H. Foster, CMH
Mark Rendell

Wildcat replica coming down, could be up for sale

Exhibit being removed as part of national history museum's overhaul for Canada's 150th birthday

Have you ever dreamt of owning the Wildcat? Maybe you could turn it into a guesthouse or a workshop? Well, there’s a slim chance the Canadian Museum of History may have a deal for you.

Ahead of the 150th anniversary of Confederation in July 2017, the museum near Ottawa is redoing its main Canadian history exhibit, Canada Hall, and the life-size Wildcat replica has to go. As a replica of the pre-renovation Wildcat of yore, you’d almost be getting something closer to the 1937 original. That said, as shown in the photo up top, it’s also been designed backwards.

Canning the Wildcat is nothing against the North, said David Morrison, director of research for the History Hall project. All large-scale replicas, from the stern of a Basque whaling ship to the retro waiting room of the Vancouver Airport, circa 1960, are being given away as the museum turns the hall from a winding warren that feels “like being lost in a medieval city,” to a more expansive place “symbolizing the wide open space and vastness of Canada.”

Morrison said the models are being offered to other museums for free, though he’s not sure if anyone will be interested in the Wildcat.

“When you do the cost benefit analysis, with the cost of shipping the Wildcat to Vancouver or to Yellowknife, it would be cheaper to make your own,” he said. And with the real Wildcat just around the corner, he added, it makes little sense for the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre to house a mock-up.

Although the Wildcat hasn’t been offered to private purchasers yet, if no museums take an interest, it may be up for grabs. “If you know anyone interested tell them to get in touch,” joked Morrison.

Getting Canadian history right

Although the Wildcat will be losing its place in Canada Hall, which is now temporarily closed, the overhaul sounds like an exciting opportunity for Canada’s premier history museum to do a better job telling the story of the North.

Canada Hall, as it stands, “is no longer tenable,” said Morrison. “It starts with blonde Europeans coming to North America and entirely ignores Aboriginal history.”

Right now, the history of Aboriginal people is relegated to the lower floor. The First Peoples Hall will still be there in 2017, but the updated Canada Hall will also integrate Aboriginal history rather than pretending it’s outside the Canadian narrative, said Morrison.

“We decided we couldn’t just tweak Canada Hall and put a few Aboriginal bits,” said Morrison. “It needed a complete overhaul.”

Along with a more spacious design featuring a new mezzanine by the renowned Metis and Blackfoot architect Douglas Cardinal, the exhibit will have a number of sections of interest to northerners.

Much of the content is still up in the air, said Morrison. However, there will likely be displays on the Fur Trade, whaling, mining, the Numbered Treaties, Residential Schools and northern exploration – including the role Aboriginal people played aiding European explorers.

Morrison, who spent a significant amount of time working in the N.W.T and who has enjoyed many a beer at the real Wildcat, said he’s sad to see the exhibit go. But he said the new Canada Hall is a chance to get both northern and Canadian history right.