What we heard: 2022-2023 consultations on the renewal of the Canadian Museum Policy

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The first national museum policy was developed in 1972 to strengthen the role of museums and to provide direction as to where the government should focus its program funding. The policy intended to decentralize and democratize the museum sector. The policy was last updated in 1990 and introduced new goals and directions for the heritage sector. Changes included focusing on the preservation of artifacts and collections, providing Canadians with access to heritage and enhancing excellence in museum activities.

At the National Culture Summit: The Future of Arts, Culture and Heritage in Canada in May 2022, the Honourable Pablo Rodriguez, Minister of Canadian Heritage, announced that Canadian Heritage would begin working on renewing the Canadian Museum Policy.

The renewal will take into account the information received following a consultation exercise running from October 2022 to June 2023. The consultations involved the general public, Indigenous partners, heritage sector stakeholders, advocacy organizations, provincial and territorial representatives, and federal institutions and organizations. A renewed Museum Policy will set out aspirations for Canada’s heritage institutions of the future and have an impact on how we protect and access our heritage.

Rationale to renew the Canadian Museum Policy

Since the 1990 policy there have been important societal shifts, including the need to advance reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples, addressing issues of equity, diversity and inclusion, and the ongoing digital transformation of the heritage sector. The 1990 policy also does not address the different needs of small, medium and large institutions and the different roles each may fulfil within their communities.

In 2018, the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage reported that current Canadian Heritage programs are insufficient to meet sector needs. In Moving Forward—Towards a Stronger Canadian Museum Sector (PDF format), the Standing Committee observed that the sector lacked financial stability, capacity to address and engage in reconciliation, diversity and inclusion, and digital transformation, and the ability to care for growing museum collections and make them accessible to Canadians.

In June 2022, the Standing Committee reinforced its call upon Canadian Heritage to renew the national museum policy. Its report, Arts, Culture, Heritage, and Sport Sector Recovery From The Impact Of Covid-19 (PDF format), underscored the need to support both pandemic recovery and the long-term sustainability of the heritage sector.

The renewal presents an opportunity to align the new museum policy with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) to advance reconciliation. It can also provide cover to modernize existing programs and services, and to explore potential new ones to meet the needs of the sector and Canadians.

What are heritage institutions?

For the purpose of the policy, heritage institutions are organizations that meet the following elements:

Heritage institutions can include museums, archives, art museums, Indigenous cultural centres, historic sites, and zoos and botanical gardens that hold historical collections.

Heritage institutions governed by the federal Museums Act are not subject to the policy, although Canada’s national museums interact with and have a leadership role in supporting the heritage sector.

Sector overview

There are approximately 2,700 not-for-profit museums and other heritage institutions across Canada. According to the Government of Canada Survey of Heritage Institutions (GCSHI): 2021 report, heritage institutions received 16.9 million physical visits in 2020, a decrease of nearly 79% from pre-pandemic levels, and 161 million online visits overall. There were approximately 815,000 student visits to heritage institutions and approximately 530,900 research requests in 2020. Temporary closures due to public health measures during the pandemic meant lower visitation numbers, revenues, and programming activities during 2020.

Figure 1. Distribution of heritage institutions in Canada
Figure 1. Distribution of heritage institutions in Canada – text version
Province/territory Distribution of heritage institutions
Yukon 1.2%
Northwest Territories 0.7%
British Columbia 13.1%
Alberta 10.4%
Saskatchewan 8.8%
Nunavut 0.4%
Manitoba 7.2%
Ontario 25.9%
Quebec 14.5%
New Brunswick 3.9%
Newfoundland and Labrador 5.2%
Prince Edward Island 1.5%
Nova Scotia 7.1%

Figure 1 displays the distribution of heritage institutions per province and territories in Canada. Ontario, Quebec, and British Columbia have a high number of heritage institutions, while Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut present the lowest percentage of heritage institutions per province and territory. About 40% of all heritage institutions are in rural areas (communities with a population of less than 10,000). Source: GCSHI: 2021.

