On the odd theory that national museums must be in national capitals


Tell it to the Marines.

And when in Krakow, enjoy the National Museum in a City That’s Not Poland’s Capital.


On the odd theory that national museums must be in national capitals

  1. “The National Museum in Cracow was originally founded as a municipal institution so as to shun control by the occupant’s government in Vienna.”

    Yeah, that does sound more or less like modern-day Edmonton, Paul.

    You may also note that the D-Day museum, though designated by Congress as the “national” D-Day museum, was started by a private non-profit group, not by any government agency, say, the Library of Congress. It appears to have been founded by the late historian and noted plagiarist Stephen Ambrose. So if that’s the model of great national institutions you favour, then congratulations, your shark jumping is complete.

  2. And, like, maybe, Mount Rushmore in SD?

  3. If I’m remembering correctly, the amphibious craft used for the D-Day landing were designed and built near New Orleans, for that particular terrain so New Orleans was the only rational place for a National D-Day museum. Obviously.
    The D-Day museum uses a lot of sound effects and dry-ice to distract people from the lameness of the above argument which may or may not work in the National Portrait Gallery of Edmonton.

  4. You’re right, the ratio is a mere 1000:1 for capital vs. non-capital.

  5. It’d be handy if commenters in this thread stated where they live. Let’s just say I have a hunch.

  6. Top-notch journalism, Paul. When confronted with solid fact that renders poorly-researched injections irrelevant, it surely must be biased. Perhaps it would be handy if the members of government who put together a bid process so clearly designed to hurt Ottawa’s chances of winning stated where they are from.

    It would also be handy if you’d explain why the theory that national museums should be in national capitals is so odd. Isn’t that kind of what national capitals are for? Why is private-sector support relevant to the construction of national institutions? Is that a slope you really want to set up camp on?

    Ottawa’s entire existence as a city is predicated on its ability to house and co-ordinate the institutions of our country to display to national and international visitors. Maybe your opposition to this common-sense idea is rooted in the inherent desire of pundits to make bitching about Ottawa a secondary vocation. You, Ivison and Andrew Cohen should start a club.

  7. I am of the opinion that National Museums should be in nations capitals, and here’s why: I have lived in Eeyou, Quebec, all of my life. FOr us rural kids, the highlight of every school year was when we were all loaded onto a school bus to Ottawa- a trip that takes just over three days, if you’re interested. My friends and I were always awestruck by visits to the National Portrait Gallery, the National Gallery of Canada where we saw things that we had only ever seen in textbooks, as well as trips into Hull, Kingston and Montreal. For most of us, the visits to the national museums were the best(although I bear a special fondness for the graves of dead prime ministers, places where fathers of confederation were shot, and the war memorial)- the gallery and the war museum being perrenial favourites. IN my opinion, the point of having ‘national’ museums is that they be accesable to the maximum amount of the populace. The best way to do this is to group them together. Where are all the national museums? Ottawa. A busload of kids from La Baie James are hardly going to make a trip to Edmonton. The trip was already very expensive, particularly in an area without much in terms of an economy, but at least we could see a huge variety of different museums and cultural attractions. I don’t know o fmany people outside of Alberta who will make the long, long, long drive to Edmonton to visit a national museum.

  8. It’d be an odd club, if pleasant. Cohen, of whom I’m immensely fond, can’t stop writing about how the only place for the national portrait gallery is Ottawa. I disagree completely. Not sure where Ivison is on the question.

    Speaking of questions, I’m happy to see my comment board is a good place for people to dodge them. Anonymously, bien sur.

  9. Perhaps, Mr. Wells, you were looking for this link?


    Directions to the MAIN British National Portrait Gallery. You can’t miss it: rent a car, drive to Devon, turn around, drive back, it’s right by Trafalgar Square.

    Yours in Toronto . . .

  10. This thread has gone very, very badly for you Paul. I’m glad it’s become a place for you to dodge questions as well, sir. Of course I am an Ottawa resident, though not from Ottawa originally. I enjoyed trips to Ottawa immensely as a child when I did not live close to the city.

    Another question for you to dodge — Have you considered that only people in Ottawa are commenting on your shoddy Portrait Gallery post because only people who live in Ottawa CARE about where the portrait gallery is located? I would give it some thought.

  11. I love how Sophie states that kids from James Bay could hardly be expected to bus it to Edmonton but readily expects that vast hinterland to the west of the lakehead to make the trek to Ottawa. Once again the Ontcentric stupidity of Jeff Simpson ticks off the area you so dispise but these days so desperately need.

  12. Don, I hate to break it to you but no one is going to visit Edmonton because of the National Portrait Gallery. For its other virtues, yes.

    The point to centralising all the National (as opposed to provincial) galleries, museums, etc., is so that you can see them all in one go. Kind of like how we have all the MP’s sitting in one room.

    Of course, Alberta could always establish its own Provincial Portrait Gallery, seeing as there is money coming out the wazoo there, but first you’d have to have an election to – oh, sorry.

