Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Museum of Nature Re-Opening Day, part 1

The Museum of Nature had its grand re-opening last year, appropriately, on Victoria Day weekend (May 22-24). That day, I posted an entry titled Museum of Nature reopens after there years of renovations--referring to the previous renovations, ending in 1972, as covered at the time in the community-owned newspaper, the Centretown News. The more recent renovations took twice as long.

I bring this up because next week there will be a free public lecture by Heritage Ottawa, Victoria Memorial Museum Renewal: Competing Stakeholders' Interests, being held next Wednesday, March 16, 2011 at 7pm in the museum's auditorium. Project director Maria Somjen will describe the process of extensive renovations to the building. This is part of Heritage Ottawa's lecture series, which is normally held at the Ottawa Public Library.

I visited the museum thrice on opening day, as admission was free. Throughout the day, I took about a hundred photos, which I'm posting in a three-part series on the Museum of Nature Re-Opening Day:
  • Part 1: Front entrance and main hall
  • Part 2: Spaces - new architecture meets old
  • Part 3: Exhibits
Maybe one day I'll get around to posting my construction photos, too.

Part 1: Front entrance and main hall

The museum looked pretty sharp on opening day, and the grass was bright green. The meagre bicycle rack was full to the brim:

I arrived around 11:30 in the morning, after the parade down Metcalfe finished, at the time when the museum was scheduled to open. So did zillions of other people and their kids, who were brimming onto McLeod street, which was luckily still closed off to traffic. There was an opening ceremony being staged at a tent with some chairs in front of it. Additional speakers had been put out along the wall of the museum, but a vast majority of the crowd couldn't hear what was being said, and many just wanted to get in. The younger ones all seemed to make a point of this to their parents.

I decided to wait for the crowds to thin out a bit at a coffeeshop and return to meet up with some friends to see the exhibits. On my way down Metcalfe, I snapped this photo. You can get a sense of how big the crowd is. However, as observed by the Midcentury Modernist in his scathing June 2009 architectural review, the new structures on the roof obscure the castle-like silhouette of the battlements. From this angle, you'd think someone had dropped a Wal-Mart on its roof.

On my return to the museum in the afternoon, it began to rain heavily. I even had to duck into a bus shelter to ride out the worst of it. A security guard was posted at the door to control entry of visitors, as they had reached their capacity. The queue wasn't too long by this point.

Once you make your way past the second set of doors (on the far side of the photo below), you enter the main lobby, beautifully restored by skilled craftsmen. As you can see, there are a lot of people in here!

Under your feet is a mosaic of a moose, which had been covered up some time ago and rediscovered during the renovations. This shot was taken from the second storey balcony and activity area, beneath the Lantern, at a rare instant when nobody was walking over it. The eight columns go down to the sub-basement and up to the top of the Lantern, supporting the weight of its curtain-glass walls.

Looking up you'll see the grand staircase, and a new reception area in the middle of the lobby. I still remember the old reception desk tucked in on your left as you enter, and next to it an exhibit of a large cross-section of a tree trunk. I also remember they used to have a coat check, which has been replaced with an unattended cloakroom.

Here's a detail of the staircase railings.

Then looking up some more, you see a very large skylight, and the open tracery screen (formerly a window) to the Lantern, a new architectural feature at the front of the building.

We'll look through the screen and into the lantern in the next post. I'll also point out some of the other new spaces at the museum.

While you're waiting for that post, why not check out the other posts with the Museum of Nature label?

1 comment:

  1. Excellent post!

    A slight correction -- the moose was not rediscovered during these renovations, but during some earlier renovations in the late eighties or early nineties.