According to the 2021 GCSHI report, the Canadian heritage sector is composed of:

Figure 2. Number of heritage institutions by operating revenue
Figure 2. Number of heritage institutions by operating revenue – text version
Operating revenue Number of heritage institutions
Under $40K 974
$40K-$99K 551
$100K-$499K 689
$500K-$999K 220
Over $1M 246

Figure 2 presents the number of heritage institutions by operating revenue as per GCSHI 2021 data. The graph shows that 974 heritage institutions have an operating revenue of $40,000 or less, and 57% of all heritage institutions have an annual revenue of less than $100,000. Less than 10% of the institutions have an operational budget of $1 million and over. The majority of these institutions do not receive funding from the federal government.

Pre-COVID, heritage institutions generated over $2.6 billion in annual revenues and provided more than 37,200 Canadian jobs. Heritage institutions received assistance from over 114,000 volunteers who contributed approximately 6 million hours each year, the equivalent of 2,885 full-time positions.


At a glance

The Department of Canadian Heritage embarked on a series of national consultations and discussions to gather the views of the Canadian public, Indigenous partners – modern treaty holders, Indigenous heritage organizations, leaders, experts and national Indigenous organizations, heritage sector stakeholders – museums, archives, art galleries, historic sites, zoos, botanical gardens, and provincial and territorial partners.

Consultations took place between October 2022 and June 2023, reaching out to all provinces and territories. Participation was encouraged through multiple streams, including online surveys, virtual roundtables, direct outreach to target groups, and a general email address to receive written submissions. Input received from participants was generally consistent and focused on five key themes.

Key themes

The five key themes discussed throughout the consultation engagements were:

Other important themes identified prior to, and during, the consultation engagements include digital transformation, environmental sustainability, heritage institutions’ colonial legacy and decolonization. All these themes are interwoven and cut across the five key themes. During the consultation process, stakeholders generally agreed that these themes are critical elements of a renewed museum policy.

Summary of participants

The Department received over 3,000 inputs from participants across Canada throughout the consultation process. The table below presents a breakdown of participants by type of engagement, period of consultations and overall number of participants per engagement.

Table 1. Summary of participants per consultation engagement
Who What When Results
Canadians Open online survey March to April 2023 2,072 responses
Canadians and Heritage Stakeholders Written submissions January to June 2023 34 submissions
Indigenous heritage organizations and experts Sharing circles and one-on-one interviews, led by Indigenous consulting firm February to June 2023 39 participants (including 1 National Indigenous Organization)
Modern Treaty Holders Written consultation with all modern treaty holders January to May 2023 6 responses from First Nations and Inuit governments (representing 16 out of 25 modern treaty holders)
Heritage Stakeholders Online survey sent to 2,540 heritage institutions October to November 2022 792 responses (31% response rate)
Heritage Stakeholders 8 virtual roundtable sessions February to May 2023 93 participants
Heritage Stakeholders 8 one-on-one sessions and 6 written submissions June 2023 14 participants
Provinces/Territories Engagement through FPTCH table November 2022 (with updates in February, April 2023) Views shared by provinces/territories

Summary of consultations

Public consultation survey

The purpose of the online public survey was to capture Canadians’ views and expectations on current and emerging priorities of the heritage sector, which includes museums, art museums, Indigenous cultural centres, archives, historic sites, science centres, zoos, and botanical gardens. Seventy-six percent of the respondents were citizens and 24% were responding on behalf of a Canadian organization.

“Heritage institutions are vital to Canada, this includes national, provincial and local institutions. Even seemingly specialized institutions, pertaining to one ethnic group, occupation or activity are important to adding to our wealth of knowledge and understanding about each other as Canadians.”

Canadian Museum Policy: Public Consultation Survey, 2023

Among the 26 questions included in the survey, participants were asked to rate the importance governments in Canada should place on Canadian heritage institutions. As presented in Figure 3 below, 85% of all respondents answered that governments should place “a great deal of importance” on heritage institutions, while 13% said that governments should place “moderate importance”. The percentage of participants who answered “A great deal of importance” was higher for participant organizations (91%) than for private citizens (83%).

