A PLACE FOR REMEMBERING - THE CANADIAN WAR MUSEUM
"In Flanders fields the poppies blow between the crosses, row on row."
There are special moments all over Canada every year at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. It is a day of national commemoration for the more than 100,000 Canadians who have died in military service. One exceptional place to visit on this important day is The Canadian War Museum, located near downtown Ottawa. With its prize-winning and richly symbolic architecture, this was the city's most visited museum last year.
Designed by architect Raymond Moriyama, every inch of the museum building is purposefully conceived, from the poppies on the grass roof in the spring to the "Morse code" windows that spell out "lest we forget" in both French and English. On Remembrance Day, the sun shines through the single window in Memorial Hall to illuminate, at exactly 11 am, the smooth headstone of the Unknown Soldier.
The museum does not glorify war, and though it hints at the horror, it does not overwhelm you with the tragedy. It is a museum that will interest the whole family, where, despite the dramatic context, the exhibits seem to tell the story in manageable pieces. I roam through the galleries in the bunker-like building. Exhibits start with our First Nations history and our new nation's early struggles, and extend through the World Wars, the Cold War and more recent conflicts. Canada's rich military history is showcased through artefacts, personal stories, artwork, photos and interactive presentations.
If you get lost, that's the architecture again; the galleries are designed to be a bit disorientating. The walls are crooked and sounds from one room carry over to the next. I stand chillingly close to Hitler's bullet-proof Mercedes-Benz limo. Above, hanging from the rafters, are the Halifax bombers, with their nose art that conveys the bravado of the pilots. The sounds you hear in the War Museum are equally evocative, sounds of battle echoing through the different exhibits. The stories inspire and touch me.
The LeBreton Gallery houses an impressive collection of war machinery, including a German midget submarine, tanks, support vehicles and a Voodoo Interceptor fighter jet. Each time I have visited this remarkable museum, the only thing I've found lacking is time. It is not a place that one tends to rush through, so a couple of hours wandering seem to disappear far too fast. The building provides a spectacular setting for exhibitions, public programs and other events that illustrate the way in which human conflicts, in Canada and around the globe, have changed the face of the world.
This year the war museum celebrated its 10th Anniversary. "Over the past 10 years, we've brought stories of courage, sacrifice and sorrow to Canadians, and they have responded with unwavering support," said Mark O'Neill, president and CEO of the museum.
Here on Remembrance Day, when admission is free, a medley of choirs performs music juxtaposed with gun fire. There are also hands-on activities for the younger ones, and importantly, veterans are present to put a human face to the history.
Special exhibits now include the "Home Front," a new permanent exhibit which uses artefacts and new media to engage visitors in a discussion of the First World War's impact on our country. Just opened, and running until March, is "A Time to Serve – Canadian Women and Total War," a look at the enormous contributions made by women to the Canadian war efforts. In May 2016, "Air War" will open, exploring Canada's contributions to new technologies and strategies such as aerial observation, artillery spotting, ground support and the dogfights that contributed significantly to the out-come of both world wars.
There are a few other landmarks in our capital that take prominence during Remembrance Day activities. On your visit, don't miss the National War Memorial, where Corporal Nathan Cirillo lost his life last October 2014, in a tragic shooting that shocked the nation, and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the resting site of an unidentified Canadian soldier, who had been buried in a cemetery in France during the First World War.
There are also two new sites introduced this year in Ottawa. In late summer 2015, a new monument opened near the Supreme Court of Canada entitled "Memorial to the Victims of Communism – Canada, a Land of Refuge," and in late fall 2015, the new National Holocaust Monument will be unveiled on a site near the Canadian War Museum.
Lest We Forget – Remembrance Day
IF YOU GO:
Find out What's Up in Ottawa at www.ottawatourism.ca
The Canadian War Museum www.warmuseum.ca
PHOTOS: (as attributed below)
1. Canadian War Museum (Courtesy Canadian War Museum, Harry Foster)
2. Illuminated headstone of the Unknown Soldier (courtesy Canadian War Museum, Marie-Louise Deruaz)
3. Hitler's bullet-proof Mercedes-Benz limo (Jamie Ross)
4. Second World War veteran Jerry Bowen speaking to a visitor. (Photo courtesy Canadian War Museum, Mark Holleron)
5. Remembrance Day 2010 (courtesy Canadian War Museum, Steven Darby)
6. Hands On – RCMP Graduate Alex Ross trying on a helmet from the Boer War (Jamie Ross)Travel Writers' Tales is an independent travel article syndicate that offers professionally written travel articles to newspaper editors and publishers. To check out more, visit www.TravelWritersTales.com
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