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Speech delivered by Stuart Murray to the Senate in Ottawa, ON on December 1, 2009

News release details

BACKGROUND

I am pleased to be here today to speak to you about the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. Je suis très heureux d'être avec vous pour parler du projet le plus passionnant au Canada, le Musée canadien des droits de la personne. Please allow me first to thank you, Senators, for your ongoing support for this innovative new museum. As you are aware, we are establishing the first new national museum since 1967. What a legacy for generations to come! I am pleased to be here today to give you a sense of how the project has progressed since the act that created the Museum had its final reading in the Senate on March 5th, 2008 and the historic day on March 13, 2008 – when the amendment to the Museums Act received Royal Assent, establishing the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. 

As many of you may have heard, Winnipeg's climate, the isolation, the lack of NHL team…well it can get a little tough sometimes. But I would argue that it is precisely this kind of adversity that produces the vision and tenacity to get things done no matter what the odds. Like say for example, creating the first national museum outside of Ottawa. None of this would have been possible without Gail Asper and her team and their tireless determination to realize Izzy Asper's dream. It was truly his belief and Gail's action that has made this museum a reality and it is an outstanding achievement. I would like to take this opportunity to applaud her for her energy, passion, and commitment to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. Thank you Gail.

I would also like to introduce a few members of the CMHR team who were able to join us today; Patrick O'Reilly, Chief Operating Officer, Susanne Robertson, Chief Financial Officer, and Etoile Stewart, Manager of Government Relations. These are a few members of the dedicated team based in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

The CMHR is Canada's fifth national museum, and the first established outside of the National Capital Region. It is Canada's first national museum to be established with financial contributions from other levels of government and with very significant contributions from the private sector. 

To give you a historical perspective, it was on March 6, 1880, that Governor General Campbell announced the need for a National Gallery located at the seat of government and declared his support for such a gallery, giving birth to the National Gallery of Canada, our first national museum. Over the next 90 years, the family slowly grew. Three of our 'sibling' organizations were established in that time: the Canadian Museum of Civilization and its subsidiary, the Canadian War Museum; the Canada Science and Technology Museum and its subsidiaries – the Canada Agriculture Museum and the Aviation Museum; and the Canadian Museum of Nature. 

In 1953, with the Massey Commission, there was a flurry of cultural activity with the opening of a national library and the establishment of Canada Council for the Arts, but no new national museum. It was not until 1967 that the government felt the time was right to expand the family and Canadians welcomed the Science and Tech museum, in celebration of our Centennial. 

It took 41 years to see the creation of a new national Museum and on December 19, 2008, we broke ground and began construction of our awe-inspiring facility.

The official mandate of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights is, to quote the Museums Act of Canada, "to explore the subject of human rights, with special but not exclusive reference to Canada, in order to enhance the public's understanding of human rights, to promote respect for others and to encourage reflection and dialogue."

It is a tremendous honour to have been asked to lead a young organization that already has a tremendously rich history. What a wonderful foundation to build upon! With that honour comes great responsibility, and it is one that I take very seriously. The eyes of our country and the world are on this project, and our goal is not only to meet, but to exceed people's expectations.

CONSTRUCTION

Construction is well underway in Winnipeg and the Museum will to open in 2012. The Museum site is located on Treaty One territory, in an area called The Forks, which is where the Red and Assiniboine rivers meet, a national historic site that is a premier location for community events and a hub for tourism.

We are working closely with Treaty 1 First Nation and Métis leaders to determine how we can best show respect for the peoples and the history of the region.

We are also working to ensure that Winnipeg's rich history of human rights, a history that has had a substantive impact in Canada, is better understood from the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919, French language rights, Métis rights through Louis Riel, to women's rights through suffragette Nellie McClung.

An international architectural competition was held in 2004 to develop an architectural icon and the competition's review committee chose the design of US based Antoine Predock.

The Museum employs Smith Carter Architects and Engineers, a firm headquartered in Winnipeg to transform Antoine Predock's architectural design into engineering drawings –and PCL Constructors, another Canadian Firm is the construction manager for this very complex project. As we speak, concrete walls and ceilings are being poured and the site now boasts two incredible 200 ft tall cranes that will eventually grow another 100 feet when it comes time to put up the Tower of Hope, the glass superstructure that will be the museum's signature.