Figure 3. The importance governments should place on heritage institutions
Figure 3. The importance governments should place on heritage institutions – text version
Importance Percentage of respondents
A great deal of importance 85%
Moderate importance 13%
Not much importance 1%
No importance at all 0.5%
Don’t know 0.2%

The breakdown of private citizens who selected “A great deal of importance” was as follows:

Figure 4. Top three priorities for heritage institutions
Figure 4. Top three priorities for heritage institutions – text version
  • Make efforts to communicate stories from different perspectives, including involving Indigenous and equity deserving communities: 74%
  • Increase opportunities for community participation (in programming, in exhibition planning, etc.): 55%
  • Allow more opportunities for free of charge entrance: 42%

Participants had the opportunity to select the top three priorities for heritage institutions in Canada. As presented in Figure 4, 74% of respondents identified “Make efforts to communicate stories from different perspectives, including involving Indigenous and equity deserving communities” as their top priority. The second and third priorities were “Increase opportunities for community participation” and “Allow more opportunities for free of charge entrance”.

“Heritage institutions play a very influential role in affecting the culture and discourse of people across Canada and should therefore reflect the history and diversity of all people who live on this land. Being exposed to diverse ways of knowing and ways of living, as well as being open about both the collaborative and destructive aspects of our history, is huge when it comes to starting conversations and breaking down barriers.”

Canadian Museum Policy: Public Consultation Survey, 2023
Figure 5. Top three suggestions on Government of Canada support to heritage institutions
Figure 5. Top three suggestions on Government of Canada support to heritage institutions – text version
  • Provide direct financial support: 76%
  • Provide funding to protect and maintain heritage buildings and spaces: 52%
  • Provide employment opportunities for students and young Canadians to work in the section: 34%

Participants were asked to select the top three suggestions on federal government support to heritage institutions. As indicated in Figure 5, 76% of the respondents indicated “Provide direct financial support” as their top suggestion, followed by “Provide funding to protect and maintain heritage buildings and spaces” (52%), and “Provide employment opportunities for students and young Canadians to work in the sector” (34%).

According to the survey results, 86% of the respondents visited a heritage institution website or accessed digital content provided by an institution in the past 12 months. Eighty-one percent indicated accessing heritage institutions’ website to prepare for a physical visit, 58% to conduct research and 54% to access a virtual exhibit.

“Heritage institutions are a form of public education and a pillar of community support. They are meant to be an inclusive and accessible space for all wanting to learn, and have fun doing it. Heritage institutions are the backbone of arts and culture, and are research repositories rather than memory repositories now.”

Canadian Museum Policy: Public Consultation Survey, 2023

The top three motivations for attending heritage institutions in-person were: “Interest in specific themes” (81.6%), followed by “Learning something new” (75%) and “Supporting museums and other heritage institutions” (69%). Demographically, the motivation for “Supporting museums and other heritage institutions” was stronger for those who were 65+ (77%), non-racialized (72%), and women (71%) than the overall population (69%).

When it came to frequency of visits, 50% of respondents visited heritage institutions more than five times a year. Sixty-two percent of those who identified as 2SLGBTQ+ or gender non-binary have visited heritage institutions more than five times a year compared to the Canadian average of 58%. Canadians living in non-urban areas visited heritage institutions more often (53%) than Canadians living in urban areas (48%). Racialized Canadians were the least likely to visit a heritage institution five times a year (40%), while 3% of racialized Canadians never visit.

Participants rated “Educational space” as the most important function of heritage institutions in their community (79%) followed by “Tourist attraction” (52%) and “Memory repository” (47%). The second and third functions differed in order between private citizens and organization respondents: private citizens considered heritage institutions to be a “Memory repository” before “Tourist attraction” whereas heritage institutions saw themselves in reverse.

“Small museums need to be acknowledged. They are wonderful local connections to communities. The bigger museums are fine, but the smaller museums are, in my experience, true gems. These need support.”

Canadian Museum Policy: Public Consultation Survey, 2023

Finally, participants rated their level of agreement on different topics: 63% of the participants strongly agree that they feel welcomed when visiting a heritage institution; 64% strongly agree that heritage institutions are trusted sources of information; and 60% strongly agree that heritage institutions should do more to engage with Indigenous and equity deserving communities to ensure that stories are told from multiple perspectives. Respondents strongly agree (65%) that heritage institutions play an important role in bringing people together.

Modern treaty holders

Consultations with modern treaty holders indicate that heritage institutions are keepers of memory and hold the knowledge of ancestors.

