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The Museum Called Canada: 25 Rooms of Wonder

by Charlotte Gray

Photographic reproductions are common and precise enough these days to provoke disappointment when one finally stands amidst a jostling throng of tourists viewing the real Mona Lisa through several centimetres of bulletproof glass. The upside of this technology is that projects such as The Museum Called Canada are possible.

The book is the brainchild of Sara Angel and her colleagues at Otherwise Editions and consists of 25 chapters, each designed to simulate a room of artifacts in a museum. Ottawa biographer and historian Charlotte Gray then wrote brief, insightful essays on selected items from each room, illuminating various aspects of Canadian culture and history. The result is what the publishers call a “virtual museum for the twenty-first century.”

The rooms are in rough chronological order but are based more around concepts than time periods. There is a Salon de la Nouvelle France, a Space and Time Arcade, and a Global Village Square. The rooms contain the expected – the famous photograph of the last spike being driven and Isaac Brock’s coat – and the unexpected – a mailbag that an anonymous prisoner decorated with the FLQ logo in 1970 and a wall in England partially built from the rock collected by Frobisher in 1578.

The illustrations and photographs are wonderful, evoking a startling wealth of places and objects that could never grace a real museum. Even their juxtaposition is thoughtful. For example, the cultural collision between the First Nations and European influences is represented by a traditional Haida totem pole laid across the page from a Tsimshian-carved baptismal font in the form of an angel.

The Museum Called Canada is a magnificent undertaking splendidly executed. Canadians can now have their own national museum on their coffee table.