To give you a frame of reference for the height of the tower, the Peace Tower here on Parliament Hill measures 302 ft 6 inches while our Tower of Hope measures 328 ft.

This building will be an icon, an architectural jewel that has already begun to capture people's imaginations.

Last Friday, I was touring the construction site, and visited the first root of the building to be poured. I should explain when I say "root" I'm referring to the four "fingers" that reach out from the building much like the roots of a tree, anchoring the building in the earth. The first root that is now being built will house our classrooms and education wing. I was struck by the size and scale of the building. I can't wait to walk in that area in 3 years and hear, not the sound of heavy machinery, but the voices of school children asking questions, challenging their teachers, debating, and hopefully hearing the occasional bursts of laughter!

IDEA MUSEUM

CMHR will showcase Canada's commitment to human rights via the creation of a state of the art 'idea' museum within the iconic Predock building and as a virtual museum on the web. The museum will explore Canadian and international human rights challenges, issues and triumphs.

Just as the Museum's physical home will be world-class, so too will the content. Ralph Appelbaum Associates, the world's foremost museum exhibit designers, developed a Master Exhibit Plan for the Friends of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. The Museum's Board of Trustees and staff have been working together with Ralph Appelbaum to refine the exhibit plan and ensure that all the necessary elements are included to create a unique and life-changing experience through a NATIONAL cultural institution.

An 'idea' museum means that we will not be presenting single interpretive panels for each issue but will, instead, present many perspectives and points of view. Our objective is to foster a better understanding of human rights – the challenges, the triumphs, the common links between seemingly diverse situations and people. We believe we can achieve this through strong research and curatorial work, use of technology, and deep and rich partnerships with human rights organizations and experts in the field. 

The CMHR will encourage visitor interactivity and engagement through the use of digital technology, multimedia, the internet, and other non technical experiences like actors animating stories to help facilitate a human rights dialogue between visitors and the museum.

CMHR's web site will be an authoritative access point to human rights content and partner organizations. Its entire distributed web presence will also help the Museum's delivery and reception of human rights content in museums, libraries, homes, and even in public areas around the world, across a variety of devices and through a variety of forms.

The Museum will also use the visual arts, music, dance, and theatre to engage, educate, and inspire our visitors.

We will develop a national education program with the goal of bringing thousands of students each year to the museum for the study of international human rights.

Organizations across the country have begun to recognize the opportunity that this project represents. For example, Rotary International has signed Memorandums of Understanding with the University of Manitoba, the University of Winnipeg Global College, the Collège universitaire de Saint-Boniface and the Canadian Mennonite University to develop an international student human rights studies program. These partnerships will help ensure that students from across Canada and from all corners of the globe will have the opportunity to experience the Museum first hand.

We are cognizant that this new national museum will still be here 10 generations from now. It is not a static institution but rather one that will continue to evolve.

As Arthur Mauro, former CEO of Investor's Group, former chancellor of the University of Manitoba, and founder of the Centre for Peace and Justice at the U of M recently said, "we have in place the framework that can be built on to profile Winnipeg as a world centre in peace studies and human rights." A Geneva of the Prairies if you will.

PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT

Prior to the actual creation of the Museum, a report to the Minister of Canadian Heritage on the Canadian Museum for Human Rights recommended that a group of human rights scholars, specialists and leaders be appointed to elicit relevant information from individuals, organizations and groups. In January 2009, an initial Content Advisory Committee (CAC) was established and we will continue to grow this model of public engagement.

We are in the process of a 'story-gathering' exercise across the country, and by February 2010, we will have visited 17 different cities, at least once in each province and territory. We are working with Toronto-based LORD Cultural Resources, the world's largest cultural professional practice, to undertake this unprecedented initiative.

In keeping with a museum based on multiple perspectives, we are seeking to tell all sides of a story, from the view point of the human rights and community organizations, to those who were involved and affected by human rights triumphs or conflicts to those who may be seen as perpetrators.

During these public engagement sessions, we have heard from people at vastly opposite ends of the ideological spectrums. Our team has been struck by the openness, generosity and frankness of the people who have shared their stories with us.

