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Inside look: Human rights museum unveils 6 brand new galleries

11/12/2014 02:18 EST | Updated 01/12/2015 05:59 EST
All of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights 11 galleries are now open to the public – revealing about 70 per cent more content for visitors.

The six remaining galleries opened Tuesday, coinciding with Remembrance Day, and the final touches and installations have been completed on the other five galleries.

A number of interactive exhibits that let you do everything from control exhibits with the point of a finger to others that sense your presence and invite you to participate were revealed.

Temporary exhibits were replaced with full installations – including the world’s largest Metis beaded artwork.

The largest exhibit, Canadian Journeys, opened for the first time on Tuesday with 18 distinct exhibit alcoves each dedicated to a specific Canadian human rights events.

“It was a very complex gallery which is why it was the last to be completed,” said CMHR’s Maureen Fitzhenry.

There’s also a theatre and an interactive floor exhibit that produces separate light bubbles that join together when multiple people stand in the space.

“It’s designed so we can talk about inclusion and cooperation,” explained Fitzhenry. “We each have our own light and if we come together our lights merge.”

Nearby, digital insight stations give personal stories about each event – ranging from Japanese internment to the residential school system to women’s rights.

Three of the exhibits look specifically at genocides, with a specific exhibit devoted to the Holocaust called Examining the Holocaust.

“We’re not memorializing or commemorating the victims, instead we’re looking at dissecting the Nazi techniques of abuses of state power [and others,]” said Fitzhenry. Inside is a theatre and several interactive stations that sit next to actual artifacts.

Nearby, two new exhibits accompany it: Breaking the Silence and Turning Points for Humanity.

Inside Turning Points for Humanity you can stand on a specific spot and point your finger to call up details of a particular human rights struggle – told to you directly by a person on video in multiple languages.

In Breaking the Silence, a giant, interactive table sits in the centre of the exhibit, with points that expand with information when you touch them.

“It emphasizes the importance of speaking out,” said Fitzhenry. “The table contains 19 examples of genocide and mass atrocity from all around the world including Indian residential schools in Canada.”

Classifying residential schools as a genocide was a controversial topic last year, but Fitzhenry hopes people will visit the museum now that it’s fully open before they make a decision about the museum.

“We’ve deliberately positioned residential schools in with other mass atrocities and genocides because we really want people to discuss and explore the important question of whether or not Indian residential schools should be considered a genocide,” said Fitzhenry, adding the museum is focused on human rights itself as a goal and an aspiration. “We’re not memorializing or commemorating here.”

The museum’s Protecting Rights in Canada exhibit was also unveiled Tuesday with a series of interactive stations where visitors watch news clips and read about divisive topics like corporal punishment.

They’re then asked to “vote” for which side they think is correct, and after everyone at the station is finished voting, their results are revealed to everyone in the room – alongside a running tally of all of the people who have voted at the exhibit before them.

Finally, the new exhibit Action Counts is geared towards a younger audience with an interactive game you control with a wave of the hand that shows how you can take action in a variety of settings. It's a sort of Sims meets WarCraft interface that's focused on human rights. 

Since late September, the museum has seen about 80,000 visitors and built up a membership of about 1,500 people – on Tuesday alone they saw 700 people come within the span of a few hours.

Visitor comes for bears, stays for museum

Debbie Clark visited the museum Wednesday morning from Cincinnati. The retiree came to Manitoba for the polar bears, but stayed for the museum.

“I found out about a polar bear tour up to Churchill and I wanted to see the polar bears in their natural habitat before it disappeared,” said Clark. “We finished with that one, and we stayed an extra day to see part of Winnipeg and this was the first thing we wanted to see.”

Clark said she was immediately impressed.

“The whole concept – everything about it. We need more of learning about each other and getting along and valuing the differences,” said Clark, who admitted she was still warming up after being in Churchill.

Museum officials plan to hold hundreds of events including weddings at the museum over the next few months, as well as invite about 7,500 kids to see the museum in January, when their school programs begin.

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