Museum of Civilization: Water and Stone



of an Exhibit

by Wendy Pollock

Published on July 29, 2007 , Modified on July 29, 2007

  • Description:

    The spectacular view down into the Grand Hall with its totem poles and house fronts is the iconic experience at Ottawa’s Museum of Civilization/Musee des Civilisations. What the photographs don’t convey is how it feels to come upon the hall as you move from the entrance toward a long escalator, as if approaching the edge of a cliff. Below, floor-to-ceiling windows frame a view over the river beyond, toward Parliament Hill. On this cool, rainy July afternoon, what stood out as I continued into and outside of the museum were stone and water, and the ways the museum frames and shapes perceptions. Beyond the Grand Hall’s glass wall, it’s possible to walk into a shadowy grotto behind a waterfall and see the river in a new light. The sound of running water masks the loud hum of tires over the nearby Pont Alexandra and creates a solitary space within the vast museum complex. Above, a stream of photographers take up positions next to the pool where the waterfall begins and frame their own views of river and hill.

    On the walk back downtown along the river and across the Pont du Portage, I see stone and water in a new light, and recall a talk Philip and Phylis Morrison once gave at a meeting for people starting new science centers. An exhibit, they said, makes the familiar strange—and the strange, familiar. Sometimes, framing a familiar sight—the river nearby, a rockface we’ve driven by many times—can makes us stop and look, and maybe see it in a new light. And for a visitor new to the area, the framing can focus attention and suggest that it’s worth taking time to linger and look.

Latest Comments (2)


by Kathleen Mclean - August 02, 2007

great review, Wendy. I love the ending puddle. poetry. K


by Jennifer Martin - January 21, 2008

Thank you Wendy, just the perspective I needed today, and a view that I will be sharing with others as we look for these opportunities.
The hall in question is certainly a magnificent place.

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