  13. In my opinion, the difference is that at least in Ottawa all of the national museums are together. Also, this past summer an older couple from my town hired me to act as their go between and travel with them, as they speak no English. They were taking a trip across all of Canada- something that they had been saving all of their lives for. One thing I noticed was that from the Maritimes to about halfway Manitoba, we had little to no difficulty being understood and understanding. After that, the further west we went, it seemed more and more like we aren’t a bilingual country. I smiled when I realized that my employers couldn’t look at a museum exhibit without me, yet the only thing that was bilingual was the cereal boxes. So that, in fact, is my main fear: a national portrait gallery should be able to welcome all of a countries citizens in both of a countries languages- and I fear that that may not happen if it is in a province without a significant french-speaking minority.

  14. If it needs to be moved, I suggest Manitoba. A long trip for both easterners and westerners, northerners and southerners. Not to mention that there is a significant french-speaking minority

  15. I think this is going fine for me and all concerned, actually. If I’d wanted easy agreement I’d have picked the easy side of the argument. If I didn’t want to be contradicted I’d have picked another line of work. And if, one day, I ever discover I have the kind of blog where commenters line up to praise the blogger’s wisdom I’ll disable comments.

    Come one, come all. Courtesy is encouraged, but as you can see, we set the bar low.

  16. There’s no real debate here.

  17. So I’ll start one, since my last comment was a bit of a troll.

    What’s so offensive, to me, about this proposal is that it obviously panders to the Canadian habit of regional bickering. The question is hardly important in itself. It’s not that a “grown-up” country, such as in theory we all aspire to be, centralises its “national” museums, it’s that a grown-up nation doesn’t waste half its energy disliking itself. Does Chicago hate New York? Hardly. Does Houston think Seattle is out to get it? Uh, no. But in Canada everybody hates Toronto, Ottawa, Calgary, Montreal, Newfoundland, etc. etc. etc., unless they’re from the city in question. This doesn’t harm the target city/region, but it sure as hell harms the people who do the hating: it makes the whole country a backwater. I lived for years in the States and *even there* I found more of an international frame of reference than I find in Canada. Because we are too busy obsessing about the next guy’s privileges and feeling victimised.

    Nothing can or will change the fact that we’re a country with multiple centres. We’ll never be like France, Britain, or Czech R., (one each) or like Poland (with three). We’re much more like the USA. But our centres all have their defining characteristics – Toronto is artsy, Vancouver is lotusy, Edmonton works hard, Calgary is rich, Saskatoon is friendly, Winnipeg is a city state, Montreal is funky, Quebec is European, etc. etc. etc. Ottawa’s characteristic – almost its sole characteristic – is that it’s the nation’s capital. Taking such small but symbolic things as the National Portrait Gallery away from it is no more than a quick, cheap, fun way to kick it in the face. It would be like legislating that all the oil companies had to have their HQ’s in Regina (minus the economic consequences). That would gratify the rest of the country (since it would make Alberta suffer), enrage Albertans, and accomplish nothing. Ditto the National Portrait Gallery, mutatis mutandis.

    Psychologically, what I find interesting is that people like Mr. Wells or Jeff Simpson have a habit of knocking Ottawa in their columns/blogs, attacking the “Ottawa bubble,” saying that such-and-such an issue “only matters within sight of the Peace Tower,” etc. What’s interesting is that this is itself a symptom of the Ottawa mentality.

    So, in brief: Portrait Gallery doesn’t matter per se but it’s more proof that regional jealousy and bickering degrade us. I stand to be corrected.

  18. I agree with your main point, but disagree with your assumption that everyone hates cities. I blieve, rather, that what comes across as ‘hatred’ is in reality both envy and fear on the parts of Canadians not from said cities. No matter where one lives, we’re always under the impression that those in other cities are ‘different’ and think that they are ‘better’. What’s interesting is that, as far as I can see, this opinion doesn’t change when you go to aforementioned city- it simply shifts to a different place. When you live in a rural area all cities are suspect, when you live in a city a different city is suspect. I think that this comes of having a country as large as ours (most of our provinces are bigger then major European countries).

  19. Why go offshore for ex-capital national museum examples. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read variations on “hockey defines us as a nation”. And where is Canada’s national museum to that sport, the Hockey Hall of Fame? Oh, and to refute an earlier comment, I am from Ottawa and I am not among the ranters who demand the NPG be located in this town. (Now that being said, there was a suggestion from a friend at a barbecue I attended recently who suggested the museum be housed in what was the studio of the man who is arguably Canada’s best-known portrait photographer — Yousuf Karsh. That would site it on one floor of this city’s Chateau Laurier Hotel. And I could certainly be more easily swayed by an argument rooted in logic, rather than the bleat that “The National Everything should be in the National Capital!!!”)

  20. I am in Ottawa and am quite fine with Edmonton or anyone else getting the Portrait Gallery. The gaggles of tourists and busses of school children don’t seem to have a lack of things to visit while they’re here. And somehow I don’t think a 20-minute visit to the Gallery sandwiched in between visits to the war museum and parliament hill is going to do a lot for the appreciation of its contents.

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