Eleven more reasons to visit the Museum

Wednesday, February 4, 2015
Getting interviewed by media about the historical documents on display at the Museum.

I have the wonderful job of interacting and caring for an amazing variety of really neat things - personal stories gathered from our Oral History Program, books about human rights stories, and unique objects that bring human rights issues to life. I am also responsible for the intriguing assortment of artifacts that we have on loan for our exhibits.  

Among my favorites is the group of 11 amazing archival documents and items on loan from Library and Archives Canada (LAC).  Now, some may accuse me of bias, being an archivist myself, but I think I can make a pretty strong argument for why these documents are so special.  

The 11 historical pieces are displayed primarily in our Protecting Rights in Canada gallery. More than 250 years of Canadian legal and human rights traditions are all contained in a single exhibit case! 

Artefacts and documents displayed behind glass doors.
Canada's Legal System exhibit


What kinds of documents and items are on loan?

LAC has loaned us notes from the "Kitchen Accord" (1981), The Proclamation of the Constitution Act (1982), Western Treaty No. 1 (1871), a silver treaty medal, The Bill of Rights (1960), Royal Proclamation, King George III of England (1763), and a study of La Coutume de Paris (about 1793-1801). There are also four Chinese Immigration Certificates (Head Tax Certificates, 1913-1919) which are displayed, two at a time, in Canadian Journeys.

A large document entitles The Canadian Bill of Rights with colourful illustrations.
The Canadian Bill of Rights

Western Treaty No. 1 was the first signed between the Crown and Indigenous Peoples after Confederation and remains in force today. It applies to the land that makes up most of southern Manitoba – meaning Winnipeg and the CMHR are both situated on Treaty 1 territory. Its presence at the Museum creates wonderful opportunity for people to come down and see the original Treaty document to learn more about its significance.  

The Royal Proclamation of 1763 is the oldest document in this exhibit. This was an everyday document that "spread the word" about the official proclamation. It's incredible that it has lasted this long!  

The Proclamation announced a new administrative structure for British North America and established new procedures and protocols for relations with Indigenous Peoples. Most importantly, it recognized the existence of Aboriginal rights in the absence of a treaty with the Crown. 

The 1982 Proclamation of the Constitution Act. Although not an “old” document exactly, this piece of Canadian history bears the signatures of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.  

I love the technology behind the protection of this document! Although the inks used in the text of the Proclamation will last a long time, the actual signatures are already fading. In order to preserve this important document, a case using “smart glass” technology was designed to protect it from light. This document is on loan until September of 2015, or until we have exposed it for 625 hours.  

Here is LAC’s blog entry on Building a case for the Proclamation of the Constitution Act.

Two yellow documents and a handwritten book above brief paragraphs describing them.
Three documents from Library Library and Archives Canada in the Museum's Canada's Legal System exhibit.


What is smart glass?

Smart glass is made up of suspended particles between two layers of glass. When no current or voltage is applied, the particles are randomly organized, blocking and absorbing light. The Proclamation case has a button attached that activates a current, allowing light to pass through and activates the LED lights in the case.  

How many times has the button been pushed so far? When do you predict they will all be used up?

The button has been pushed about 7,200 times so far. That means we have used up 40 hours of the 625 hours of light that we are allowed to shine on this document before it must be returned to Library and Archives Canada. So, how long we keep it depends on the frequency of viewing. At this rate, we predict the document will be here for the entire term of our current loan agreement, which expires in September 2015.

Why is the loan on the 1982 Proclamation of the Constitution so short?

Given the historic value of this document, it is important to keep it preserved. It is rarely exposed to light or displayed publicly. While we would obviously like to keep it much longer, the CMHR also wants to ensure that this important piece of history is well preserved into the future.

Working at the CMHR has provided me with so many once-in-a-lifetime chances to experience some wonderful pieces of human rights history! I hope you will come and visit the galleries, or explore the Museum online, to experience them as well.