Artful Blogger

THE ARTFUL BLOGGER: Not everyone is amused by Her Majesty — a look at the Museum of Civilization’s latest exhibit

By Paul Gessell

On her first official visit as Queen of Canada and Head of State, Her Majesty wore the “Maple Leaf of Canada dress” to a state banquet and reception at Rideau Hall. The Queen spent four days in Ottawa, and officially opened the first session of the 23rd Parliament of Canada. © Canadian Museum of Civilization, 2012. Photo: Eleanor Oulton Griffin.

The Canadian Museum of Civilization was once known for avoiding controversy at any cost. An exhibition some years ago on the history of Acadians, for example, failed to mention they had all been expelled from Canada in the period 1755-63. That, frankly, was a shocking whitewash of history.

Over the years, the museum has slowly been taking steps to tell more complete versions of our history. And thus, we come to the new exhibition opening July 1 marking the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee as monarch, in which the museum has bravely shown, through old news photos and political cartoons, that Her Majesty is not universally loved in this country.

Of special interest is an information panel on Truncheon Saturday, which occurred Oct. 10, 1964, in Quebec City when police brutally attacked demonstrators protesting the Queen’s visit to the provincial capital.

Now, it may not sound like a big deal to acknowledge there are anti-monarchists, even some violent ones, in the country. But considering anything related to the Queen must be handled by a government funded agency with the utmost diplomacy, it was a courageous step indeed for the museum to give some wall space to the Queen’s foes. When it comes to anything royal, die-hard monarchist Stephen Harper and his heritage minister James Moore are close by, watching intently, deciding whether to tighten or loosen their purse strings while funding museums.

The exhibition, A Queen and Her Country, is generally a wonderfully nostalgic trip through the 60 years Elizabeth has served as Canada’s monarch. Yes, she is the Queen of Canada. Canada is, for better or for worse, a constitutional monarchy.

There are the inevitable souvenir mugs, plates, tea sets, and figurines. There are the iconic photographs, including one of Elizabeth square dancing at Rideau Hall in 1951 when she was a princess and not yet a Queen. There is a print of the famous portrait by Welsh artist Margaret Lindsay Williams, the first official portrait after Elizabeth became Queen, that hung on the wall of every school and post office in this country for decades. That picture is so familiar to people of a certain age, it is like looking at a relative’s portrait.

The Crown jewel, so to speak, is the Queen’s famous “Maple Leaf of Canada dress” designed by British couturier Norman Hartwell for a 1957 state dinner at Rideau Hall. It’s a white ballgown decorated with sequins and green velvet maple leaves. A real stunner.

A Queen and Her Country, at the Canadian Museum of Civilization, opens to the public on July 1 and runs until Jan. 6, 2013. For information, visit