A room devoted to the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike will be excluded from the renovated Canadian Museum of History , but officials promise the labour movement will still have a home in its halls.
According to a document obtained by the Star in response to an access to information request, the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Que., saw there were few risks surrounding the decision to shut down the exhibit.
“Changes can be made to the module with few political or institutional risks,” reads the summary of a draft renovation risk assessment, revised Aug. 22, 2014.
“Some comments by academics cite the closure as evidence of the museum’s lack of interest in working class history . . . . The removal of this module represents minimal risk to the museum, though it will entail communications challenges to the academic community,” says the document.
The exhibit, which opened in 1999, was modelled after a meeting room in the Labour Temple on James St. in Winnipeg, where union members met to debate, organize and vote in the months leading up to, and during, the massive strike.
It was included in a recreated prairie-town streetscape — also featuring a print shop, a Chinese hand laundry and a reassembled Ukrainian Catholic church — in the main permanent exhibition space at the museum that has since been dismantled to make way for the new Canadian History Hall, which is scheduled to open July 1, 2017.
The Canadian Museum of History has come under public scrutiny in the past couple of years, following a controversial change in name — it was formerly known as the Canadian Museum of Civilization — and mandate that had critics accusing the Conservative government of using the Crown Corporation to rewrite history in its image.
The museum is clearly sensitive to suggestions of political interference and rejected any notion that the disappearance of the Labour Temple is connected to how the Conservatives feel about organized labour.
The Canadian Labour Congress, which has not yet been consulted about the changes, expressed concern and called on the museum to include the history of organized labour in its future plans.
“What is critical for the curators of the museum to recognize is this is an important aspect of Canada and the development of Canada,” Hassan Yussuf, president of the Congress, said by telephone Thursday.
“If they didn’t adequately design the room to allow traffic to appreciate the contribution of workers in this country, then this is an opportunity to fix that — not get rid of it, by the way. Quite the opposite,” said Yussuf, who added the Canadian Labour Congress had not been consulted on any of the changes.
New Democrat MP Pat Martin (Winnipeg Centre) was disappointed to learn the room no longer exists.
“The old James St. Labour Temple was torn down in the (1960s) to make room for a new city hall so this is the last and only tribute to the historic role it played in the history of Canadian working people and the quality of life we enjoy today,” said Martin.
Martin said the exhibit was created using a photograph that belonged to the Manitoba Carpenter’s Union, where he was a business manager at the time, so he feels connected to it personally.
“Although we have not completed the selection of content yet, we know that the history of the labour movement in Canada and the Winnipeg General Strike will be highlighted in the new exhibition,” Schryer wrote in an email Friday, adding the virtual version of the exhibit will remain on the museum website.
Museum of History to exclude Winnipeg General Strike exhibit | Toronto Star