Canadian Museum for Human Rights: Explore the World’s Only Museum Dedicated to the History and Future of Human Rights

Jun 14, 2022

What does the world’s only museum dedicated to human rights have in common with Winnipeg, Manitoba?

Portraits of Canadians on display at the Canadian Museum of Human Rights.

Winnipeg—a city known as the “Gateway to the West”, the capital of the province of Manitoba, and almost the center (east to west) of Canada — proudly has a national space dedicated to human rights.

A view of the Assiniboine River from the Canadian Museum of Human Rights.

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR) stands on a 5.97-acre site overlooking Winnipeg’s downtown. It was conceived to be a place where visitors could experience both the history and future of human rights.

A view of downtown Winnipeg from the Canadian Museum of Human Rights.

After nearly 60 years of being home to a national park and then a country music festival, this part of Winnipeg became home to Canada’s first National Museum of Human Rights in 2014. The museum is part of a larger complex called The Forks—a historic meeting place where the Assiniboine and Red Rivers meet.

The lobby of the Canadian Museum of Human Rights.

The museum itself was built in Winnipeg, Manitoba—a province with a rich history in LGBTQ+ history. Many people who had been persecuted or discriminated against because of their sexual orientation or gender identity settled in Winnipeg when they immigrated to Canada. The Museum’s location in Winnipeg is meaningful to them as well because many of them have become active members of their community there, promoting social justice and equality for all people.

A colorful display at the Canadian Museum of Human Rights.

Winnipeg has become a beacon for the LGBTQ+ community. As early as 1951, it was noted that this area was a safe haven for gay and lesbian individuals who had been persecuted somewhere else. Manitoba has a long history of supporting LGBTQ+ rights—it was the first province to protect people from discrimination based on their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression.

LGBTQ friends taking a photo on the Pride crosswalk at the Canadian Museum of Human Rights.

People from all over the world have been flocking to Winnipeg over the last few years because of these landmark protections. The CMHR makes an important point for human rights leaders around the world: bigotry doesn’t just hurt those who are being discriminated against; it hurts us all.

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”

Canada is a Leader on Human Rights

Canada has a rich history of human rights, given the fact that the country hasn’t always been as diverse as it is now. This can be attributed to the history of the country’s founding, which was driven by French settlers in Quebec and English settlers in Ontario. While there were established laws pertaining to women and workers’ rights, laws surrounding homosexuality were almost non-existent until recent years.

“I am a Canadian, a free Canadian, free to speak without fear, free to worship God in my own way, free to stand for what I think right, free to oppose but I believe wrong, free to choose who shall govern my country.”

John Diefenbaker, 13th prime minister of Canada, 1957 to 1963

It was Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, father of current Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who famously said in 1969, ‘There’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation’, which set the groundwork for equality and rights for Canadians.

Canada enshrined equality and human rights with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982. Canada was an early adopter of nationally approving both gay marriage and gay adoption. Today, Canada sets the gold standard on equality and rights, and works tirelessly to have other jurisdictions embody the same practices.

Gay Marriage Rights in Canada

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights is a great place to celebrate gay marriage rights in Canada. This exhibit highlights the history of same-sex marriage in Canada, including how it was legalized in 2005 after more than 15 years of activism. It also includes the story of how the Supreme Court ruled that denying gay couples the right to marry violated their Charter rights.

Photos of same sex marriages in Canada at the Canadian Museum of Human Rights.

Persecution of Homosexuals During the Holocaust

The persecution of homosexuals during the Holocaust is another important story told by this museum. The exhibit addresses why homosexuals were targeted—because they were seen as “unnatural”—and how they were treated by German authorities, including being sent to concentration camps where many died from starvation or disease.

Phots of homosexuals during the Holocaust at the Canadian Museum of Human Rights.

History of Pink Shirt Day 

Finally, you can learn about Pink Shirt Day by visiting this museum’s exhibits on bullying and discrimination. Pink Shirt Day is an annual event held on February 24th each year; it started in Nova Scotia after two male students were bullied at school because they were wearing pink shirts. Their classmates stood up against bullying with a silent protest: they wore pink shirts to school on February 24th, which is now known as Pink Shirt Day!

A diorama about Pink Shirt Day at the Canadian Museum of Human Rights in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Ten Core Galleries

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights is a museum dedicated to the protection of human rights. It consists of ten core galleries that explore themes such as love, equality, dignity, and hope. The exhibits aim to promote human rights and inspire visitors with the courage of those who have fought for their own rights.