“[We] see museums as a place to hold the knowledge of the ancestors and keep it for younger and future generations. Especially with the high rate at which we are losing Elders, these are important places for future generations to be able to learn their traditional ways and how their ancestors survived, providing them the tools they need to be successful and strong like two people. This is especially true for in-community museums.”

Modern treaty holder submission

According to participants, heritage institutions and the policy should help to:

Participants noted that funding is needed to support all their activities, in particular the hiring of permanent staff, training and capacity building, repatriation, digitization projects, infrastructure and operating costs.

“Government of Canada needs to acknowledge the significance of museums in society, including the role they play as keepers of memory and as interpreters of the multiple and collective identities of Canadians.”

Modern treaty holder submission

Indigenous engagement

The Department contracted Archipel Research & Consulting, an Indigenous-led firm, to lead a series of engagements focused on hearing from Indigenous partners. The consultant's report highlighted the input received from First Nations, Inuit and Métis led heritage organizations and experts. The feedback received aligns with what was heard from modern treaty holders and went further:

“[When people think] we’ve checked a box on our list [by hiring an Indigenous staff] and we’re good to go, [they] are not really understanding that this person brings a whole community, a whole family into this, and that if they’re going to do this properly, be in relationship, it’s much more in-depth than just the one hire. It’s about looking at this intergenerationally and looking at some of the ways that we are repairing some of the atrocities of the past.”

Sharing Circle participant

More information about the Indigenous engagement is available at: “Towards the Renewal of Canada’s Museum Policy” Presentation by Archipel Research & Consulting, July 26 2023.

Stakeholder survey

The online stakeholder survey aimed to gather the views of Canadian heritage institutions on current and emerging priorities for the institutions and the sector. The survey received a total of 792 responses from small, medium, and large institutions, including archives, museums, art museums, cultural centres and historic sites.

Stakeholders responded that the overall top priorities for heritage sector over the next 5-10 years are financial sustainability, infrastructure and collections management. The top four key challenges identified by the respondents were: administrative burden to apply for funding, the deteriorating infrastructure, attracting visitors, and finding and retaining staff.

Further results from the stakeholder survey are available at Highlights of Museum Policy Stakeholder Survey.

Virtual roundtables – stakeholders

Eight virtual roundtables were held between February and May 2023, engaging over 100 participants from the heritage sector. Organized by regions and groups, the roundtables included the participation of heritage institutions, museums and archives associations, and academic and independent researchers. During the roundtables, stakeholders identified the following:

In addition, participants expressed strong support for existing programs and services, including the Young Canada Works in Heritage Organizations, the Canadian Conservation Institute (CCI) and the Canadian Heritage Information Network (CHIN).

“The museums of the future will become cultural spaces of convergence (knowledge, object, experience), of sharing and dialogues, lively and dynamic, attuned to the challenges of citizens. Open spaces and places of awareness, of study and reference. The educational role of museums will be most emphasized when the public searches for an understanding in a changing world.”

Virtual stakeholder roundtable participant (original remarks in French)

To empower heritage institutions to fulfill their roles, stakeholders indicated that a renewed policy should:

“We all have a great number of resources for the sector, but we don’t have the capacity to put out those resources to a greater use.”

Virtual stakeholder roundtable participant

Stakeholders indicated that heritage institutions must remain relevant. Heritage institutions should be safe spaces for communities and professionals, promote diversity and inclusion, build meaningful relationships, support and advance reconciliation, break social isolation, be economic drivers, be sustainable, promote sustainability, and much more.

Written submissions

“If memory, heritage, and history are important in the eyes of Canadian society and of our governments, the funding must reflect this.”

Written submission (original remarks in French)

Canadians also had the opportunity to submit written feedback on the policy renewal. Submissions were received in both official languages and covered a range of topics including current issues faced by the sector and ideas for the future. Results from the written include:

  • Core funding is key
    • There is a consensus among stakeholders asking for sustained, multi-year core funding with simplified processes and eligibility.
    • Core funding makes other potential objectives possible: diversity and inclusion, collections management, capacity building, relationship building and reconciliation.
    • Unstable funding undermines institutional memory and exacerbates staffing issues. There is an inconsistency between the amount of specialized training required to work in the sector and lack of a living wage.
    • Lack of funding is perceived as a message that the work of the sector is unimportant.

