35. National Museum (1881)

National Museum

As early as 1881, director Alfred Selwyn (1869-1895) was referring to the Geological Survey of Canada’s museum in Ottawa as the “National Museum.” Its rapidly expanding collections covered all aspects of natural history (rocks, minerals, fossils, flora and fauna), and included an impressive range of anthropological artifacts – all collected by Survey staff as they explored Canada.

The collections fed the public’s growing curiosity about the wonders of a new and expanding Canada, with attendance increasing every year. The top annual attendance in Montreal had been 1,700 in 1876. Annual attendance in Ottawa increased from 9,500 in 1882 to a whopping 31,500 by 1896.

Like Selwyn, George Dawson, the Survey’s third director (1895-1901), lobbied hard for a more spacious building to house the museum and the endless stream of material flowing into Ottawa from all the Survey field parties. He pointed out that the building was a firetrap, putting irreplaceable national collections at risk.

Finally, on February 8, 1901, money was allocated by Parliament for a new museum building. Tragically, Dawson was to die within the month, and subsequent directors stickhandled the construction project through a myriad of difficulties. In 1911, the Survey moved into its new purpose-built home, the Victoria Memorial Museum Building.

Category: Buildings and Places

Decade: 1880s

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