further understand…. “Through the eyes of the four main participants offering a richer and deeper understanding of a conflict that helped shape Canada into the nation it is today I asked Dr. MacLeod, how does the Canadian War Museum plan to achieve this goal.” The response…“By presenting the War of 1812 through the eyes of the four participants, the Canadian War Museum is able to show what events were important to each participant, and how they were affected. For example, for Canadians, it was a successful defence against much larger neighbours. For the Americans, it was a second war of Independence against the British. For Native Americans, it was a catastrophic defeat. For the British, it was a minor overseas campaign amidst its struggles with Napoleon’s France.

I repeated our question to further understand…. “Through the eyes of the four main participants offering a richer and deeper understanding of a conflict that helped shape Canada into the nation it is today I asked Dr. MacLeod, how does the Canadian War Museum plan to achieve this goal.” The response…“By presenting the War of 1812 through the eyes of the four participants, the Canadian War Museum is able to show what events were important to each participant, and how they were affected. For example, for Canadians, it was a successful defence against much larger neighbours. For the Americans, it was a second war of Independence against the British. For Native Americans, it was a catastrophic defeat. For the British, it was a minor overseas campaign amidst its struggles with Napoleon’s France.

"Capturing the Essence …. Your Own Perspective …"
During a recent visit to Ottawa, Ontario Visited had the privilege of spending some time speaking with Dr. Peter MacLeod, Historian, Pre-Confederation with the Canadian War Museum. “The Canadian War Museum is Canada’s national museum of military history. Its mission is to promote public understanding of Canada’s military history in its personal, national, and international dimensions.”

Over the years, Ontario Visited has visited many “Live re-enactments”, “Living History Museums” and “Pioneer Villages & Museums”. During that period, I have been researching War of 1812 historical events. As a result, I interviewed many organizers and participants of these historical events, written articles about the “Characters of the War of 1812”, “The Importance of Living History”, “War of 1812 – Big in Canada”, “Controversial Topics”, “200 Years of Peace”, ”Authenticity” and more …

During our interview with Dr. Peter MacLeod, it became apparent that all of my efforts were formed from the research and information presented to me. At the beginning of my "Historical" journey, I thought ‘History” was boring. However, since then, I have found just how wrong I was. It is anything but boring. The interview with Dr. MacLeod crystallized just how many “perspectives” there are. The Canadian War Museum is perhaps the most amazing experience I have had in a long while. The spacious museum allows you the opportunity to travel through time, learn, observe, and formulate your own opinions, conclusions and perspectives. What I learned by visiting the Canadian War Museum is that there is a big difference between “Living History” and “Museums”. “Historians are Historians” and “Re-enactors are re-enactors”. There is no failing, there is no right or wrong. This was especially true after Gary and I took the War of 1812 Exhibitions "perspective" survey. Even though our answers were much different then the general on-line consensus, Peter McLeod assured us that everyone's "perspective" was correct. It is just a matter of how History was perceived. There are opportunities to discover and explore our heritage and the Canadian War Museum – War of 1812 Exhibition helps fill in many details…. It was a wonderful experience that I encourage all to participate in.

You really can’t offend people as history is history. You can’t repeat it exactly either. You can interpret it in your own way. As the Canadian War Museum tells us …“One of the key lessons we hope that visitors draw from coming to our exhibition is the importance of perspective, and allowing that one event may be experienced from multiple perspectives. We introduce this concept at the beginning of our exhibition, as you point out in the question below. By allowing visitors to experience the exhibition from the four perspectives, we leave it to visitors to form their own opinions about what matters to them.” Dr. MacLeod tells us that their goal was to give each visitor the experience to feel at home; to explore and discover their own history and come to their own conclusions. It is not all about the Invasions of Canada or the origins of the War, but that of all of us, inclusively worked together to defend Canada.

A quote from the CWM … “The Canadian War Museum goes to great lengths to develop appealing visitor experiences that enhance our educational role, including interactive kiosks and in-gallery activities that tie in historical elements.” During our interview, Dr. MacLeod stated that it is important for everyone to know who they are, where they came from, to identify in a practical way. He tells us “identity and self knowledge is important”. The “Core Message is always there”. Dr. MacLeod states it is important to “narrate this Historical Event with INCLUSION in Mind!” I say … Tourism … History …. Our past …. Our future!

