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Bytown Museum honours its founders

Caroline O’Neill, Centretown News
March 28, 2017

Artifacts and pictures tell 100 stories about Ottawa’s history at the Bytown Museum as part of a new exhibit celebrating the heritage hub’s centennial.

“They all have great stories to tell,” said Grant Vogl, the museum’s collections and exhibitions manager, of the pieces featured in Bytown Museum: A Century of Community.

Vogl curated 100 of the museum’s photos and artifacts to be featured in the exhibition. Fifty are housed in the community and temporary galleries, while the rest are interspersed throughout permanent exhibitions.

With over a century’s worth of artifacts opening a window to Ottawa’s past, different stories stand out. Two historic photographs of loan exhibitions held in 1899 on Sparks Street — that featured items loaned by the public for display — help tell a dual story of the city’s history and the museum’s own origin, as an initiative of the Canadian Women’s Historical Society of Ottawa.

“They did travelling exhibits, they did research, they did publications,” said Robin Etherington, the museum’s executive director. “They were an amazing group of women.”

The CWHSO began curating war artifacts and collecting pieces from Ottawa’s early roots as a booming lumber town in 1898.

“It’s a really great story that we were started by this group of women, all volunteers — and the men weren’t allowed in until 1955,” said Vogl, who highlighted the museum’s ties to the CWHSO on International Women’s Day on March 8.

Visitors looking at the two photographs will see some familiar pieces in the Century of Community exhibition, such as Lt.-Col. John By’s armchair and Bytown’s first letterbox. The armchair with upholstered gold and green fabric was one of a set of two belonging to the colonel, who oversaw the construction of the Rideau Canal, which is celebrating its tenth year as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The letterbox comes from the city’s first post office in what is now the Hudson Bay Company on Rideau Street.

“People don’t change, but time does,” said Stéphanie Poujade, the museum’s programming coordinator. She pointed out how seemingly simple artifacts can reflect Ottawa’s past and present.

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