Canada exhibit sheds new light on old icons

TORONTO (Reuters Life!) - An upcoming exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) is set to put a new spin on old perceptions of Canada, a country perhaps best known outside its borders for its iconic Mounties, moose and landscapes.

“Canada Collects: Treasures from Across the Nation,” is a selection of about 70 artifacts ranging from contemporary photography to 18th-century jewelry made by the Beothuk, the now extinct native inhabitants of the island of Newfoundland.

The exhibition, which will run from October 6 to January 6, 2008, will celebrate Canadian diversity, according to Kenneth Lister, the exhibition curator.

“It’s a different kind of window into Canada,” he said of the artifacts, which are on loan from about 50 public and private collections across the country.

The exhibit includes items symbolic of the Canadian landscape but it also delves into the country’s politics, the interests of collectors and things that aren’t necessarily Canadian, Lister said.

“People will also get a sense of Canadian contemporary artists--a sense of Canada, a sense of the timescale of Canada,” he explained in an interview.

Collectors were asked to contribute any piece they liked to the exhibition. As a result, some objects are not Canadian.

Former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s birchbark canoe is in the exhibit on loan from the Canadian Canoe Museum in Peterborough, Ontario.

Trudeau regarded the canoe as a significant part of Canadian symbolism and Canadian identity, Lister explained.

“He was a well known canoeist,” he said. “I think it’s a good symbol of Trudeau.”

Walter S. Allward’s model sculpture “Justice” for the Vimy Ridge memorial in France, pays tribute to the 66,000 Canadians who died in World War One.

Canada’s prominent role in the Battle of Vimy Ridge 90 years ago established it as a nation with a part to play in international affairs and propelled it from being a British colony towards independence.

“The figure of justice itself is very powerful,” Lister said.

“To have the actual maquette for the huge memorial that you see in Vimy Ridge is very powerful. It shows Canadian pride and Canadian involvement.”

A brooch and box designed by Bill Reid, a northwest coast artist, will also be on show.

“A superb artist...he spent a great deal of concentrated time looking at the different forms of Haida art and bringing them out in a contemporary way,” Lister said. “I think he is perhaps one of Canada’s most significant artists.”

The exhibit will be on view in a 5,181 square meter (17,000 square foot) lower-level gallery in the museum’s Michael Lee-Chin Crystal, a new C$135 million ($135 million) wing designed by American architect Daniel Libeskind.

Its construction was controversial because the new building covered parts of the museum’s early 20th-century heritage structure, and resulted in the destruction of green space and a previous museum expansion.

“The idea (behind “Canada Collects”) really was the celebration of the opening of the Crystal,” Lister said. “This is the first large ROM-produced exhibition in the Crystal. It’s a celebration of collecting and a celebration of Canadian artifacts.”