Completely re-imagined Bank of Canada Museum re-opens to public

By Jesse Robitaille

The Bank of Canada Museum—formerly known as the Currency Museum—has re-opened its doors after a four-year closure and a “complete re-imagining.”

Aside from containing artifacts from the National Currency Collection, the two museums are “really quite different,” according to Paul Berry, the museum’s chief curator.

“The Bank of Canada Museum is focused upon delivering messages about the economy and the Bank of Canada whereas the Currency Museum looked more at currency and its evolution both within and outside Canada,” said Berry, who added the new museum has “twice the floor space but about one quarter of the artifacts on display.”

Despite fewer artifacts, the redesigned museum and its new focus has allowed the bank to showcase a greater variety of material from the National Currency Collection.

“Stock certificates, payment cards and savings banks help tell the story about production, consumption and one’s personal involvement in the economy; subjects that weren’t formerly addressed,” said Berry. “The new museum is interactive, more flexible with respect to our ability to change displays and information, and much more modern in appearance.”

SPECIAL PREVIEW

On June 20, Berry and other bank staff, including Governor Stephen Poloz, were joined by Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson for a preview of the new museum, the entrance of which is located at the corner of Bank Street and Wellington Street in downtown Ottawa.

Berry said the new entrance allows for more public visibility than ever before.

“Visitors now can access the museum directly from the corner of Bank and Wellington, a major downtown intersection. They no longer have to walk into an office building and then along a garden court in search of the museum entrance.”

The museum opened to the public on July 1, and admission is free year-round. Collectors and non-collectors alike are being invited to visit the museum and learn about the economy—and more specifically, their role in the economy—as well as the Bank of Canada’s role at home and abroad.

YOU ARE THE ECONOMY

Berry said there’s very little choice involved: “You’re part of the economy no matter what you do.”

“Whether you buy a chocolate bar, whether you put money in a piggy bank, whether you write a cheque, whether you use a credit card in a purchase, whether you buy a stock certificate from a company, we’re all part of the economy, and together we make it move and make it happen.”

It’s important, Berry added, for people to realize they’re “one cog in that large clock that is the Canadian economy.”

The Bank of Canada’s role is to support all Canadians through the ebb and flow of an economy that’s affected by a variety of ever-changing issues.

“It isn’t just magic,” said Berry. “It doesn’t just rise and fall on its own. It’s the collective efforts of Canadians at large, and even internationally, that impact the economy and cause things to change. The bank is here to try and maintain an even keel and provide you with stability.”

‘PART OF THE AGGREGATE’

To help all visitors understand their important role in the economy, they are placed at the centre of the museum’s experience. Each visitor is given an RFID (radio-frequency identification) bracelet, which is used first to create a digital character – what Berry calls your “avatar” – that represents you in the museum’s interactive exhibits.

“You can set yourself up, using your avatar, into a larger whole. You’re part of the aggregate,” said Berry, who added the bracelet saves the information provided by each visitor (things like spending habits, not personal information) throughout their journey.

Visitors are then able to compare “stats” with other sections of the economy using a variety of different variables.

“You can see where you fit vis-à-vis other people who visited the museum, vis-à-vis the province, vis-à-vis the national scene, or even in some cases the international scene.”

‘ALL ABOUT MONEY’

“It’s all about money, but not necessarily media of exchange,” said Berry, of the museum, adding it highlights “every aspect” of the economy.

“You’ll be asked at the outset to punch in your particular stats, and then you do the comparison at the various terminals that are here.”

One of the first displays features stocks and certificates – a scripophilist’s delight – as a way of explaining the various aspects of Canada’s economy.

“Since the goal here is to set the initial step as you come in – this it ‘the economy’ – well, what makes up the economy? There are savers, there are spenders, there is production among various industries.”

SEVEN GALLERIES, 1,400 ARTIFACTS

The various galleries include (by title and order of appearance):

  • “Your journey starts here”;
  • “Individuals Help Drive the Economy: Yours Decisions Matter”;
  • “The Bank of Canada at work”;
  • “Making sense of money”;
  • “The money in your wallet”;
  • “Step into the heart of the system”; and
  • “We are all connected.”

Some of the museum’s highlights include a video game that simulates flying a rocket ship through a galaxy of ever-changing inflationary and deflationary forces at top speeds. Another fun game allows visitors to try their hand at designing a banknote.

Alongside the interactive exhibits, visitors also learn about Canada’s monetary history through the carefully selected display of 1,400 artifacts from the National Currency Collection, which is the world’s most complete collection of Canadian currency and related artifacts, holding nearly 130,000 items altogether.

Also on display at the museum are examples of international currency and trade items from throughout human history. Among the various artifacts is every banknote series issued by the Bank of Canada since 1935.

“I think the museum is an excellent example of the symbiosis between the old and the new,” said Berry. “By the same token, we’ve put a lot of objects on display. We provide the historical context for the bank through the National Currency Collection for the exhibits, which basically fill the walls in the gallery.”

DISPLAYING CANADA’S ECONOMY

There are three curators, including Berry, on staff at the Bank of Canada Museum. Together with the museum’s collection manager, conservator and other staff, they determined how to best present the history of Canada’s economy.

“We wanted to have visually interesting items, and we wanted to show something of the depth and breadth of the collection; so not just coins and banknotes and tokens, but other objects that are in the collection that relate to money but were never explained in the old museum, such as stock certificates, and credit cards and savings banks, so again, it’s about our weights and measures.”

NUMISMATIC STANDBYS

“We spent a lot of time thinking about what we wanted to put on display, and that includes interesting pieces numismatically as well,” he said. “We have on display some of the old standbys that people would want to come to Ottawa to look at. For instance, the 1911 silver dollar is on display; B.C. gold is on display; and now one of the newest acquisitions, the 1936 dot cent set is on display. A lot of good old standbys, and a lot of new material that people will not have otherwise seen.”

For more information, visit bankofcanadamuseum.ca.

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