Forgot your password?

Timeline: Canadian War Museum

Timeline: Canadian War Museum
Canadian War Museum / Photo: User: Balcer. Teaser image on article list: Canadian War Museum.

Scroll down to view Timeline. Click on images for larger view. Unless otherwise credited, all images are © Canadian Museum of Civilization. See also Timeline: Canadian Museum of History.

The story of the Canadian War Museum reflects the country’s on-and-off relationship with military activities. Ignored in the past and at one point, even totally shut down, the Canadian War Museum has enjoyed two major expansions in modern times. Both projects were undertaken by Liberal governments, contrary to the stereotyped image that they are anti-military.

While a display of military materials was opened in the 1880s, the first museum-quality exhibitions only began in 1967, as part of Canada’s Centennial.

There is a continuing tension within the museum’s mandate, at times giving rise to controversy. Is it intended to be primarily a living tribute to veterans who have served on behalf of Canada (a celebratory memorial role)? Or, is it intended to present exhibitions and research on military themes in Canada’s history (a scholarly information role)?

Since opening the new Canadian War Museum building in 2005, the museum has straddled its double mandate. It presents well-researched history narratives and education programs in dynamic styles. It is popular with visitors but avoids bombastic celebration.

— Text by Victor Rabinovitch, former CEO of the Canadian Museum of Civilization and the War Museum for 11 years. He currently teaches public policy at Queens University.

Timeline - Canadian War Museum

1880A display of Canadian militia objects and trophies is opened in the main Drill Hall in Ottawa.

1896The militia display is closed and the Drill Hall space is used for other purposes.

1909-68Canadian military records and objects are stored by the Dominion Archives, without public access. During and following the First World War, the collecting of materials and documents was carried out intermittently.

1916A Canadian war art program begins. Artists are assigned to create a visual record of Canada’s military activities in Europe. The art program resumes in the Second World War.

1942The first thematic display of military materials is opened in a temporary Ottawa storage space near the National Archives. This is later called the “Canadian War Museum.”


1967The first comprehensive military history museum opens as part of Canada’s Centennial Year, occupying the old National Archives building. The CWM becomes an affiliate of the National Museum of Man (the former name of the Museum of Civilization).

1991A high profile Task Force on Military History calls on the federal government to develop a special purpose military museum, with adequate funding and space.

2001After several years of planning and public debates, the federal government announces that it will build a new war museum in a prominent location in central Ottawa.

2005The new Canadian War Museum opens within sight of Parliament. It combines striking architecture, an excellent location and extensive exhibitions on national and international military topics. As happened with the 1989 opening of the Museum of Civilization, the new Canadian War Museum is very popular with the public, attracting close to 500,000 visits annually.


Rate This Article

1 = poor, 5 = excellent

Current rating: 4.3 (23 ratings)

What do you think?

You must be a Canada's History member and be logged in to leave a comment.


No comments.

Support history Right Now! Donate
© Canada's History 2016
Feedback Analytics