Exhibition launch “Canada: Who Do We Think We Are?”

Speech

Speaking notes

Dr. Guy Berthiaume, Librarian and Archivist of Canada

Exhibition launch “Canada: Who Do We Think We Are?”

Ottawa, Ontario

June 5, 2017

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Good evening, and welcome.

I’d like to begin by acknowledging that we are gathered on traditional Algonquin land.

Thank you Richard, for agreeing to be our MC.

A special welcome to Sean Casey, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage, and to Andrew Campbell, the Senior Executive Director of the Federal Secretariat for Canada 150, and to all our distinguished guests.

The 150th anniversary of Confederation is a unique occasion for Canadians to get to know themselves.

We are at a significant point in our history.

The concept of two founding peoples that defined our history for years has been steadily evolving.

And now, the First Nations, the Métis Nation and the Inuit are finally acknowledged as essential to the Canadian identity.

Moreover, the arrival of thousands of new Canadians from all walks and conditions of life makes this an excellent time to review and redefine that identity—to stamp it clearly with the hallmarks of inclusion and diversity.

The 150th anniversary also provides us with an excellent opportunity to take stock of the role of memory institutions like libraries, archives and museums—the custodians of our distant past and our recent history.

The stories that illustrate where we come from and where we are going are found on our shelves, on our walls, on our screens, and in our display cases.

And as our birthday approaches, I can’t think of a better time to share our stories and demonstrate our value than right now.

* * *

Welcome to Canada: Who Do We Think We Are?

Tonight’s exhibition, developed by Library and Archives Canada in recognition of the 150th anniversary of Confederation, is full of surprising truths.

The idea is to make Canadians stop and ask themselves—what does it really mean to be a Canadian?

To get Canadians thinking about their identity, LAC has launched its largest exhibition in recent memory, and brought together some of its most fascinating and rarely-seen items.

The timing couldn’t be better.

395 Wellington Street, a building that so many people regard with great affection, is also celebrating a birthday.

It was on June 20, 1967, just in time for Canada’s centennial, that the National Library and Archives building was officially opened.

I invite you to listen to the opening ceremonies, which you can find on our website—the sense of pride is both palpable and powerful.

And I invite you to visit our pop-up exhibition about the building’s birthday in the Pellan Room on the second floor.

It’s well worth a look.

And now back to the business at hand.

I want to offer a special thanks to our curator, Madeleine Trudeau, and all the staff who contributed their time, their expertise and their ideas to this exceptional exhibition.

There were a number of challenges to overcome during the installation, and both Myriam Godin and Serge Tessier deserve special recognition for their work in making it happen.

It has truly been a labour of love. The work of restoring Canada’s first formal Coat of Arms, carved in wood around 1923, took over 400 hours alone.

For the many hours of conservation work devoted to making all these items look their best, I would also like to acknowledge our conservation team, Susannah Kendall, Doris St-Jacques, Manise Marston, Tania Passafiume, Mary Piper Hough, and Véronique Gendron.

And in collection management, Kristen Stanley and Jean-Michel Smith.

Thanks also to contracting, security, and communications.

I am absolutely delighted that we can put these original items on display here at 395 Wellington Street—because there is nothing like the power of an original.

***

Once you’ve had a chance to play a round of the Oh! Canada board game or watch a clip from the television series R.C.M.P, follow the snowshoe tracks to a “treasure room” of rare originals, on display in Room C.

These include:

  • LAC’s leather-bound copy of Samuel de Champlain’s Les Voyages du sieur, with its appended map
  • Catharine Parr Traill’s only surviving journal
  • and the paint brushes Paul Kane is said to have used during his western travels

·        —to name a few!

The exhibition does not confine itself to Canada’s first formal 150 years, but also looks back to earlier periods when figures like Champlain were considering the potential of the country.

Some images may provoke a smile, such as a 1944 image of the “typical” Canadian family.

In a darker vein, are representations of past attitudes toward immigration, for example, and the country’s First Nations peoples.

But what all of these artifacts confirm is the unique and enduring role of LAC as the official “memory” or “mirror” of our country.

Our collection paints a picture of Canada’s past, which is as complete as possible.

To make the point, the exhibition brings together records from the broad spectrum of our collecting areas: heraldry, music recordings, stamps, oil paintings, and census documents.

Books and published materials side by side with unpublished manuscripts.

And, of course, records of private citizens as well as those of the Government of Canada.

And all of it helps to remind viewers of LAC’s important role in preserving Canada’s national story.

Thank you.


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