Since 2013, the Canadian Museum of History (CMH) has hosted a number of our mini exhibitions in a display case around the corner from the Grand Hall. These little exhibitions have, up until now, formed part of our efforts to remain visible and relevant while we were closed for renovations. Nevertheless, since opening our doors last July, we have elected to continue this relationship by introducing a new exhibition at the CMH on January 30: Before the Erebus: The Making of Sir John Franklin. Our last two exhibitions there, Swindle! Canadian Phantom Banks and Mining the Miners, were both developed to complement the CMH’s big summer exhibitions and this time around, we chose to do the same again with Death in the Ice: The Mystery of the Franklin Expedition opening at the CMH in March. Fresh from a successful run at the National Maritime Museum in London, England, it boasts fascinating artifacts recovered from the Franklin expedition including items raised from his recently discovered ships, HMS Erebus and Terror.
Now you might wonder how a museum specializing in economics and currency expects to interpret the history of a legendary arctic explorer—through money, of course. Among the nice things about money, and there are so very many, is its intimate connection to a society and how that can reflect a broad variety of its issues and events. War, colonization, foreign trade, military occupation, dictatorship and revolution are just a few historical scenarios evoked by our artifact selection—scenarios encountered by Sir John Franklin throughout his career. As a way of complementing the big exhibition upstairs, we have chosen to explore Franklin’s career prior to his doomed expedition, instead focussing on the career that took him nearly around the globe and through some key events in 19th century history.
Plunged head-long into the Battle of Copenhagen as a fifteen-year-old naval volunteer, in an astonishing career, Franklin rose up the ranks to command his own ships and expeditions. He was aboard Matthew Flinders’ ship Investigator as it circumnavigated Australia, in the thick of the Battle of Trafalgar, among those escorting the Portuguese Royal Family as it fled Napoleon and deep into “the land God gave to Cain” trekking overland from Hudson’s Bay to the Coppermine River—twice. There’s so much more to Franklin than the mystery surrounding his disappearance.
Most of the currency featured in this exhibition was produced in response to specific social, political or military situations or was in some way adapted to meet those needs. The artifacts were chosen to represent some of Franklin’s most important encounters with history: coins of the Greek revolution, the British empire’s rapid expansion, the Napoleonic Wars. In a way, it is as much about currency’s ability to hold a mirror up to history as it is about Franklin.
Coins are generally small things, so for this exhibition we’ve given the visitor a little help. For each historic zone of Franklin’s life, we’ve had the main artifact enlarged, 3D printed and hand-painted. Visitors can touch and flip these prop coins to see and feel details in ways that would never be possible with actual artifacts. Of course, the real artifacts are there too, several for each zone, and arranged over a wonderfully illustrated map that highlights the major voyages of Franklin’s career.
Before the Erebus: the Making of Sir John Franklin will be open for a few weeks prior to Death in the Ice: The Mystery of the Franklin Expedition and will run all year. See both for a rounded picture of this extraordinary man.
July 11, 2018 Canada Day, 2018
We can handle around 350 people at once, so when we hit our maximum capacity, it looked like everybody on the Hill had dropped in for a little economic and numismatic education.
June 22, 2018 FIDEM and Masters of Relief
FIDEM…exists to promote an appreciation for art medals, hosting shows internationally and providing a forum for the discussion and publication of relevant information.
June 13, 2018 Unpacking the Collection 8
Dora’s work is as familiar as the change that jingles in your pocket. In all likelihood, you have come in contact with her work while using coinage to pay for your morning cup of coffee.
May 28, 2018 Canadian Tulip Festival 2018
At first glance, you might wonder why a flower festival is a good fit for a money–themed museum. It’s worth a little history lesson to tell you why.
May 16, 2018 Not Your Run-of-the-Mill School Visit
Our visitors were students from the Curatorial Studies Graduate Diploma Program at Ottawa’s Carleton University.
The new bank note featuring Viola Desmond provides an excellent opportunity to teach about the concept of historical significance.
April 18, 2018 New Acquisitions
To distinguish the new production from that of 1936, a small impression was added to the reverse dies, creating a raised dot on coins struck from those tools.
March 27, 2018 Fakes, Forgeries and Phonies
During the break for the English school board, the Bank’s Currency Department teamed up with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) to give visitors a chance to handle some modern counterfeit bank notes.
March 14, 2018 The Bank-NOTEable Woman is Here!
Even if you’re not familiar with Viola Desmond’s story, it will likely become clear that the theme of this note is human rights and social justice.