| Zuzak Letters |
Globe and Mail | 04Jan2014 | Roy MacGregor
In Winnipeg, an ambitious museum for an evolving city
Winnipeg: -- Where
better to have such a thought than in the Garden of Contemplation?
The famous American architect Antoine Predock was looking up through
the sweeping “glass cloud” that covers the river side of his Canadian
Museum for Human Rights when he suddenly turned to Gail Asper and
raised his hands to the heavens. “I cannot believe you let me get away
Was Roy MacGregor present when Mr. Predock made this statement? What
was the date?]
likely go down as the greatest achievement of the 77-year-old designer.
The national museum -- announced last week to open in September, 2014
-- is virtually finished on the outside, deep into preparation on the
inside. It is a striking and memorable building, if rather eccentric.
The 100-metre Tower of Hope is already Winnipeg’s CN, Pisa, Eiffel --
the instantly recognizable icon for a city that, strangely, has never
had a commanding one before, though the “Golden Boy” statue atop the
provincial legislature is widely recognizable.
Mr. Predock says he designed the structure so that it would appear as
if a giant dove of peace were folding its wings in comfort over the
building. Critics say it looks like a raised middle finger or a Kaiser
military helmet -- but then it is the critics as much as the celebrants
who draw special attention to a place.
The museum was the idea of the late Izzy Asper, the broadcast mogul who
never left his base in Winnipeg. The son of Russian Jews who found
freedom from persecution in Canada, Mr. Asper had long funded student
trips to Washington to visit the Holocaust Museum. Late in life,
however, he decided Canada should have its own human-rights memorial --
and why not right here in Winnipeg?
his daughter Gail told him. [W.Z.
Surely, Mr. MacGregor was not present to hear the quotation! The
appropriate sentence would read: "His daughter Gail recalls that she
told him that he was nuts."]
And yet, a full decade after Izzy Asper’s death, it is the daughter who
is pulling it off. Total capital cost for the museum is $351-million.
The federal government, which will run it as a national museum, put in
$100-million, the province of Manitoba $40-million and the city of
The greatest contribution, however, has come from private donations --
now more than $142-million. More than 75,000 people have given money,
some as little as a few dollars. Gail Asper -- a small whirlwind of
energy who is also a Winnipeg lawyer -- has gotten pledges of
$1-million or more from 51 individuals “and I want 60, 70 if I can get
them.” Some of her million-dollar donors required eight years of
persistent persuasion before they would give. As those who know her
well put it: “You don’t say ‘No’ to Gail.”
Mr. Predock wanted the structure to appear “organic.” The four main
concrete supports he calls “roots.” The subterranean start of the
journey is over a floor tinted to look like the cracked bed of the
nearby Red River. Through a kilometre or so of twisting and turning
ramps, visitors rise up through alabaster railings -- light dancing
through the translucent stone -- to visit a dozen interactive galleries
until, if not suffering severe vertigo, they reach the Tower of Hope
that rises high above the “glass cloud.”
Emphasis will be on learning, with classrooms built into the museum.
The hope is to attract students and human-rights groups from around the
world to come to Winnipeg and see for themselves. And what they will
see, regardless of what they make of Antoine Predock’s unusual
building, is a city that has changed dramatically and is still changing.
The return of the National Hockey League’s Jets, curiously, did
something to local sensibility that reaches far beyond sports. There is
a “we matter” swagger that was last seen in these parts a century ago
when, briefly, Winnipeg was poised to become the hub of the prairies,
Canada’s Chicago. It never quite happened.
The Jets, locals say, put The ’Peg back on the map. The museum will do
the same. Combine all that with plans for an expanded convention
centre, new hotels, a new football stadium, a $90-million project that
would transform Assiniboine Park and include a world-class polar bear
exhibit, a new IKEA superstore and a brand-new airport, and Winnipeg
2013 is far removed from, say, Winnipeg 2010.
That is not to say everything is perfect. People worry about the costs
of sustaining such an ambitious museum. There was an awkward moment
when a proposal was put forward to build a hotel and water park by the
museum. The new football stadium is both impressive and has flaws --
poor press facilities, a promised winter roof now put off indefinitely.
There is empty retail space downtown. And the journey from the
wonderful new James Armstrong Richardson International Airport to the
beauty of the downtown Forks is easily the worst introduction to any
city in Canada.
This “entrance” flaw is known and may even be addressed: “…the time
could not be better,” the head of the chamber of commerce recently
wrote in the Free Press, “for us to beautify one of Winnipeg’s most
travelled roads and show the strength of our newly invigorated pride in
Crime is down and confidence up. Winnipeg is a different city. And
’Peggers are somewhat like “urban Cape Bretoners” in that they remain
fiercely proud of their roots even if they don’t happen to live there.
“It’s the Winnipeg diaspora,” Gail Asper says. “If we repatriated all
the people of Winnipeg, we’d be a city of eight million.”
They won’t all come back, but those who do will see a different place
than they left. “Company’s coming,” Ms. Asper says. “And we’ll be
See Blackrod rebuttal.]
Mr MacGregor generally pens very thoughtful, indeed often delightful,
articles on Canadian life. This article is, alas, nothing more than a
fluff piece. How can a gifted writer be so utterly unmindful of the
legitimate concerns raised, repeatedly, about the contents and
governance of what is, essentially, a taxpayer funded national museum
in which the suffering of one community will be elevated above all
others, in perpetuity? Way over budget, way behind schedule, this was,
and remains, a divisive and contentious project, whatever one thinks of
Important to note is that in this age of social media many readers will
of course be aware of the G&M reporter's gross failure to
include telltale stories of the myriad controversies spawned by the
building and developing of the Asper-inspired human rights museum in
The Peg -- unlike the pre-Internet era when people often took what a
reporter reported at face value. Likewise, when the h.m. museum opens
its doors visitors who tour the facility will no doubt note and share
with others the peculiar slant and emphasis given to various egregious
historical wrongs that got inflicted on different peoples. My hunch is
this will turn into a hornet's-nest of never ending controversy given
the pecking order ascribed to the different historical wrongs based the
amount of space allocated to each. We can envisage, for example,
activists during Israeli Apartheid Week decrying the Asper-inspired
museum avoidance of any reference to Israeli apartheid when measured
alongside the vigor with which it decries pre-Mandela South African
Actually, though Roy MacGregor does write well, almost everything he
writes is fluffy. This one happens to be about a museum, instead of the
usual paean to hockey.
If perhaps one is intrigued with viewing examples of human suffering
and mans' inhumanity to man then one may want to visit this museum. One
visit should be enough to confirm the dark side of humans. I cannot
visualize an ongoing interest in such a dark subject.
There are still ongoing battles among Jewish, Ukrainian and Aboriginal
groups about which group suffered the most and how prominent their
examples should be displayed. Citizens in my old home town brought a
lot of baggage from central and eastern Europe over the past 100 years.
The stories of pain and injustice have been passed down from generation