GROWTH in TOURISM … Learning from our Past …
During a recent visit to Ottawa, Ontario Visited had the privilege of spending some time speaking with Dr. Peter MacLeod, Historian, Pre-Confederation with the Canadian War Museum. The Canadian War Museum is Canada’s national museum of military history. Its mission is to promote public understanding of Canada’s military history in its personal, national, and international dimensions.

Our Ontario Visited/War of 1812 Celebrations readers might be interested to know … “if the CWM feels our Canadian Heritage contributes to the growth of tourism in this country and what can museums do to encourage development of this increasingly important aspect of our economic development”? The response …“The Canadian War Museum welcomes almost 500,000 visitors annually. Seventy-five percent are Canadians from outside the National Capital Region. These visitors come to see the high-quality, well-researched exhibitions that the War Museum has developed a reputation for producing.” During our interview, we were told that the War of 1812 Exhibition has had in excess of 90,000 visitors.

It must have taken an extraordinary amount of time and effort in the planning of such an amazing Exhibition. Dr. MacLeod explained to us that the initial planning started in 2005. After the core team was formed, it took almost 18 months to completion. First there was a core team of 3, and then an extended team of 12, with over one hundred as the exhibition moved into the final installation phase. As we walked through the exhibit, I couldn’t help but notice all the idiosyncrasies in the making of this Exhibition. We were referred to a time lapse video that captured the installation of the exhibition.
Behind the Scenes of 1812: One War. Four Perspectives, (http://youtu.be/puajNlouKFw) takes 2 minutes 57 seconds to watch and I highly recommend watching it!

Dr. MacLeod told us that approximately one half of the artifacts are borrowed from other museums and institutions. The advantage in 2012 for the Canadian War Museum is there is not a high demand for the many of the artifacts at this time. For example, the anniversary for the Battle of New Orleans is in 2016, and Washington in 2014.

A quote from the CWM … “The Canadian War Museum goes to great lengths to develop appealing visitor experiences that enhance our educational role, including interactive kiosks and in-gallery activities that tie in historical elements.” During our interview, Dr. MacLeod stated that it is important for everyone to know who they are, where they came from, to identify in a practical way. He tells us “identity and self knowledge are important”. The core message is always there”. Dr. MacLeod states it is important to “narrate this Historical Event with INCLUSION in Mind!” I say … Tourism … History …. Our past …. Our future!

Historians, Enthusiasts & Artifact Holders …
The Canadian War Museum is constantly upgrading their exhibits. Although they receive artifacts often, Dr. MacLeod tells us that the items need to “fit into the story line”. A story needs to be included, not just a showing or artifacts. One challenge at the Museum is to keep visitors interested and have visitors return at other times. As a Crown Corporation, the CWM has a staff of approximately 40 employees including collections experts, historians, public relations, interpretive and program planners and more.

With the support of their sponsors TD Group and Ancestry.ca, they have been able to present the War of 1812 Exhibition. Peter MacLeod tells us that “Pre-Confederation artifacts” are difficult to obtain. The Museum has high standards in their methods of handling and preserving artifacts as mentioned earlier. The Museum’s large facility houses such items and uses in their displays, for research. He tells us it is difficult to make choices sometimes as to what will be displayed in their exhibits. It is of interesting to note that the CWM also lends many of its artifacts to other Museums and groups for exhibits. “The Canadian War Museum's current collection is comprised of more than 500,000 artifacts relating to Canadian military history. The Canadian War Museum preserves, conserves, and makes available through exhibition, education, outreach and partnership initiatives this vast collection nationally and internationally”. If you have a Pre-Confederation Artifacts that you might like to donate to the Museum, they would like to hear from you.

Protect …Preserve …Present …
We have three questions regarding the Virtual and travelling versions of Canadian War Museum’s 1812 Exhibition … Our first question to the Museum is how do you protect, preserve and ship such valuable items? Secondly, what would the protocol/logistics be for such transitions? Final part to this question, is what “restriction”, if any, would there be in such transfers.

“The War Museum follows standard museological practices. Any museum who wishes to borrow an exhibition with artifacts from the National Collection must also adhere to specific guidelines and requirements for shipping, lighting, security and climate control. Virtual and travelling exhibitions assist with fulfilling our mandate for outreach. For venues that cannot meet museum standards for artifacts, a version of our 1812 exhibition that has only text and images is available.”

