North American Sights: Mccord Museum Of Canadian History

Located in downtown Montreal, the historical collection began in 1921 with the personal collected by David McCord.

The McCord Museum of Canadian History is located at 690 Sherbrooke Street West in downtown Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

Prominent Montreal lawyer David Ross McCord (1844-1930) was more than just another collector in the Victorian era when collecting was at its peak. Indeed, he was obsessive about his collections and they consumed much of his time. Hallways and rooms at his home, Temple Grove, were filled from floor to ceiling with all types of fine antiques including paintings, weapons, and rare books. A staunch French Canadian, McCord envisioned a museum that would illustrate major events as well as important people in the history of Canada through the display of arts and artifacts.

For 11 years he tried to donate his collections totalling 15,000 items to nearby McGill University, but they said no. That's because the university did not have space for a museum of this caliber, and officials were afraid they could not afford to maintain it. In 1909 philanthropist Sir William Macdonald acquired the mansion of Montreal financier Jesse Joseph for McGill University and it was used for officer training during World War I. After the war ended in 1918 renovations were made and McCord's personal collection was then acquired. The McCord Museum officially opened in the Joseph home on October 13, 1921.



During the 1920s and early 1930s schoolchildren and tourists filled the museum. Glowing press accounts about the unique collections encouraged even more visitors. But by 1936, which was during the Great Depression, the Joseph home had serious structural damage and McGill University had no funds for repairs. Reluctantly, officials closed the museum; it would not open to the general public for 35 more years.

Walter Stewart was very interested in supporting the museum during the 1940s and 1950s. His generous donations contributed to the renovation of McGill University's former Student Union Building for museum use. This new site opened in 1971. An expansion and renovation project was completed in 1992.

Today the McCord Museum conserves over 950,000 objects and manuscripts. This includes over 400,000 images in the Photographic Archives of the studios of William Notman (1826-1891), an internationally recognized portrait photographer. About 2,000 negatives in the Notman archives were taken by Peter Pitscolak (1902-1973) to document the Inuit hunting culture.

But the McCord collection remains at the heart of the exhibitions. Items ranging from hand forged tools to lace camisoles to historical documents to whimsical toys bring the history of Canada, of Quebec, and especially Montreal to life. The costumes collection is the foremost in Canada. Most of the items are from 1800 to 1945 when Victorian Montreal became an urban culture. The collection also has significant examples from earlier times in Canadian history. Rotating exhibits have a variety of themes and viewpoints to appeal to all ages. A wide range of hands-on activities are included with displays. There is also a full schedule of concerts, lectures, and workshops.

In the lobby area there is a boutique stocked with jewelry, wooden sculptures, crafts, books, and postcards related to museum exhibits. A café serving lunch or beverages and desserts is open during museum hours.

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