Did you know that ‘Winnie the Pooh’ was named after Winnipeg?
Surprisingly rested after two nights, we stepped off the train and into a much cooler climate. We won’t be experiencing proper winter this year, just a few weeks of fall in Canada. It’s difficult to gage how big of a deal Christmas is in New Zealand, so the idea of celebrating thanksgiving in Canada sounds really good.
My first impression of Winnipeg was that it was like a Sunday morning; very easy-going and in less of a hurry than the bigger cities we’d been to. In terms of train station, however, it was one of the grandest we’d been in.
I loved the weather and the lack of rushing around for reminding me of home. After going for breakfast in Forks Market, we were picked up and taken back to our home for the night, where our host helped us map out the next few days of our trip. It became quickly evident that the one place we had to go to was the Museum of Human Rights, but the day was already drawing to a close, and we decided to be brave and cook for our hosts for the first time.
Our hosts for the evening were a married couple around our age. The guy was currently deciding on where to take his career and the girl worked in a life insurance company. It’s really daunting cooking for someone you’ve just met in their house, but they made it really easy for us by being completely relaxed about it. They invited over one of their friends, which made the party of five, so I decided to go for a very Welsh dish – Chicken Pot Pie. To give me credit here, Welsh dishes are either universal dishes with a different name (Welsh Rarebit…really?), or they need a very acquired taste, so I wanted to play it safe with our hosts. It wasn’t a disaster, but it wasn’t my finest culinary feat. Our hosts were lovely enough to be very grateful, and insisted I did really well in an unfamiliar kitchen with unfamiliar products.
We then spent the evening playing a game called Cribbage. This game had a fairly simple concept which is too complicated for me to go into right now, but it used cards, a wooden board and some pins. Apparently this game is serious business with the older generation in Canada, so we might get it for the train.
The next day, our hosts told us that we would need to spend the whole day in the museum to appreciate it and learn about everything inside. The guy host said his goodbyes, “I want to say have fun, but that’s not the right thing to say to someone going to the museum”.
The museum has seven floors, so we decided to go to the top floor first to take in the views before heading down into the galleries.
The locals have lovingly nicknamed the footpath bridge the ‘Penis’. At day, it only looks vaguely phallic, but at night it really makes sense.
After you walk up the ramp towards this hall-way, where Dan is pictured looking pensive, you’re presented with the first floor of exhibits. The museum starts you off gently, by simply trying to define the words ‘Human Rights’ by taking you through a timeline of moments in history and significant people that have defined human rights over the years. The last place we got to was this mural, describing the main principles of the aboriginal people in Canada.
You are presented with one last picture of serenity, before you are confronted with some difficult truths. I was told that all of the material used on this floor, as well as the museum in general, are sourced locally and are fairly purchased and used.
The second and third floor becomes more serious, as a series of booths describe the hardships of some groups of people at the hands of other groups of people. There really are too many exhibits to mention here, but I photographed a few booths to give you an idea of how they set everything up.
The first picture is a real notice that was published, ordering all Japanese people to leave the areas listed. I liked how it was the right mix of direct and obscure. They made it clear what they wanted to happen, but didn’t say outright what would happen if the Japanese people were to stay. The red dress exhibit was in honour of the women that are murdered or go missing from the reserves in Canada. Over 40% of these cases are not solved by the Canadian police force, and are often overlooked. The wedding-cake of pictures shows one of the more recent triumphs in human rights; the right for anyone to marry, regardless of their sexuality. And the last photo shows how all of these exhibits were laid out. I chose which exhibits to photograph at random, having taken some right at the end as I was too transfixed by the information to take them at the time. The museum covers everything that comes to mind when thinking about Genocide and tries to explain, with examples, what Social, Cultural, Physical and Biological Genocide is.
One of the most harrowing exhibits we visited, were the ones that told of the residential schools that the aboriginal children were sent to. This took place from the 1950’s and continued right up until the 1990’s. Aboriginal children were forced to leave their homes and go to schools where they were westernised in an environment of fear and abuse. There were reams of footage showing aboriginal adults coming forward and telling their stories, with most of them having to bear some of their deepest memories in order to ensure that it didn’t happen again.
Each floor reveals more and more cruel and unforgiving behaviour from the human race before finally, at level six, you are presented with a voting station. The screens show you snippets of news forecasts of some of the biggest cases in modern human rights history, and then asks you to vote on them. It seemed like the perfect ending to the museum, where the message is simple; history does not have to repeat itself.
The museum has a main focus; to truthfully explain both Canada’s and the world’s failings in helping communities and races in times of need. They state many times that it wasn’t just Hitler, Stalin and the like who were to blame, but anyone who knew what was happening and chose not to act. They display real documents, showing the head of immigration advising the government not to accept any more Jews in the 1930’s.
Canada has only been around for a century and a half, yet it owns up to a series of unforgivable events with a great deal of humility. It doesn’t justify these events or resolve them, but can you imagine what a similar museum would look like in the US or the UK??
The next day, I took a walk around Winnipeg while Dan planned our next venture in Churchill. Winnipeg doesn’t have as much of a need for an escape as some of the other cities, but I loved it for having some quiet spots amongst gardens and along the river. I didn’t do a lot of research unfortunately, but most plaques I did read told of dedication to some royal family member.
We spent the night at our next hosts, who again were a couple around our age. The guy worked in the Winnipeg hospital and the girl worked as an organiser of the Winnipeg festivals. Both of them were the type of people that you could talk to for hours with no idea of how you got on to each subject. They also owned a keyboard, which inevitably led to us singing around it into the evening, with Dan reaching for some of his top shelf vocals!
We will be back to Winnipeg after Churchill, and I’m really glad! Coming from Toronto, the place seems small and homely. I’m sure coming from Churchill we’ll see it in a different light.