Learning from Coast to Coast: 15 of the Best Canadian Museums
There’s nothing quite like strolling through the halls of a magnificent museum, surrounded by artefacts and art spanning hundreds, even thousands of years. In just a few hours you can travel through time, immerse yourself in creativity, or learn a little more about the universe.
There are over 2,000 museums in Canada, each with its own story to tell. We’ve gathered 15 of the best, that attract multitudes of visitors, year in and year out, with their impressive exhibits and collections. Here they are, presented from west to east.
Dawson City Museum (Dawson City, Yukon)
The Klondike Gold Rush turned Dawson City into one of the West’s biggest settlements overnight. Who are the people that left their jobs and families for a chance at a fortune? What was the area like before, and how did the rush change that? These are a few of the questions answered by the Dawson City Museum. Enjoy a gold-pouring demonstration, explore old mining locomotives and see what the other exhibits have in store.
Royal BC Museum (Victoria, BC)
Walk through Victoria in the 1920’s, see a woolly mammoth in its habitat, and learn about the ceremonial masks of local First Nations, all under one roof. The natural and human history of British Columbia is permanently on display at The Royal BC Museum in Victoria. The museum strives to not only display its collection of artefacts and items—all 7 million of them—but to immerse them (and you) in a realistic setting.
The Museum of Anthropology (Vancouver, BC)
The Museum of Anthropology (MOA) contains one of the finest displays of First Nations art in the world, all in a breathtaking setting overlooking the water and mountains of British Columbia. Located on ancestral Musqueam land, the museum strives to showcase the incredible culture and traditions of these First Nations hosts. Over 10,000 culturally significant objects from around the world are on display in the museum’s galleries.
Royal Tyrrell Museum (Drumheller, Alberta)
Around 75 million years ago, the town of Drumheller, Alberta, about an hour and a half north east of Calgary, was a hotbed of dinosaur activity. That, in turn, turned Drumheller into a hotbed of dinosaur fossils, and lead to the creation of the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology. With one of the biggest displays of dinosaur skeletons in the world, and over 160,000 individual specimens, the Royal Tyrrell Museum is a must-see for both science lovers and fans of Jurassic Park.
The Manitoba Museum (Winnipeg, Manitoba)
The Manitoba Museum is the largest museum in Winnipeg, and its scope is a big as its collection. Nine permanent galleries showcase everything from a recreation of early bison hunts, to a full-size replica 17th century ship built in England in 1970 to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the Hudson’s Bay Company. The planetarium conjures up the current night sky, giving you a panoramic view you won’t forget. Regular touring exhibits also ensure a fresh, unique experience every time you visit.
Canadian Museum for Human Rights (Winnipeg, Manitoba)
One of the most eye-catching buildings in the entire country is Winnipeg’s Canadian Museum for Human Rights. The shining structure of curved steel and glass is really something to behold on its own, but it also houses a powerful collection of 11 exhibits that compel you to think about the human experience and your own place in it. This is the only museum in the world devoted solely to human rights awareness and education.
Royal Saskatchewan Museum (Regina, Saskatchewan)
The history of Saskatchewan goes as far back as you can imagine and the Royal Saskatchewan Museum, the first museum in Canada’s prairies, covers it all. Three major exhibits highlight this expansive museum: the Life Sciences Gallery looks at the province’s biological diversity and how humans are affecting nature; the First Nations Gallery looks at the region’s rich Aboriginal history; and the Earth Sciences Gallery looks at the ancient history of the region, specifically the dinosaurs and other extinct creatures that called Saskatchewan home.
Royal Ontario Museum (Toronto, Ontario)
The Royal Ontario Museum is the biggest museum of world cultures and natural history in Canada. Located right in downtown Toronto, the museum houses exhibits that run the gamut from dinosaurs to ancient Egypt to Canada’s First Nations. As you walk from floor to floor, past the 25m totem pole, you’ll encounter art, history, archeology, mineralogy, geology, paleontology, zoology, and elements of any other ‘-ology’ you could possibly imagine.
The Art Gallery of Ontario (Toronto, Ontario)
A remarkable 80,000 works of art live inside the walls of the Art Gallery of Ontario, one of the biggest and best art museums in North America. Observe the lauded work of Canada’s Group of Seven, part of the largest collection of Canadian art in the world. Then travel the globe, from the African Art Gallery to the extensive European collection, and travel back in time, from the Renaissance and Baroque eras to the present day. Photography, sculpture, graphic art, installations; Rubens, Goya, Picasso and Rembrandt; the AGO covers it all.
Canadian War Museum (Ottawa, Ontario)
Sitting on the shore of the Ottawa River, it’s hard to miss the Canadian War Museum. The museum’s distinctive building is largely flat, but shoots up 25m into the air along one side, like a waving hand calling you over. Once inside, you’ll walk through exhibitions that cover Canada’s involvement in conflicts throughout history. A vast collection of tanks, military vehicles and guns fill the walls, allowing you to see and explore the equipment used by generations of soldiers.
The Canadian Museum of History (Gatineau, Quebec)
The Canadian Museum of History is one of the country’s oldest museums, dating back to 1856. It also happens to be the most-visited in Canada, with 1.2 million annual visitors. Why do so many people stop by? The Gatineau museum’s four million items trace the history of the country, and the world, starting 20,000 years ago. Discover the story, culture, and beliefs of Canada’s Pacific First Nations, in a beautiful setting overlooking the Ottawa River and Parliament Hill.
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (Montreal, Quebec)
Don your beret, wax your mustache, and pop over to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts to see some of the 41,000 works in its collection. This is an art museum in the broadest sense of the word, with traditional fine arts, music, film, fashion, and design all represented. In a few hours of browsing, you might see an ancient glass vase, a painting by Rembrandt, and unique modern furniture. No wonder it’s the most popular art museum in Canada.
Musée de la Civilisation (Quebec City, Quebec)
Quebec City’s Musée de la Civilisation tackles the evolution of our society through its collection and the building itself, which is a mixture of old structures and modern design. Inside you’ll find exhibits on Quebec’s Aboriginals, the history of the province, and a variety of touring exhibits covering the evolution of global civilisation. More than half a million items and artefacts ensure no two visits will be the same.
Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 (Halifax, Nova Scotia)
Any trip to Halifax should include a stop at the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21. A million people passed through Pier 21 on their way in or out of Canada, and a fifth of Canadians have some family connection to this National Historic Site. Search ship records in the Immigration Database, see the mix of hope and fear in the eyes in photos of refugees and soldiers leaving for war or coming home, and learn how a nation of immigrants came to be.
The Rooms (St. John’s, Newfoundland)
Newfoundland and Labrador is a province with a rich, unique history. The Rooms is where that story comes together. Built on the site of an 18th century military fort, this facility houses the province’s art gallery, archives and provincial museum. Art and artefacts, historical records, cultural treasures—all of the influences that made Newfoundland what it is—can be explored under one roof. Learn about traditional boat building, animal life on the tundra, and military history.