We have heard a wide range of human rights issues and if you allow me, I will list a few of the themes to provide you with a better appreciation of the breadth of content we have begun to research: Language, Migration, Immigration, Gender, Race, Religion, Labour, Sexual Orientation, Disability, Health, Economy, Food, Water, Children, Education, Environment, Poverty, Age, and Aboriginal. This is by no means a complete list; I am open to hearing your suggestions if there are areas that we might have overlooked.

We are cognizant that this new national museum will still be here 10 generations from now and that we must not treat it as a static institution but rather one that will continue to evolve.

Canadians have also told us that we cannot explore rights without also considering our responsibilities. This is why our role in providing visitors with the sense of personal responsibility, encouraging active citizenship, and calling visitors to action in the area of human rights is key.

I know some are concerned that the stories in our idea museum will be negative, depressing or grim. While we will explore periods in history marked by persecution, mass extermination, and discrimination, we hope to demonstrate the collective and individual triumphs that have helped Canada and the world to overcome these tragedies, and inspire action today. 

As Dr. Henry Bishop reminded our team when they visited the Black Cultural Centre for Nova Scotia: "This is not the Canadian Museum of Human Wrongs, it is the Canadian Museum for Human Rights". What an important reminder and challenge.

We have also set up a web-based "Share your story" campaign where people from all walks of life are invited to contribute their story. Not only for those who are unable to participate in our sessions, but also for those who have stories that can be hard to share in a face to face meeting or at a roundtable with strangers.

I invite you to share with CMHR staff ideas, perspectives, and stories that you might be aware of and indeed Help us Write the Story for the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

ECONOMIC BENEFITS

In addition to the incredible opportunities for human rights scholarship and learning, the fantastic profile for our city at the 'gateway to the west' and the exciting legacy for all Canadians, I would like to speak to the tremendous economic benefits of such a project.

Over the course of the next three years, 140–180 full and part-time jobs will be created at the museum, offering challenging opportunities to local graduates and highly skilled professionals. It also provides us with an opportunity to recruit, educated, skilled, and passionate people to Winnipeg.

The tax revenue on construction of the $310 M building (this includes the contents) means over $30 M in federal tax revenue, $24 M for the province and over $7 M for Winnipeg.

Once the museum is up and running, Canada will provide ~$22 M annually for operations. This investment will generate millions annually for all three levels of government but it is also important to consider what these dollars will leverage in the way of additional potential investment from the private sector for sponsorships, and donations to the museum.

The Museum expects to attract youth, educators, scholars, ethno-cultural groups, recent immigrants, international visitors, Canadians from other parts of the country and of course, local residents. Conservative estimates indicate the Museum will attract approximately 250,000 visitors annually to Winnipeg which is estimated by Manitoba Bureau of Statistics to generate annual visitor expenditures of $25.7 million which are a direct boon to the economy and result in still further tax benefits to government.

And these numbers represent what we know so far– given that a project of this nature acts as a catalyst for rejuvenation — the creation of new jobs, new hotels, restaurants and attractions – the economic stimulus generated both locally and nationally will continue long after the doors are open. The on-going economic benefits of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights are a work in progress and let me say that we believe the sky is truly the limit.

Closing Remarks

CMHR is going to be a museum unlike any other institution in this country. It will be an emblem of Canada's commitment to human rights, education and a proud legacy for all. 

One person can make a difference, and slowly, from Izzy, to Gail, with the commitment of three consecutive Prime Ministers, the Parliament of Canada, the Friends staff, and now to my team at the Museum, we are rallying individuals whose passion motivates them to realize this dream, and whose collective strength has the ability to change the future.

Let me thank you for allowing us to meet with you today and to bring you up to speed on what I believe is Canada's most exciting project. This project would not be a reality today without your support. This Museum is a gift you have given to all Canadians for generations to come.

I would like to leave you with a brief video from our story-gathering process — from the students of Joamie School in Iqaluit, Nunavut. These kids capture and express the hopes and aspirations that we have a shared responsibility to realize; it is these young faces that provide the CMHR team with the motivation and inspiration to take on the monumental task of building Canada's newest national museum. (video — 5 minutes)

Merci de m'avoir accordé votre attention.

November 28, 2009

Prepared by Etoile Stewart with comments by Angela Cassie