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Musqueam exhibition wins Governor General's History Award

Today was a very special day for the team that created c̓əsnaʔəm, The City Before the City. The collaborative series of exhibitions was recognized at Rideau Hall in Ottawa, where the curators were presented with  the 2015 Governor General’s History Award for Excellence in Museums, by His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston.

The award recognizes individuals or institutions that have made remarkable contributions to a better knowledge of Canadian history. This year’s winning project is c̓əsnaʔəm, The City Before the City. The exhibition tells the story of c̓əsnaʔəm, one of the largest ancient Musqueam villages and burial sites upon which Vancouver was built. It was jointly curated by the Museum of Vancouver (MOV) in collaboration with the Museum of Anthropology (MOA) at UBC, Musqueam First Nation, and Susan Roy from the University of Waterloo.

“Winning such a prestigious national award is a testament to the hard work, creativity and perseverance of the curatorial teams,” says Nancy Noble, CEO of MOV. “This important exhibition has allowed the Museum to confront its own colonial past, acknowledging the actions of our predecessors and hopefully, in some small way, reconciling the many misconceptions about the Musqueam people, their history and their continued contributions to Vancouver and Canadian society.”

The three-location exhibition intends to generate public discussion about indigenous history, and to raise awareness of the significance of c̓əsnaʔəm for the Musqueam people and for Vancouver. The ancient village of c̓əsnaʔəm was founded about 5,000 years ago at what was then the mouth of the Fraser—the southern border of today’s Marpole neighbourhood.

“c̓əsnaʔəm was a place where families lived and put their people to rest and was a sophisticated society. That’s why the exhibit is called ‘The City Before the City,’ says Jordan Wilson of the MOA and co-curator of the exhibition. “All too often there’s a picture painted of these villages as quite small and primitive, but in fact it was quite a large site, and the Musqueam people played a significant role in shaping the City of Vancouver.”

“Museums are no longer just passive buildings that store old objects. They play an active role in sharing new knowledge,” says Janet Walker, President and CEO of Canada’s History Society, which administers the award. “c̓əsnaʔəm, The City Before the City is a perfect example of how a museum exhibition can counter an existing narrative—that Vancouver is a young city of immigrants—and replace it with a more truthful version of events. In this way, museums help shape our future as well as our past.”

The joint exhibition opened earlier this year at the Museum of Vancouver, the Museum of Anthropology and the Musqueam Cultural Centre, and continues through January 2016. Each location explores different aspects of c̓əsnaʔəm, through artifacts—collected mainly in the 1920s and ‘30s—and new technologies such as 3-D printing.

You can find more information about the exhibition at www.thecitybeforethecity.com.

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