In a week when Canadians are still reeling from the shock of the attacks and murders in Montreal and Ottawa, it almost seemed ironic but fitting, that I should visit the Canadian Museum for Human Rights during my visit to Winnipeg.
Still not officially declared open, I was fortunate enough to be in Winnipeg when limited tours were allowed to either see the galleries or to understand more about the architecture. It was the latter tour that I was able to take, and as someone who likes to use analogies, the symbolism of the structure was not wasted on me.
Standing tall in the middle of Winnipeg, you really can’t miss the building. As you enter the museum, you first notice the dark, earth tone walls which represent the roots of the museum and out of respect to indigenous people, there are several symbols to acknowledge their culture - a drum shape on the wall, a bronzed footprint and a circular theatre.
On the far wall, the word welcome is written in 36 languages, with animated screen shots of the different people writing the words, including someone in a wheelchair. Also on the ground floor is a piece of stone from Runnymede where the Magna Carta was signed and donated by Queen Elizabeth.
The symbolism carries on throughout the building, with the walls and ramps made out of alabaster which with its see-through properties, allowing light to shine through. Then you reach the Tower of Hope which is made completely out of glass, and was especially shipped in from Germany because it keeps the cold out and the warmth in, which given this is located in Winnipeg, is an important consideration.
In one gallery, a beautiful beaded structure hangs on the wall, with thousands of beads that were sewn on by hand by individuals, to represent the millions of people who share this earth.
The idea is that as you take in the different exhibits, you reach a point of understanding, and it becomes clear about what needs to happen in the world to achieve human rights. To further demonstrate the transparency that is needed in the world, all the offices in the building are open and can be viewed from above.
In the basement of the bulding, are large rocks that from a distance look like logs, with water ponds and plants. Here the idea is that you can rest after your tour and contemplate on all that you have seen.
We didn’t see the different exhibits, but were told it will focus on different infractions of human rights – such as the Holocaust, different genocides around the world, as well as the vision for a peaceful world and the actions Canadians are taking against bullying, for example as well as stories of Canadians who have worked to make a difference.
One person on our tour observed that the top of the Tower of Hope seemed unfinished, and the guide also pointed out that there are holes in different parts of the building, and that she explained is because the work of human rights is never done. We are a work in progress.
The Museum offers a journey from darkness to light. It will be officially opening on November 11, 2014. Let us hope that its message inspires us to take action and work together towards equal rights for all.