I would like to ask similar questions about organizational techniques, problems solving techniques with respect to coordinating efforts the CWM has experienced with the Project? The reply…“Exhibition teams are created for all exhibition projects at the Canadian War Museum. These teams are tasked with creating the exhibitions and also responsible for providing solutions to challenges.”

Can you share some “problem solving techniques” used during this special event! (For example … a busload of visitors that were not planned for, weather conditions, volunteers/staff being absent due to unforeseen emergencies, running out of “supplies” during an event, shipment issues while the Exhibition travels, etc.)The reply …“The War Museum has dedicated Client Service and program groups that work to ensure visitors enjoy an informative, engaging and pleasant experience while at the Museum – whether they arrive individually or in a group.”

Can you describe to other event organizers and our visitors some of the challenges in coordinating such a remarkable liaison with these elite associations? The reply … “Museums routinely loan one another artifacts. A specific example of a loan for the 1812 exhibition: the Canadian War Museum borrowed the Free Trade and Sailors Rights pitcher from the Smithsonian, and loaned the Smithsonian a Canadian militia coat for their own 1812 exhibition.”

Society Today …
Sitting down with Dr. Peter MacLeod Historian, Pre-Confederation with the Canadian War Museum, we were able to inquire about the Museum’s thoughts on presenting this Exhibition considering Canada has great ethnic diversity, immigration and culture. While the CWM is exploring the War of 1812 from the contrasting perspectives of the four main participants: Canadians (including Canadian First Peoples), Americans, the British and Native Americans. This exhibition explores an important event in Canadian history and would appeal to anyone who wants to learn more about Canadian history—regardless of their background.” During our interview, Dr. MacLeod stated that it is important for everyone to know who they are, where they came from, to identify in a practical way. He tells us identity and self knowledge is important. The CORE MESSAGE is always there. Dr. MacLeod states it is important to narrate this historical event with INCLUSION in mind!

1812 Traveling and Virtual Exhibitions
Once the 1812 exhibition at the War Museum closes on January 6, 2013, a portion of the exhibition plus selected artifacts will begin to travel to various locations around Canada. The current exhibition is 7000 sq. ft and it will be reduced down to 1500 sq. ft for the travelling version.

In addition to the main 1812 exhibition, the War Museum has also developed two travelling exhibitions, a book, and a microsite. These efforts will bring the messages and themes of the four perspectives to Canadians who are not able to come to Ottawa. The War Museum is the also launching a virtual 1812 exhibition with the same approach in the coming months, which will be accessible to anyone online… “Later on this year, we will be launching a virtual exhibition that will include an overview of each perspective as well as interactive elements to allow visitors to share their own perspectives. This virtual exhibition will remain online after the exhibition at the Canadian War Museum closes on January 6, 2013”

Historians - Museums versus Living History & Re-enactor/Re-enactments
We were able to ask Dr. Peter MacLeod, Historian, Pre-Confederation with the Canadian War Museum what he felt were the differences between Museums (static) verses Living History Museums (Pioneer Villages)? His reply …“Living history sites attempt to recreate the past for visitors; museums bring visitors in touch with the past primarily (but not exclusively) through the display of artifacts. The Canadian War Museum goes to great lengths to develop appealing visitor experiences that enhance our educational role, including interactive kiosks and in-gallery activities that tie in historical elements.”

Dr. Peter MacLeod goes on to say … “A museum showcases real artifacts. Actual artifacts that you just can’t duplicate”. An example we saw while visiting the War of 1812 Exhibition was Sir Isaac Brock’s coat; Gary kept pointing to the “actual bullet hole”. Dr. MacLeod spoke of an actual piece of the White House they have on exhibit. You can’t “exactly” repeat authenticity. He went on to talk about how the coat had been examined under ultraviolet light, which provided additional information about Brock’s last day on the battlefield. For example, they can see where the grease from his hair resonated on the neck of the coat; they could see hints of blood around the area the bullet penetrated. I am not a historian, so I apologize now for the inadequate terminology here. Hopefully, my point has been articulated here though.