A diorama at the Canadian Museum of Human Rights in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

There are many exhibits in the Canadian Museum for Human Rights that will help you understand how we can work towards a more just society. But more importantly, there are special exhibits on First Nations history in Canada, Inuit culture and language, and Metis culture—all featuring incredible work by artists from those communities working together with local artists from Winnipeg to create works that celebrate their culture while also raising awareness about ongoing struggles for justice. 

A patchwork quilt on display at the Canadian Museum of Human Rights in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

The Truth for Reconciliation exhibit includes video interviews with survivors of residential schools who share their experiences with us so we can learn more about this difficult time in our history and understand how it affects people today.

The Red Dress exhibit at the Canadian Museum of Human Rights in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

And don’t miss out on the Red Dress project. This powerful exhibition pays tribute to missing and murdered indigenous women by featuring dresses worn by women who were victims of violence or exploitation.

Stunning Architecture

The architecture of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights is truly stunning. The building is designed to look like a human form rising from the ground, and it gives visitors amazing cityscape views of Winnipeg.

Long, lit corridors and ramps at the Canadian Museum of Human Rights.

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights is a place that can be incredibly emotional. Inside, there is a peaceful reflection room with ponds, vegetation, and slate. You can sit and think about what you’ve learned during your visit. It’s a powerful spot to reflect after exploring this incredible museum.

The reflecting room at the Canadian Museum of Human Rights.

Incredibly Powerful Exhibits and Displays

The museum is home to an incredible array of exhibits and displays that cover a wide range of topics, from the Holocaust to modern-day human rights issues. There are some heavy, difficult topics covered in the exhibits (and we encourage you to read up before going), but there are also many inspiring stories about how the world has adapted and evolved as human rights have become enshrined in law throughout the years.

Powerful, handwritten messages on a patchwork quilt at the Canadian Museum of Human Rights in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

It’s important to remember that this museum is dedicated to learning and growing, so if you find yourself getting overwhelmed or upset by something you see at the CMHR, take a moment to breathe and reflect on what it means for you personally. The purpose of this museum is not just about learning about human rights, but about acting in support of them as well!

Inside the Canadian Museum of Human Rights.

It’s clear to see why this museum is quickly becoming a Winnipeg staple, and it’s not hard to see why: it’s an exploration of human rights around the world.

And the museum’s most recent announcement is sure to please many Canadians: all washrooms are now gender-neutral! This means that you’ll never have to worry about finding a bathroom that isn’t yours again—just head on over to the CMHR, and you’ll be able to use whichever washroom feels like home.

The Canadian Museum of Human Rights in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Tourism Winnipeg

Winnipeg is the capital of the Canadian province of Manitoba. The city’s most famous new landmark is the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, the first museum solely dedicated to the evolution, celebration, and future of human rights. Winnipeg has a long and proud history of diversity and inclusion, including being the first major North American city to elect an openly gay mayor.

You are in the right spot when it comes to LGBTQ+ travel when visiting Winnipeg, and you will be welcomed with open arms. 

Tourism Winnipeg can help you plan your ultimate gaycation to Winnipeg. Start planning today!

Travel Manitoba

Manitoba is where golden wheat fields meet an infinite blue sky. Cool, clean lakes and waterways, all 110,000 of them, beckon the adventurer and the rejuvenator in you. Venture out to rediscover Manitoba’s wide-open spaces, breathtaking landscapes, and deep cultural roots. 

Manitoba has a strong history in human justice. In 1987, Manitoba was the first province in Canada to pass the Human Rights Code to include protections from discrimination based on sexual orientation and has protected gender identity since 2012. Manitoba was also the first province in Canada to appoint a transgender judge. 

Plan your trip to Winnipeg and beyond, and find great travel deals and packages, with the help of Travel Manitoba.

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Brian Webb

Brian Webb

Author

Brian Webb is the founder and editor-in-chief of HomoCulture, a celebrated content creator, and winner of the prestigious Mr. Gay Canada – People’s Choice award. An avid traveler, Brian attends Pride events, festivals, street fairs, and LGBTQ friendly destinations through the HomoCulture Tour. He has developed a passion for discovering and sharing authentic lived experiences, educating about the LGBTQ community, and using both his photography and storytelling to produce inspiring content. Originally from the beautiful Okanagan Valley in the southern interior of British Columbia, Brian now lives in Vancouver, British Columbia. His personal interests include travel, photography, physical fitness, mixology, drag shows.

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