The Canadian Museum For Human Rights in Winnipeg is one of the most important museums in Canada. Explore the history and hope at CMHR.
At once powerful, thoughtful, and engaging, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg, Manitoba is a powerful institution dedicated to the exploration, celebration, and promotion of human rights around the world.
Among all of the incredible attractions in Winnipeg, from Fort Whyte Alive to the High Tea Bakery, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights stands out as one of the most culturally important. Without trying to sound overboard, it’s a national treasure.
The Human Rights Museum in Winnipeg stands as a symbol of hope, resilience, and progress as well as a checkpoint to recognize failures and holes in our global push towards respect for all humans, no matter their background, culture, and status.
The Canadian Museum for Human Rights is the first national museum in Canada built outside the National Capital Region. It’s still one of only three national museums that exist outside of that region, the others being the National Museum of Immigration in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and the Musée National des Beaux-Arts Du Québec in Quebec City.
The museum is located near the Forks National Historic Site, which is where the Red and Assiniboine Rivers converge. The location is significant because it is a central gathering place in Winnipeg, with a long history of both Indigenous and settler activity.
The Forks has been a meeting place for thousands of years, serving as a hub for trade and commerce among Indigenous peoples. Later, it became an important site for European settlers, who used the rivers for transportation and trade. Today, the Forks is a popular destination for tourists and locals alike, with a variety of cultural and recreational activities available, including museums, restaurants, and parks.
The decision to locate the Canadian Museum for Human Rights at the Forks was intentional, as it reflects the museum’s commitment to acknowledging the history and experiences of Indigenous peoples and other marginalized groups in Canada.
By situating the museum in a location with such a rich and complex history, the museum’s creators hope to create a space for dialogue and reflection on the ongoing struggle for human rights and social justice in Canada and around the world.
The human rights museum in Winnipeg isn’t just inspiring and thought-provoking, the building itself reflects the museum’s purpose and message.
Imagined by architect Antoine Predock, the Canadian Museum for Human Right’s unique design incorporates symbolism and elements of the natural world to convey the idea of human rights as a living, evolving concept. The museum has 6 levels of exhibits and 11 galleries accessible via inclined ramps or elevators.
The building, striking both inside and out, was crafted to resemble a mountain, with curved lines and angles that evoke memories of some of Canada’s most notable landscapes. The building is built on a foundation of local Manitoba Tyndall stone, which presents a strong sense of grounding as well as a connection to the local environment.
The interior of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg continues this thought-provoking architectural journey. Visitors begin their exploration of the museum at the bottom with exhibits exploring some of the darkest moments in human history.
As they move up through the floors, and ever-brighter stories of human progress, resilience, and hope, the natural light of the museum brightens the environment as well, culminating in a space at the top that provides gorgeous panoramic views over Winnipeg, the Forks, and the surrounding landscape.
The exhibits at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights are paced in a way that mirrors the “path to the light.” The exhibits become increasingly more hopeful, positive, and inspiring the further up through the building that a visitor travels.
None of the exhibits are too much for any open-minded visitor. I explored the museum with my 5-year-old son and each of the exhibits, including some of those on some of the darkest moments in modern history, was presented in a way that invoked conversation, thought, and introspection.
Some of the exhibits that stand out among the rest include:
Breaking the Silence
Exploring the power of words and the bravery of those who are willing to break the silence about mass atrocities, Breaking the Silence explores the roles of secrecy and denial in atrocities around the world.
Among the many events that it chronicles are the Armenian Genocide, the Holocaust, the Rwandan Genocide, and the Srebrenica Genocide in Bosnia.
One of the most jaw-dropping spaces of the museum, a circular theatre with curved wooden slats sits one of the human rights exhibits that are currently in Canadian focus. With a focus on First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples and their concepts of rights and responsibilities based on worldviews in which everyone and everything is interrelated.
Turning Points For Humanity
Examining key moments in human history that have shaped the development of human rights, Turning Points for Humanity explores the gamut of human rights from the Holocaust to the Civil Rights Movement.
The exhibit features artifacts, films, and interactive displays and culminates with the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But it doesn’t gloss over the fact that there is still tremendous amounts of work to be done.
Canadian Journeys tells the story of Canada’s history. Visitors are walked through the experiences of Indigenous Peoples, settlers, and immigrants as they’re treated to the struggles, dreams, and achievements of people who call the country home. The exhibit encourages visitors to consider their own role in building a more just and equitable society.
Overall, each of these exhibits is important in its own way, providing visitors with a deeper understanding of the ongoing struggle for human rights and social justice. Together, they create a powerful and thought-provoking experience that inspires visitors to take action and make a difference in the world.
The Canadian Museum for Human Rights has a steady stream of inspiring temporary exhibits. Past exhibits have included Metis Memories of Residential Schools: A Testament to the Strength of the Metis, Behind Racism: Challenging the Way We Think, and the special exhibit when I visited, Mandela: Struggle for Freedom.
The rotating exhibits at the Museum for Human Rights are always well thought out and inspiring.
The Canadian Museum for Human Rights has not been without its own controversy since its opening in 2014.
The museum faced criticism from Indigenous leaders and activists who argued that it has not done enough to address the ongoing legacy of colonialism and oppression in Canada. Critics have pointed out that the museum was built on land that was traditionally used by Indigenous peoples.
In 2020 it was reported that the museum had censored LGBTQ+ content from students visiting the museum exhibit about Stonewall, the historic uprising that launched the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement. The museum was also accused of downplaying the role of transgender people and people of colour in the movement.
The museum has also faced criticism for its treatment of employees, including allegations of discrimination and harassment. In 2020, several former employees spoke out about their experiences in a toxic workplace.
These controversies highlight the ongoing challenges of creating a museum that truly reflects the complexities of human rights, human failures, and the ever-broadening push for social justice. The museum has never tried to hide these controversies and has made progress in addressing them.
Just like human rights, the museum remains a work in progress, and in my opinion, it may just be the most important museum in Canada.
Plan Your Visit To the Canadian Museum For Human Rights
The Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg is closed on Mondays and open Tuesdays through Sundays.
Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday it is open from 10:00 AM till 5:00 PM and Fridays it is open from 10:00 AM till 9:00 PM. There are reduced hours on Good Friday and Canada and the museum is closed on Christmas Day, Boxing Day, Easter Monday, Victoria Day, and Terry Fox Day.
You can find our detailed guide of the best things to do in Winnipeg here.
Kevin Wagar is a founder and editor of We Explore Canada. He has been working in the travel media industry since 2015 when he founded his family travel website Wandering Wagars – Adventure Family Travel.
Over the years Kevin has developed a deep love for his home country and aims to showcase the incredible experiences and amazing small businesses found within it.