MacLeod goes on to say that what is important to a re-enactor is, in part, dictated by our current society, in the way they commemorate things. In our culture today, often commemorative items are spearheaded through trinket items such as grave markets, coins, etc. While visiting the War of 1812 Exhibition, I noticed a commemorative coin celebrating 100 years of peace, labelled as the 10th issue. Dr. Peter MacLeod told us that the Canadian Mint continues to commemorate with coins as society relates to these tokens. Royal Mint Canada has produced a brilliant fine silver dollar “British sergeant, Voltigeur Canadien and Iroquois warrior approach the invader; united in their determination to defend the colonies. Encircling the design are 200 finely struck beads symbolizing the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812.” And a Tecumseh fine silver dollar coin; “coin features Tecumseh against an intricately engraved background comprised of the words “The War of 1812” in both English and French. Featured in the design is the engraved and painted Government of Canada War of 1812 logo: composed of stylistic 1812 typography encompassed by a stylized maple leaf with ecru swords crossing behind it.”

Dr. Peter MacLeod explains that Pioneer Villages re-create the past, while Museums present historical artifacts. While Pioneer Villages re-enact a merchant store, the Museum will focus on artifacts such as the sales records of the merchants for that period, to learn about all the intricacies of that period.

“What Shaped You ... Who are You …”
I was able to ask representatives from the Canadian War Museum if they felt Canadian history, the War of 1812 and “living history” is so important and, why is it important to Canadian’s for personal, national, and international dimensions? They respond …“Canada’s military history forms part of Canada’s history and by understanding our military history it all its dimensions, Canadians gain a better understanding of who they are and where they came from.”

In my research about the War of 1812, it is stated that "we learn from our past", but, it doesn’t seem that many of these lessons have been applied in our society today. I asked Dr. MacLeod if he had any thoughts about this. His reply …“Understanding our past helps Canadians to understand their country today.” Dr. Peter MacLeod, Historian, Pre-Confederation with the Canadian War Museum talked with us about how Canadian Military influenced Canada’s past. Dr. MacLeod goes on to say … “if you don’t know your history, you don’t really know who you are”. “Wars shaped Canada…. from our national anthem, O Canada; our official languages, development both economically and socially. They shaped us fundamentally; otherwise, Canada would just exist. Pre-Confederation wars created our boundaries and languages.”

I went on to talk with Peter MacLeod about the number of "controversial" articles written about the War of 1812. Since, on our website, we like to present all sides of an issue and since everyone seems to have a different strong "opinion", what would he suggest we do to “not offend” our readers and historians? I did talk about my article that I wrote entitled “The Ten Foot Rule if it look authentic from 10 feet away it must be”. It seems that this Historian does not agree with my theory...

Dr. MacLeod stated …“One of the key lessons we hope that visitors draw from coming to our exhibition is the importance of perspective, and allowing that one event may be experienced from multiple perspectives. We introduce this concept at the beginning of our exhibition. By allowing visitors to experience the exhibition from the four perspectives, we leave it to visitors to form their own opinions about what matters to them.” Dr. Peter MacLeod tells us that their goal was to give each visitor from one of the four perspectives the experience to feel at home; to explore and discover their own history and come to their own conclusions. It is not all about the Invasions of Canada or the origins of the War, but that of all of us, inclusively worked together to defend Canada.

“History is Objective”…“The effect of the war on each of the four participant’s futures”
During our interview with Dr. Peter MacLeod, Historian, Pre-Confederation at the Canadian War Museum, he continued with the War of 1812 Exhibition’s core message … “As the national museum for military history, the Canadian War Museum deals with the past, not the present. We cover the impact of the war on each group, but do not attempt to project these impacts into the future.” The exhibition tries to tie in individuals’ personal experiences.

The CWM mentions that1812 also includes two interactive stations. In the Canadian section, the visitor is invited to try out three games that ask them to: match key figures to historical 1812 battles, or to “dress” a soldier and to put the steps for a soldier’s morning routine in the proper order. At the end of the exhibition, visitors are invited to answer a 6-question poll about their perspective on the War of 1812. The answers from this poll are tabulated and reflected real-time on a screen at the beginning of the exhibition.”

Gary and I took the time to complete the computer generated survey at the end of the Exhibition. It was fast, easy and fun! When we spoke to Dr. MacLeod, we said “We failed the survey”. He asked what we meant by that. We said our “conclusions” did not meet those of the other polled people. We wondered if it had anything to do with our current awareness and education into historical issues; particularly the War of 1812 and all the variety of conclusion. He told us “There is no right or wrong”. There is a montage of images; nothing is “clear cut”. Dr. Peter MacLeod said1812 is designed to allow visitors to experience the four perspectives and draw their own conclusions. We fully expect that visitors will find some perspectives more evocative than others, and ask a question to this effect in a polling station in the programming area.”

