What do knights in shining armour, hockey goalies and the superhero Iron Man have in common? They all wear specialized protective gear that you can see (and even touch or try on) at the Canadian War Museum during the Armour exhibit! Make your way to Ottawa this summer – the only Canadian city where you can experience an astounding variety of rich and powerful armour artefacts from the past, present, and even from fiction!
From Renaissance to fantasy
The exhibit is configured in four zones that explore the themes of armour in battle, in sports, as a status symbol and in popular culture. Many of the areas feature historic treasures from the Museo Stibbert located in Florence, Italy – one of the finest collections of its kind in Europe. As you visit each zone, you’ll also hear a matching soundtrack with sounds of sword fighting, modern battle, jousting, ice hockey and superhero movies. Enjoy the journey through time, society and culture!
As fighting styles and weapons evolved over time, armour was adapted to provide better protection while still allowing freedom of movement. The exhibit’s Renaissance armour – with its intricate engravings and details – clearly blends function and beauty. As you check out weapons like swords, maces and crossbows, you’ll even learn the connection between stiletto shoes and daggers! Don’t miss the station where you can put your hand inside a gauntlet and grip a sword handle, just like a real warrior.
Twentieth century soldiers faced new challenges. For example, protective gear used during the First and Second World Wars was no match for modern machine guns and artillery. Later technological advancements led to more lightweight, shatterproof gear that better protects soldiers and police.
Duelling, jousting, hockey and football have a lot in common: they all require protective equipment to prevent injury, impress spectators and intimidate opponents. One of the stunning items in this zone is the life-size model of two armoured riders jousting on horses – including horse armour! Check out the accessories and weapons used for jousting, fencing and other activities. Can you find the helmet that resembles those worn by the Death Star troopers and Imperial gunners in Star Wars?
You’ll also see modern sports equipment worn by well-known athletes, like the goalie gear worn by three-time Olympic medalist Shannon Szabados, and a variety of helmets including Paul Kariya’s hockey helmet from the 2002 Olympics. At the feedback station, share how you use a helmet and see others’ responses as well.
When armour was no longer used as protection, it continued to be worn in ceremonies, parades and tournaments as a symbol of status, prestige and power. For instance, European and First Nations gorgets, which were originally worn to protect the throat, became symbols of rank. You’ll also see embellished corselets worn by papal guards and royal officers, as well as a boy’s suit of armour. Compare these items with the beautiful suit of samurai armour. And see the how a variety of weapons became fashion accessories.
After viewing these beautiful artefacts, have a seat at the multimedia station and create your own digital helmet. You can even email yourself a copy!
From battlefield to popular culture
As firearms improved, armoured knights were no longer needed. However, their heroic and chivalrous image has inspired everything from realistic armour reproductions to costumes in Hollywood movies. A revival of the medieval and Renaissance eras in the 1800s led to a demand for replicas of arms and armour owned by kings and princes. The provenance of some of the replica helmets, shields and weapons in the exhibit is impressive!
Twentieth century wartime propaganda shows how the iconic symbol of the knight was used to stress the values of strength, prowess, dutiful service and devotion. And one of the most popular items in the exhibit – especially with kids – is the replica of Iron Man, the superhero from Marvel comics and movies fame. The suit is positioned as if in action, making it a popular stop for photos. You can even touch it!
Enamoured with armour? Enjoy special activities and events for kids as well as adults:
- Knights at night (free movie night): Watch A Knight’s Tale at 8:30 p.m. on July 26 (English); or Les visiteurs at 8:30 p.m. on August 2 (French). North plaza outside the museum, or indoors in case of rain.
- Awesome Armour: On July 29, 2018, enjoy demonstrations of historical European martial arts by Armoured Company of the Sword, hone your own skills in workshops led by Ottawa Swordplay, and make medieval-related crafts.
- Daily activities in summer: Learn about heraldry and create your own family crest or coat of arms; suit up with different items from a knight’s suit of armour, or Captain America and Wonder Woman’s suits; create and personalize your own gauntlet; and go on a hunt for specific treasures in the exhibit.
The Armour exhibit is at the Canadian War Museum from June 15 to September 3, 2018. Don’t miss its only Canadian presentation!