“Decolonization is not a project, but a long-term and ongoing commitment that requires a long-term and ongoing level of support.”

Written submission
  • Community-first orientation
    • The relationship between the institution and the community should guide decision-making, ensuring that the institution is relevant and sustainable. Institutions should invite the community to be active participants.
  • Indigenous relationships, reconciliation, repatriation
    • Reconciliation work, repatriation, and alignment with UNDRIP are seen as priorities.
    • Indigenous peoples should be in control of interpretation and representation of their cultures and be part of governance structures.
    • The sector needs investment in provenance research, outreach, digitization, and training to support UNDRIP.

“Preservation through digitization is not only critical to remain relevant and sustainable but is critically important in saving collections that are at risk.”

Written submission
  • Sector diversity: type and size
    • Different types of institutions have different needs – archives in particular have different revenue models, demands, and responsibilities.
    • The language of the policy should reflect the diversity of heritage organizations.
    • Small heritage institutions are especially in need of targeted support.
  • Legislative concerns
    • Stakeholders are calling for repatriation legislation, CCPERB reform, and adjustments to the CPEIA.
  • CCI and CHIN
    • CCI and CHIN are perceived positively, and many would like to see them supported to do more.

Provinces and Territories

Through Federal-Provincial-Territorial Culture and Heritage table meetings, the Department engaged with representatives from the provincial and territorial governments on their views of the heritage sector. During the meetings, it was identified that:

Moving forward

The Department of Canadian Heritage thanks all participants for their contributions.

The feedback received and summarized in this report reflects what was communicated by the heritage sector through multiple engagement opportunities over several months. Through these engagements, participants reinforced the call for a new policy that better addresses the evolving needs of the heritage sector.

Canadians look to heritage institutions as places where diverse stories and perspectives can be heard and understood. As such, they expect governments to place significant importance on supporting these institutions. Several policy considerations have emerged from the consultations, which, through the following key areas, can help inform a new national museum policy.

The Department is committed to working on a policy that takes into consideration these key findings. In doing so, the Department of Canadian Heritage acknowledges the critical role heritage institutions play in fostering dialogue, connecting people and promoting our heritage from coast to coast to coast.


Appendix 1: Breakdown of participants

The breakdown of participants offers an overview of who participated in the consultation process. To ensure an inclusive process, the report assessed a range of factors such as the participation of large, medium and small institutions, urban and rural, as well as the participation of Indigenous partners, equity-deserving groups and official language minority communities.

Public Survey

The online public survey received 2,072 responses, of which 1,583 (76%) were from private citizens. The breakdown of the survey respondents was as follows:

Stakeholder Survey

The online stakeholder survey was sent to 2,540 heritage institutions across Canada with a 31% response rate that included organizations from all regions of Canada. The breakdown of the 792 responding organizations indicated that:

Heritage stakeholder roundtables

Over one hundred stakeholders from all provinces and territories were invited to participate in the virtual roundtables, including post-roundtable engagement opportunities. The breakdown of participants for the virtual consultations shows that 28% of all participants were from equity-deserving and diverse communities, 10% were from other racialized communities, 10% of participants identified as First Nations, Inuit, and Métis, and 5% were from religions groups. Twenty-six representatives from various provincial and territorial museums associations, archival associations, and other umbrella organizations also participated in the roundtables.

Indigenous partners

During the engagement with Indigenous partners, a total of 39 participants and one national Indigenous organization participated in consultant-led Sharing Circles and interviews. Six responses from First Nations and Inuit governments, representing 16 out of 25 modern treaty holders, were received.

Indigenous organizations also participated through other consultation streams for heritage stakeholders and the public:

Appendix 2: List of virtual roundtables participants

Archives associations and umbrella organizations

Museums associations and umbrella organizations

Atlantic Provinces



Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Northwest Territories

Alberta, British Columbia and Yukon

Academic and independent researchers, and other heritage professionals

© His Majesty the King in Right of Canada, 2023
Catalogue No. CH44-183/2023E-PDF
ISSN: 978-0-660-68754-4

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