Throughout history, people have grappled with ideas about human dignity, respect and responsibility. Today the term “human rights” generally refers to the rights and freedoms we have simply because we are human. It’s an idea thousands of years in the making.
— "What are Human Rights?" | Canadian Museum for Human Rights
I had the privilege of visiting the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg, Manitoba this past weekend. I live just over the border, two hours from Winnipeg, and visit quite often for Jets hockey games, the Polo Park mall, and of course, Starbucks. My husband and I have eagerly watched the museum construction progress, ever impressed by its stunning architecture.
My current interest in architecture stems from Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead, which I have been slowly reading (amongst other books) over the past few months. Rand's characters are either architects, or conduct business in the architectural world of 1920's New York City. Were it not for Rand's passionate writing, I doubt I would have taken such delight in museum architect Antoine Predock's design.
While I had been familiar with the museum exterior for many years, I wasn't sure what to expect once inside. But as I made my way up a series of sloping walkways lined in back-lit marble to the first exhibit, I found myself overwhelmed not only by exquisite architecture, but also by the photographs and quotes of individuals throughout history promoting a lifestyle of tolerance. On the far back wall, in white text on black background in both English and French, read: All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.
The Making of a Great Building
The date was April 17, 2003. It was the anniversary of the signing of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (1982). Business leader Izzy Asper, founder of Canwest, brought forward the idea of a Canadian museum of human rights. He saw it as a place where students could learn about human rights. He also wanted to bring new life to central Winnipeg and attract visitors from Canada and the world. He died later that year, but his daughter Gail Asper continued the cause.
In 2003, the Friends of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights launched one of Canada’s largest international architectural competitions. Entries came from 64 countries. The winner was an American architect, Antoine Predock.
In 2008, three levels of government came together with the private sector to build a great museum. The governments of Canada, Manitoba and Winnipeg joined with the Forks North Portage Partnership and the Friends of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights to begin the $351 million project.
On March 13, 2008, the Government of Canada passed Bill C-42 into law. The bill changed the National Museums Act to include the first new national museum in nearly half a century.
The Museum went to Canadians to ask for their ideas. People said they wanted the Museum to talk about human rights victories in Canada and the world, today’s debates about human rights, and events that showed Canada’s commitment to human rights, as well as its failures.
A site was identified. The Museum would stand on Treaty One territory, not far from the place where the Métis rebelled under Louis Riel in 1870. Treaty One was Canada’s first treaty after Confederation. It was signed in 1871 and covered the relationship between Canada and the First Nations in Manitoba. Archeologists dug into the land here before construction began and found more than half a million objects that tell the story of this site.
On December 19, 2008, there was a ground-breaking ceremony at The Forks in Winnipeg. Construction began in April 2009.
Opening the doors
The Museum held opening ceremonies on September 19, 2014 and began welcoming visitors on September 20, 2014.
— "Building the Museum" | Canadian Museum for Human Rights
What do human rights mean to you? Respect for others? Dignity for all? Equality and freedom? Ideals become real through action, imagination and commitment.
— "Inspiring Change" | Canadian Museum for Human Rights
I got bullied a lot as a kid for things I couldn't help—the color of my hair (Carrot Top, really?), the condition of my clothing, and even just for being different from my peers. They were only acting how they'd been taught to act, but as a child, I didn't get that—I didn't understand that bullying is a learned behavior. Instead, I felt like there was something fundamentally wrong with who I was, and that I needed to change in order to suit the individuals around me.
All childhood Michelle wanted was for someone to stand up to those bullies and say that their actions were wrong. I never got such an after-school-special scenario, but it does motivate me now, as a confident woman, to confront those same attitudes that allow hate to happen.
Although it is 2015 and I live in a First World country, human rights remain a strong issue here in the U.S. Gay marriage was recently legalized nation-wide, and the amount of hate on social media regarding this decision is astronomical. The same individuals who claim to worship a God who is love have no qualms spreading blind hate about people they don't know regarding something that's none of their business.
So how does the notion of "free and equal" fit into seemingly justified hate? It doesn't. Human Rights moves from concept to reality when we as individuals choose to treat one another with dignity and respect. I personally feel that brings with it a responsibility to speak up for those who aren't being treated fairly. After all, world peace starts with me.
For more photos of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, please visit The Journal of the American Institute of Architects.