“Capturing the Essence”… for all!
We captured an extraordinary experience during our walk through the War of 1812 Exhibition! … We asked Avra Gibbs Lamey, Communications and Media Relations Officer during our walk about if there was going to be any “on-line” access for people who just can not attend either the CWM or the travelling exhibition. I for one, would be excited to attend all the activities, but will not be able to get to them all.

“Later on this year, we will be launching a virtual exhibition that will include an overview of each perspective as well as interactive elements to allow visitors to share their own perspectives. This virtual exhibition will remain online after the exhibition at the Canadian War Museum closes on January 6, 2013”

We also have a publication entitled Four Wars of 1812 which looks at the conflict using the same approach as the exhibition and includes photographs of many of the key artifacts in the exhibition for each perspective. It is available at the Museum and through our online boutique (http://store02.prostores.com/servlet/cyberboutique/the-1894/Four-Wars-of-1812/Detail?tsetlock)

We also asked Avra Gibbs Lamey if the CWM War of 1812 Exhibition and all activities be accessible to all or will there be some accessibility restrictions.

“All exhibitions designed to be shown at the War Museum are wheelchair accessible. We also follow accessibility guidelines that guide font sizes and graphic design.

For those who cannot visit the museum in person, we also have travelling exhibitions, a virtual exhibition (to be launched in late 2012) and a publication.

The schedule for the traveling exhibition can be found here: http://www.warmuseum.ca/event/1812-1?calendar_date=2012-10-25. Versions of the exhibition will travel across Canada and internationally until 2015.

The virtual exhibition will include an overview of each perspective as well as interactive elements to allow visitors to share their own perspectives. This virtual exhibition will remain online after the exhibition at the Canadian War Museum closes on January 6, 2013.

Our publication entitled Four Wars of 1812 looks at the conflict using the same approach as the exhibition and includes photographs of many of the key artifacts in the exhibition for each perspective. It is available at the Museum and through our online boutique (http://store02.prostores.com/servlet/cyberboutique/the-1894/Four-Wars-of-1812/Detail?tsetlock)”.

VOLUNTEERS repeat HISTORY…. A Key to Success!
Volunteers
play a key role in our society today. I myself volunteer at a local Pioneer Village and Museum. My role is Volunteer Appreciation Liaison. Here, I can clearly see the critical role Volunteers/Interpreters take in continuing to educate the public’s understanding of our great Canadian History. Volunteers are a vital part of our society in maintaining the ongoing pursuits to provide continued education and awareness. I wondered if the Canadian War Museum – War of 1812 Exhibition had a system to help keep the volunteers organized and could they share some of their “techniques” with us! I also asked if they could share with us some systems on managing so many volunteers! The reply…“Volunteer support is very important for the Canadian War Museum and we are very fortunate to have many veterans and civilian volunteers involved in many areas of the Museum. Canadian history and more specifically in our own case, Canadian military history, is a subject of great significance to many who come to us hoping to share their insights with visitors and Museum colleagues.”

FUNDING & SPONSORSHIP … A Key to Success …
With the economic challenges today, it would seem it critical to obtain/maintain Sponsor Funding and Other Sources of funding. I asked the Canadian War Museum how they obtained funding, particularly for the War of 1812 Exhibition. During our interview Dr. Peter MacLeod spoke of the unique relationship with their sponsors in that they hold a similar raison d’être. …“We are very pleased to have TD as a National Presenting Sponsor and Ancestry.ca as the National Supporting Sponsor for 1812. TD is an active corporate community member interested in supporting culture, history and education. Ancestry.ca’s mission involves connecting Canadians to their unique family stories. Sponsoring 1812 allows each organization to further support their mandate and community engagement.

A question I believe our readers might be interested in knowing is how does the Canadian War Museum keep their sponsors interested in supporting their efforts and how do they establish and maintain a successful relationship. The response …“The key to all successful relationships is sharing a common goal. Engaging Canadians through history and education is key to the mandate of the War Museum and a shared goal with TD and Ancestry.ca.” 

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