So, uh - why are we building it there again? Oh, right. That.

From the Final Report on Focus Group Testing of the Content for the Proposed Canadian Museum for Human Rights (note: PDF), conducted on behalf of the Minister’s Advisory Committee on the Canadian Museum for Human Rights by the Antima Group:

… [P]articipants indicated there would be great value in creating an interactive internet site for the museum, a key reason being the location. Most Canadians do not have the opportunity to visit Winnipeg so the website could provide them an opportunity to experience the museum from anywhere in the country or the world. […]

The location of the museum in Winnipeg was viewed in a negative manner in most French groups, as well as the visible minority group in Montreal. These participants suggested that the city suffers from negative stereotypes such as: cold, nothing to do, far away, and not interesting to visit. Very few of these participants would put the museum on their list of things to see given the distance. The issue of Winnipeg as a location was also raised in other locations such as Vancouver and Calgary, however, it was more of a minor inconvenience to these participants.

Oddly, that point was all but buried in the report from the advisory committee  – which, even more oddly, was apparently submitted on March 31, 2008, which was two days before Antima had completed its own report on the focus group findings:

The location of the institution in a regional setting outside the national capital area generated widespread remarks – even negative comments – from residents of eastern and central Canada. Many feel that the museum must take every opportunity to offer a rich and accessible experience to visitors, whether they are on-site or online. In fact, there is reason to believe that online and on-site experiences are not mutually exclusive, as one can contribute actively to the other. New initiatives such as virtual tours, real-time video conferencing, traveling exhibits, and student travel programs offer promising alternatives for those who cannot afford to travel to Winnipeg. As one respondent observes: “Nowadays, ‘visiting’ is not limited to being physically present. An important component of the CMHR will be its website which will hopefully attract and influence visitors from other parts of Canada as well as from around the world”.

Even those few but hearty Canadians who make the pilgrimage to Winnipeg to experience the museum in its offline incarnation may be uncomfortable with any suggestion that the exhibits “take sides”, particularly given the fact that the federal government will be paying the lions’ share of the estimated $265 million in capital costs:

When participants were asked what role a museum might serve if its primary purpose was ‘a call to action’, many participants were not able to ‘wrap their heads’ around it. Many participants were somewhat confused about what ‘a call to action’ could mean. Some participants took a literal meaning and, in their view, this politicized the purpose of the museum (in some cases they were expecting to be asked to sign up for specific interest groups or causes at the end of their visit). They did not feel this should be the vocation of a museum which should only provide information and not solicit action. In other cases, ‘a call to action’ was interpreted more subtly and was viewed as the raising of internal awareness that would compel an individual to take some form of action without being prompted. This was not regarded as a politicized activity […]

It is also worth mentioning that some participants felt this type of museum may not be appropriate when created or funded by the Government of Canada as it could be perceived as being too political. Based on feedback received from participants it will be important for the Canadian Museum of Human Rights to ensure it does not (or is not perceived to) ‘pick sides’ in a human rights debate, rather it should depict all the known facts and allow the visitor to draw their own conclusions and determine what, if any, action they wish to take.

Some comments from participants:

• “Sounds political, lobbying, not as much of a
learning experience” – New Canadian, Halifax

• “I’m a little leery of museums as places that can
call people to action, especially publicly funding
ones because of the political interference.” –
Parent, Vancouver

• “It is not the place of a museum to take a side, I
think it should present the issues and that the
action should be an individual one.” – Educator,

But fear not, Winnipegophilics/museum lovers — It’s unlikely that the minister will ever be made aware of the above critiques and concerns, since none of the above observations seem to have made it into the advisory committee’s report. In fact, the overall picture that it generates is a far sunnier, more supportive dispensation towards the museum on the part of Canadians than its own consultations would seem to suggest, which means that the money she’s prepared to commit – all $100 million of it, plus $20 million a year in operating costs – is still safe. Even if the concept of the museum itself is beginning to seem slightly out of step with public opinion.