1. An adequate system of national museums could make a striking contribution to the development of our national life. At present, however, the work of national museums is carried on under the gravest limitations both of space and budget. The one permanent museum building in the capital houses the National Gallery and the Geological Survey as well as the National Museum. We learn that plans have been made to move the Geological Survey, and also that work is in progress preparatory to planning a National Gallery building. The War Museum, however, remains in totally inadequate temporary quarters, and other important collections are scattered and inadequately displayed.
2. We think it right to recommend strongly an adequate and coherent policy on the establishment and maintenance of national museums. We are aware that to undertake to bring Canadian museums rapidly up to the standard which might be expected of a country of Canada's present wealth and resources would involve heavy expenditure. We therefore propose to state the principles of a new and adequate museum policy, to indicate what should be done as soon as possible, and finally to suggest certain temporary expedients for carrying out some of the essentials of the policy as soon as possible without exorbitant expense. We have tried to bear in mind the importance both of making the greatest and most effective use of existing museum collections and of devising ways in which those collections may be made to serve all the people of Canada.
The National Museum
3. The National Museum has in the course of its history taken on a national importance and has assumed national functions although remaining in organization and control the museum of a department. We have already mentioned our sense of the debt owed by the nation to the imagination and energy of this department's officials. We believe, however, that it is now time to revise the organization and to redefine the scope and functions of this institution.
4. The organization of the Museum is no longer entirely appropriate to the functions which it has assumed and which its representatives have suggested should be extended. We have mentioned evidences of a certain ambiguity in its relation to government departments other than its own. A National Museum, we think, should enjoy comparative independence of any department in administrative and budgetary matters and in its general policies. At the same time, in order to maintain a consistent policy, to serve the needs of the country as a whole and to express its national status, the institution should be administered by the Director under the general supervision of a representative Board of Trustees.
5. We have already said something of the rapid extension of activities in the Museum which, founded on the collections of the Geological Survey, has extended itself into the fields of botany, zoology, anthropology, archaeology, and ethnology, the last including folklore and arts and crafts. At the same time in certain directions its activities have been curtailed. Active work in entomology was abandoned many years ago, and most of the collections were transferred to the Department of Agriculture. More recently the Geological Survey has become a separate unit, leaving to the Museum the three active departments of zoology, botany and anthropology.
6. These changes and developments in the activities of the Museum have come about naturally, partly as a result of the development and changes in the work of the Department and partly as a result of the special interests of museum officials who have been permitted a freedom most fruitful in its results. Now, however, when it is necessary to establish a general policy for national museums, and for the most advantageous use of existing museum collections, it is desirable to define more precisely what should be the scope of the present National Museum. One of the suggestions made by the present Director is, we think, most appropriate. The Museum should represent the natural history and the resources of Canada. We believe, however, that for the purposes of the institution "resources" should be taken in its generally accepted meaning and should not be interpreted to include the people of Canada, as was implied in the Museum's brief.
7. It is also important to arrive at a clear definition of the functions of the National Museum. As we have stated earlier, these functions are at present defined as collection, research and publication, exhibition and education, with major emphasis on the first two. We have mentioned the problem of the possibility of duplication in research activities. We have given serious thought to this matter not only because of our duty to make recommendations concerning the National Museum, but because our Terms of Reference require us to consider all the means by which research is aided in Canada. We are aware that in leading museums in
Great Britain, France, the United States and elsewhere, research is given a very important place. We have been informed also that both in Great Britain and the United States museums carry on active research in such fields as botany, although their work may be paralleled and even duplicated in other institutions and in departments of agriculture. We have been reminded, for example, of the parallel operations of Kew Gardens and of the British Museum of Natural History in Great Britain, and of the American Museum of Natural History and the Department of Agriculture in the United States.
8. We have considered these important precedents. We realize too that the staff of a scientific museum must carry on scientific research if the museum is to attract and retain good men. On the other hand, we are impressed by the fact that in many respects Canada's problems are peculiar and that, for these, Canadians must work out their own solutions as, indeed, they have already done in many other fields. We think that museum curators, whether scientists or scholars, should be encouraged to do original work, and should be given the necessary facilities for it. At the same time, we suggest that in view of the extensive research, fundamental, basic and applied, now being done in universities, in the National research Council, and in government departments, the National Museum should not be regarded primarily as a research institution. In Canada our resources are too small and the area of investigation in natural history alone too vast for the luxury of duplication which may be permissible and even useful in countries with old and well-endowed foundations.
9. We are aware that the danger of duplication which has been brought specifically to our attention during our examination of the National Museum exists in other government agencies. We have offered a general recommendation on this matter elsewhere. As the work of the National Museum is one of our direct responsibilities we think it proper to make here a specific recommendation. The National Museum should, we believe, attend chiefly to the work of exhibition and general education for which it is so well fitted. Here there is a great opportunity for a national institution to serve as a model, a source of inspiration, information and advice to museums throughout the country. We have heard from different sources that Canadians are not sufficiently interested in science, or sufficiently aware of the significance of scientific achievements. There is perhaps no better way of stimulating their interest than by presenting to them in striking fashion the facts of "natural history" which surround them unnoticed. There is, as we have stated, a general demand that the National Museum go out to the people, as does the National Gallery, with more, and more lively, exhibits, travelling exhibitions, lecturers, slides and
displays of all kinds. The work now done in Ottawa is appreciated, but outside Ottawa much more is requested.
