The Canadian Museum of History is Canada’s most visited museum for good reason – it’s home to the world’s largest indoor collection of totem poles, the largest exhibition about Canadian history, and it also houses the Canadian Children’s Museum. And this year, it’s the only place in North America where you can immerse yourself into the Middle Ages during the special exhibit Medieval Europe – Power and Splendour. Come explore one of the most fascinating times in human history through amazing artifacts from the famous British Museum, right here in the Ottawa region!
Delve into the dark ages
The exhibit spaces were inspired by a medieval castle’s great hall, chapel, courtyard and gardens. Exquisite medieval artifacts and historical information are perfectly presented amongst dark and intense colours and a soundtrack of period-themed music. You’ll go beyond the myths and legends related to royals, religion, crusades, knights, courtly traditions and everyday life in the dark ages. You’ll discover how the so-called dark ages were actually a period of enlightenment and the era’s legacies continue to this day!
This traveling exhibit from the renown British Museum in London, England, features over 200 impressive artifacts that have never been presented in Canada before, along with additional content by the Canadian Museum of History for its only North American showing. The objects cover more than a thousand years – from the fall of Rome around A.D. 400 to around 1500.
Eight different zones explore themes like the formation of Europe, royal power, people and places of the middle ages, heavenly treasures, courtly life, urban life, the medieval legacy and more. The variety of artifacts and works of art on view is astounding. You’ll see jewellery, weapons, armour, coins, religious items, art, tapestries and everyday objects.
Here are just a few of the priceless artifacts you’ll encounter throughout the zones:
- Processional cross: The first object you see upon entering the exhibit is a beautiful, ornate cross. It was made in Spain between 1330-1350 and would have been mounted on a staff and carried in church ceremonies. Be sure to look at the elaborate carvings on the back; almost as impressive as the front!
- King from the Lewis Chessmen: One of the most famous items in the exhibit is one of the smallest: a tiny chess piece from the hoard that was found about 200 years ago on the Isle of Lewis, Scotland. The precious piece of carved walrus ivory is believed to have been made in Norway between 1150-1200. Enjoy seeing the precious item up close and learn more about the Lewis Chessmen through a video.
- Casket of the Châtelaine de Vergi: The tragic tale of the Châtelaine’s doomed courtship with a knight is engraved into the ivory of a full-size casket which was made in France between 1320-1340.
- Pilgrim Badge of St. Thomas Becket: A badge made in England between 1300-1400 depicts the legendary St. Thomas of Canterbury who was murdered in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170.
- Doctor’s mask: One item peculiar item could be a masquerade, gas or sci-fi mask. But it’s actually a reproduction of a doctor’s mask from the 1700s! Protective lenses covered the eyes and a long beak was filled with aromatic herbs to ward off bad smells.
Perhaps the most memorable part of the exhibit features no artifacts at all. The courtyard-shaped middle zone – with its grand arches and huge screens – was developed by the Canadian Museum of History. Travel back in time as evocative scenes of medieval times surround you: deer galloping through a hilly landscape, knights traveling on horseback, scenes of rich cathedral interiors, and more. Simply mesmerizing!
In the middle of the space is a large table with interactive screens that allow you to explore different legendary figures like Tristan and Iseult, King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, Beowulf and Grendel, and Robin Hood. The screen then invites you to view imagery related to the person you’ve chosen. Watch as the graphic appears on the screens that surround you.
Medieval legacy in Canada
Near the end of the exhibit, you’ll leave the castle walls and enter a space reminiscent of a busy street in a fortified town. This area, developed by the Canadian Museum of History, explores the legacy of the Middle Ages in modern Canada. Watch and listen to videos of specialists as they explain how the dark ages influenced the establishment of universities and common law, Gothic Revival architecture and religious pilgrimages. Historic objects, including bricks from the original Parliament Buildings, also demonstrate the impact of medieval culture in modern times.
Looking to journey even deeper into this legendary period? The museum has a variety of medieval-related special activities and events for kids as well as adults. Here are a few highlights:
- Handmade Fun: The Art of Calligraphy – Children 3 to 12 can discover and practice historical handwriting and printing techniques, plus they get to keep their creations! Daily, June 1 to August 30 in the museum’s Studio.
- A Knight’s Life – Learn about, handle and try on essential pieces of a knight’s armour. Daily until January 20, 2019, in the exhibit space.
- Awesome Medieval – On August 26, enjoy an exciting day of family activities for all ages with friendly games, dancing, cooking and crafts – all related to medieval times!
- Taste of the Middle Ages with Véronique Rivest – Join curator Bianca Gendreau for a special guided tour as you enjoy delicious medieval canapés prepared by chef Michael Lasalle, as well as wines selected by world-renowned, locally based sommelier Véronique Rivest. This multi-sensory experience takes place on September 14; participants must be at least 18 years of age.
Don’t miss the only North American showing of Medieval Europe – Power and Splendour at the Canadian Museum of History between June 8, 2018 and January 20, 2019!