4 stories in the Museum that would have great clickbait headlines

Monday, April 18, 2016
One of the steno pads Marilou McPhedran and her colleagues used to get into the Parliament buildings in 1981. Aaron Cohen / CMHR

You can’t really go anywhere on the Internet to escape from clickbait. Those headlines are everywhere, promising stories that will shock, amaze and astound you – if only you’d click on the link!  The problem is that far too often the content you find does not live up to the clickbait hype. Without powerful and inspirational stories to back them up, clickbait headlines are false advertising.

But what if the headlines lived up to their promise? Here at the Museum, we have thousands of moving stories about human rights. Some are tragic. Others are inspirational. But they all have one thing in common: they are all powerful personal stories that have an impact – in other words, stories that would all live up to the promise of those dramatic clickbait headlines.

That got us thinking – what kind of clickbait headlines would we write for our Museum exhibits? We gave it some thought and chose four stories that we think would have great clickbait headlines. They are moving stories of loss, perseverance, reconciliation and hope. They are stories that more than live up to the hype, and they are stories we think every Canadian needs to know about. 


He travelled 200,000 kilometres collecting objects from former Indian Residential Schools – but it’s what he did with what he found that will truly amaze you.

Three people stand looking at the Witness Blanket, which is a long, rectangular wooden structure that curves slightly to create a concave shape and has an open door at its centre. Many of the wood pieces are covered in images, writing or small objects.
The Witness Blanket is on display in the Expressions gallery at the Museum. Photo: Jessica Sigurdson / CMHR

Between 1870 and 1996, more than 150,000 Indigenous children were taken from their families and forced into Indian residential schools that attempted to destroy Indigenous cultures and languages. Many children suffered horrible abuse at the hands of those who were supposed to care for them.  Many also died, often from disease and malnutrition.

Artist Carey Newman (Ha-Yalkth-Kin-Geme) wanted to find a way to honour the experiences of his father and the thousands of other children who attended residential schools. He and his team travelled across Canada, visiting 77 communities on a search for traces of the schools and the children who attended them. In the end, they gathered 887 items, including letters, photos, books, clothing, art, and even building fragments. Every item has a powerful story of its own. 

Newman has patched these items together to create a large-scale art installation called the Witness Blanket. It stands as a national monument to recognize the atrocities of the Indian Residential School system. The Witness Blanket will remain on display in the Expressions gallery on level 6 of the Museum until June 25, 2016. To learn the stories behind the objects that make up the artwork, visitors can download an iOS mobile app for free or borrow a loaded device found in the gallery. You can also participate online and share your thoughts about the Witness Blanket and reconciliation on our reflection wall


It was just an ordinary steno pad – until she used it to change her country.

A steno pad. There is a printed title on the cover that reads “steno note book.” There is also handwriting that says “Const l Conference,” “Ottawa” and “14 Feb / 81 to 5 March / 81.”
One of the steno pads Marilou McPhedran and her colleagues used to get into the Parliament buildings in 1981. Aaron Cohen / CMHR

1981 was an important time for rights in Canada. The federal government was drafting the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and women like lawyer Marilou McPhedran were lobbying to have a gender equality clause included in the document. 

To speak with the politicians inside the Parliament Hill buildings in Ottawa, McPhedran and her colleagues disguised themselves as secretaries. Part of that disguise was something no secretary in 1981 – before laptops, tablets and smartphones – would be caught without: a steno pad. Thanks in part to the efforts of these women, gender equality was included in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. McPhedran’s steno pad is now on display in the Museum’s Protecting Rights in Canada gallery, on Level 3. 


He could have turned to hate, but he chose to do this instead.

A head-and-shoulders image of Izzeldin Abuelaish, who is wearing a suit and looking directly at the camera.
Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish
Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish was born in the Jabaliya refugee camp in the Gaza Strip and grew up to become a doctor, working around the world for equality in health care and human dignity for all. Then, on January 16, 2009, tragedy struck: his home in the Jabaliya refugee camp was hit by a shell from an Israeli tank, instantly killing three of his daughters and a niece.

Many people would have responded with hate, but Dr. Abuelaish refused to give in that impulse. Instead he called for peace. “My core values tell me people are people…. if we claim responsibility for our actions, then getting past the ugliness of war is possible.” He wrote a book entitled “I Shall Not Hate” about his struggle and founded the Daughters for Life Foundation in memory of his three daughters. The organization provides university education to young women in the Middle East regardless of their nationality, background or religious affilation. Dr. Abuelaish’s story is now featured in our Rights Today gallery (Level 5) andhe spoke at the Museum on April 20.


You won’t believe how blind photographers see the world!

A black and white head-and-shoulders image of a woman wearing a blindfold. She is smiling slightly as a hand reaches out to touch her chin.
This image imprinted with braille is the work of Mexican photographer Gerardo Nigenda and is one of many on display as part of Sight Unseen. Photo: Entre lo invisible y lo tangible / Gerardo Nigenda

Sight Unseen: International Photography by Blind Artists is a travelling exhibition on display in the Level 1 Gallery of the Museum until September 18, 2016. It presents the work of some of the world’s most accomplished blind photographers. Yes, you read that right – they are blind photographers.

Each one has different techniques: Henry Butler from New Orleans uses audio cues to arrange his photographs, while Rosita McKenzie from Scotland works with other artists to create tactile artwork to accompany her photos.

Alongside these images, you will find three-dimensional, tactile imaging technology that allows people with vision loss to “see” photographs using their hands and hearing. You can also participate in the #VoiceOverPhoto Project, both at the exhibition and online. Whether you are sighted or visually impaired, there is no doubt that after visiting Sight Unseen, you’ll never think of photography the same way again!