We therefore recommend:
A Canadian Historical Museum
10. We are impressed by the fact that Canada lacks two institutions which are generally considered essential to a civilized people, a National Library and a National Historical Museum. Of the library we speak elsewhere in this Report. On the necessity for an historical museum we can hardly speak too strongly. Our history is written in two languages and this sometimes encourages and preserves unnecessarily divergent interpretations of historical events. Our need is therefore the greater for a suitable display of those records of the past which know no barrier of language and which, by their appeal to our common experiences and emotions, help us to realize that the diverse history of this land of scattered peoples may be in itself a bond of union.
11. There are already assembled in our capital city various collections of historical material, some of them, as in the National Museum, brought together by the diligence of officials busy with many other responsibilities. Earlier in this Report, we noticed that the present National Museum has developed an important anthropological and folklore section and that it has accumulated an important collection of exhibits illustrating the civilizations of Canada's indigenous populations and certain aspects of the culture of the early white settlers. We observed also that in the Public Archives is now preserved a valuable collection of historical exhibits other than manuscripts, that the National Gallery has in its possession a great number of paintings illustrating Canada's part in the two World Wars, and that the Canadian War Museum has, with very meagre resources, collected and preserved an important collection of war exhibits. We are also informed that various departments and agencies of government have in their keeping considerable quantities of historical material; all this we consider should now be gathered together, appropriately classified, and suitably exhibited.
We therefore recommend:
A Canadian Museum of Science
12. We stated in an earlier chapter of this Report that we have been impressed by various submissions to us urging the establishment of a museum illustrating the very considerable achievements of this country in scientific research, in applied science, and in technological development. We find ourselves in agreement with the submissions of the Royal Society of Canada and of other authoritative bodies to the effect that the history and development of our country have been very sharply influenced by progress in science and invention, and that of this progress there should be established suitable memorials.
We therefore recommend:
National Botanical and Zoological Gardens
13. We have already mentioned numerous representations made to us urging the creation in Canada of national botanical and zoological
gardens. At present there is a very important botanical collection at Montreal and a smaller but promising one at Hamilton. The only national collection is the Dominion Arboretum, a collection of some 2,500 wood plants maintained by the Department of Agriculture near Ottawa. A general collection or collections of all types of plants is needed not only for the pleasure and instruction of citizens but for scientific purposes. From the economic viewpoint alone, it is strange to find a country so dependent as Canada on agriculture and forestry lacking a representative collection of living plants. In this matter, as in others, we present an unhappy exception among Commonwealth countries and among other nations of comparable importance. A botanical garden would naturally be a centre of such scientific investigations as require the use of a large and varied collection of living plants. It would also serve, like other museums, purposes of general instruction and recreation.
14. It has been suggested to us that a botanical garden might solve the problem of the duplication of botanical collections which we noted in a previous chapter. It is true that this problem might thus be aggravated since the garden would certainly maintain its own collection of specimens. On the other hand, it might be possible, and should, we think, be seriously considered by the proper authorities, to unite all national botanical collections in this institution, and to leave with it the responsibility for future acquisitions. This would prevent an overlapping which now exists to a certain extent and which must increase with two or more government agencies working in a field of great scientific and practical interest. The united collections should, of course, be open to all scientific workers from government institutions or elsewhere. Moreover, the invaluable collection of the National Museum should be moved only on the understanding that the Museum retain adequate control of material needed for exhibition purposes. We offer this as a possible solution subject to the conclusions which might result from a detailed examination of scientific research in government departments.
15. It is possible that the establishment of a National Zoological Garden might involve a similar overlapping of activities with the National Museum; but this could be solved in a similar manner. In this field, however, there is no present threat of wasteful duplication. The absence of a National Aquarium has already been mentioned as a curious and important deficiency in a country where almost every province has an economic interest in fish. It seems obvious to us, moreover, that whatever may be the economic loss, there is a grave intellectual loss involved in ignoring, through the neglect of living museums of plants, animals and fish, a simple means of developing an interest in science especially among those engaged in agriculture and fisheries.
We therefore recommend:
16. We have been impressed by the many representations made to us on the need of small local institutions for help and advice which can come only from a national centre, because such a centre may be expected to have a trained staff, access to other comparable institutions and specialized sources of information, and a knowledge of general museum conditions throughout the country. We have made a recommendation on this subject in relation to the functions of the present National Museum. We consider that similar responsibilities should rest with those museums which we believe should be established.
We therefore recommend:
* From: Canada. Royal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters, and Sciences. Report. Ottawa : King's Printer, 1951. By permission of the Privy Council Office.