May 20, 2010
War museum

I realized suddenly that the year is half over but I haven't exactly visited half the museums on my list yet (eek!)  So Elizabeth and I went to Ottawa's War Museum this afternoon since it is free after 4pm.  I should probably say at this point that I've never been to the War Museum before due to what I will call "philosophical objections".


That said, if you are into architecture, this is a must-see building.  It was designed by Raymond Moriyama and is intended to be an "architectural representation of the power of hope, even amid the instability of war."  The walls are at strange angles, apparently in alignment with Parliament Hill. 


I decided we should drive as Elizabeth would be getting hungry and tired by the time we were done, but I didn't want to pay for parking ($1.75 per half hour!) so we compromised and parked a few blocks south of the museum on Primrose Avenue.  When we arrived, we saw a long ramp leading to the roof of the museum and the promise of a panoramic view of the city was more than enough to entice me up the bumpy path.  The roof top has a view of the parliament through the rather odd concrete structure that sticks up in the middle - it's apparently supposed to evoque a theme of regeneration.  Roof top garden is a bit of a misnomer in my opinion.  The building does have the so-called green roof that is becoming quite popular here but the garden part is actually a large paved area with a couple of memorial plaques and a random area filled with gravel.


Actually going inside the museum was somewhat surreal.  I opened the door at the end of the clearly marked signs for "museum entrance" and walked into a magnificent hall completely devoid of people.  It was quiet, dimly lit and for a second I wondered whether I'd missed the right door.  There was a signpost with many signs pointing all over the place.  "Boutique", "Mess Hall", "Memorial Hall", "Exhibits" etc.  Memorial Hall was just to our right so we followed the sign to a tiny little angled hallway with hardly any lighting.  It was so narrow that only one person could walk through comfortably at a time, and so dark that Elizabeth changed her mind about walking and made a beeline for Mommy.


At the end of the hall there was a tiny room with the headstone from the unknown soldier.  After a few moments in the hall we headed towards the exhibits where we found the admissions desk and people!   We started with special exhibit "Camouflage" which I found pretty interesting and relatively kid friendly.  There were things to touch, camouflage jackets to try on and make your own dazzle paintings.  Elizabeth was content just to sit in the stroller and look at everything (which I think bodes well for our planned visit to the art gallery later this year).


The permanent exhibits are arranged in a circle.  Starting with the first wars on Canadian soil between First Nations, Vikings, then French and British, leading into Canadian involvements with wars overseas (Boer and First World War, Second World War and then Peacekeeping).  The flow through the exhibits was pretty well done and the material was well presented.  Elizabeth was interested in the Indian tomahawks and other weapons which were available to touch but not much else caught her eye.  I didn't linger around the guns for some reason nor the many video terminals showing various battle re-enactments and some of the many violent ways we've invented to kill each other.  We did enjoy the exhibit where you could check to see whether you'd have been accepted for military service.  I have high arches in my feet.  Elizabeth rated "poor" on the military intelligence test.  The flat foot test was on a step and Elizabeth really enjoyed zooming around this area.  Up the step, down the step, pat the heat sensor pad, across the step, up the step and repeat... 


We were about halfway through the circle when Elizabeth decided that she had to go to the washroom, and I realized that I was completely lost.  As we wandered and Elizabeth got more distressed, the exhibits got darker and more disturbing.  There was a replica trench system that I found interesting especially after having been to the real thing in Belgium on a school trip.  The real thing is less orderly, smellier and a lot brighter.  This version was really badly lit.  I don't know if there's a motion sensor or if we just happened along at a quiet moment, but as we walked through the trench all of a sudden there was a burst of recorded artillery fire which really startled me.  I jumped.  Elizabeth burst into tears.  We picked up our pace.  Past a replica of a dead man half submerged in the mud (Halifax explosion) we did eventually locate a washroom but although the website suggests that diaper changing facilities are available I did not see anything of the kind.


Elizabeth and I decided that we'd had enough so I decided to look for the exit.  This is easier said than done.  We found Regeneration Hall - the tallest point of the museum which frames the Peace Tower as you walk past the narrow window.  We didn't take the elevator down to visit the weird plaster statues or giant collection of tanks, partly because the Hall was filled with a strange wailing and humming noise that Elizabeth did not like at all.  Auntie Janice has been to this museum before and doesn't remember the noise so I'm not sure what that was all about but we beat a hasty retreat.  We walked around for another twenty minutes or so looking for the exit, getting more lost and confused by the minute.  I was relieved to discover that the inability to locate the exit wasn't just me; a little old lady was wandering around lost too.  We joined forces and together found the way out into the brilliant sunshine.

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