POLITICS
04/13/2012 04:00 EDT | Updated 06/12/2012 05:12 EDT

New museum exhibit in Quebec to feature mementoes Chretien received as PM

SHAWINIGAN, Que. - Jean Chretien has finally figured out what to do with his decorative dagger from Yemen, incense burner from South Korea and that baseball bat scrawled with George W. Bush's autograph.

He's putting them in a museum.

Chretien has handed these mementoes over to an exhibit that will showcase gifts he collected from heads of states, diplomats and other officials during his time as prime minister.

He unveiled a project Friday to put dozens of these artifacts on display in his Quebec hometown of Shawinigan, calling it a vivid illustration of his political career.

Chretien, who served as prime minister from 1993 to 2003, also joked that it's better to share the souvenirs than sell them on eBay.

"I preferred to give them to the people who voted for me over 40 years," he told a news conference in Shawinigan, around 160 kilometres northeast of Montreal.

"The people will see what Canada was (like) when I was there (as prime minister)."

Chretien said the gifts are definitely his to keep because there are no rules saying they belong to the state, but he decided to display some of them for the public.

The medley of items includes a detailed ship model from former Philippine president Fidel Valdez Ramos, a pot from former South African president Nelson Mandela and the presidential baseball bat.

Chretien recalled how he teased Bush after the Texas Rangers signed Alex Rodriguez to a 10-year, $250-million contract just to play baseball.

He said he told Bush, a noted baseball fanatic, that he would have to serve as U.S. president for 400 years to make that kind of money.

"I was the only person of all the G8 (leaders) who could talk baseball with him... So, remembering that he gave me the baseball bat," Chretien said proudly as he led journalists on a tour of the exhibit, which is still under construction.

He called the exhibition, which is run by La Cite de l'energie museum, the first of its kind in Canada and hopes it will lure people to his hometown.

"If it can be useful, than all the better," he said of the lot.

The exhibit doesn't, however, include gifts that many Canadians associate with Chretien: the golf balls that stole the show one day at the Gomery sponsorship inquiry in 2005.

One of the enduring memories of the lengthy probe was when Chretien, seeking to defend his reputation, whipped out customized golf balls given to him by U.S. presidents and other leaders.

Chretien says he doesn't plan to display them at the exhibit because he wants to keep them for himself.

"No, I never thought about it," he replied when asked if they would be included at the museum.

"Do you think it would be a good idea?"

He noted that his Gomery testimony came after he had left office. He then stated: "No, they belong to me."

Chretien also said the stone bird sculpture he famously gripped while a knife-carrying intruder was inside 24 Sussex in 1995 is not part of the exhibit — because it was not a gift.

He said he was prepared to smack the man with the heavy Inuit carving, which is part of his own collection.

The 78-year-old said he and his wife, Aline, plan to keep a dozen "special" souvenirs at home, though he didn't say which items are their favourites.

The exhibit is called ''Prime Minister Jean Chretien's Museum: Canada's Place in the World,'' but, initially, he didn't want his name on the title.

"I feel in good health and to have a museum in my name, I feel like an old man," he said.

"So I was not very keen on that, but they said to me that (my) name would be very useful because people will relate to a period of time."

The general manager of La Cite de l'energie said he persuaded Chretien to join the project by telling him the gifts would educate people about Canada's position in the world.

Robert Trudel, one of Chretien's longtime friends, said the museum also aims to create a research centre with the help of universities.

"You'll see that Canada plays a primary role in the world," Trudel said.

The exhibit, which is housed inside an old Alcan aluminum factory that used to employ Aline Chretien's father, will open to the public on June 16 and run until Sept. 30.

But Chretien hopes his collection will be displayed in the museum for many years.

Admission will be $11 for adults, $10 for seniors, $9.50 for students and those 13 and over, and $7.50 for those between six and 12. Children five and under will get in free.