The Shaping & Structuring of Space: Victorial Memorial Museum

This blog post features the Victoria Memorial Museum, or the Canadian Museum of Nature, located in Ottawa, Ontario. In 1901, Parliament of Canada authorized the beginning of the construction of the building, which was “to be a tribute to Queen Victoria, whose 64-year reign ended in that year.”[1] It was designed by David Ewart (Chief Architect of the Department of Public Works) and built between 1905 and 1911 by George Goodwin.[2] Its construction also “coincided with the pre-World War I boom in the building of encyclopaedic museums in most major cities in Europe and North America,” and its initial purpose was to house the offices of the Geological and Natural History Survey of Canada and their “natural history and human history collections.”[3]

Victorial Memorial Museum, 1911. Credit: “Victoria Memorial Museum Building, Ottawa,” Wikipedia.

Due to its success as a museum in the early twentieth century, in 1927, the museum collections separated from the Geological Survey of Canada, becoming the National Museum of Canada. In 1959, the building became the home of the Canadian Museum of Man and Nature, which was then divided in 1988 into the Canadian Museum of Civilization (later the Canadian Museum of History) and the Canadian Museum of Nature, which remained in the building.[4] In 1990, the Canadian Museum of Nature was designated as a national historic site of Canada “because of its prominent and early place in the development of museology in Canada and because of its architecture.”[5]

The Victoria Memorial Museum was designed to “reflect the Romanesque and medieval styles of Europe, with a combination of Tudor Gothic features.”[6] Its architectural elements include a towered entrance, a “symmetrically organized façade,” “its original entrance contained within a set of triple arches elaborate with neo-gothic tracery,” decorative buttresses, and a strong horizontality expressed through use of rectangles.[7] The architectural decorations incorporate animals and plants native to the region, such as beavers and foxes (see images).[8] The building is also deliberately positioned within a park to mirror the layout of the Parliament buildings.[9]

Fox head in the decorative elements of the building. Credit: “History and Buildings,” Canadian Museum of Nature.
Beaver in the front façade. Credit: “History and Buildings,” Canadian Museum of Nature.

Since its opening in 1911, the Victoria Memorial Museum has had various renovations and new additions. Between 1995 and 1997, the “exterior of the museum’s heritage stonework [was] cleaned and repaired.”[10] Between 2004 and 2010, the building underwent its “most comprehensive renovation,” including the addition of a glass tower to its façade in 2004/05.[11] Check out the images below to see the new additions to the building over the years.

Renovations of the building. Credit: “The Victoria Memorial Museum Building,” OttawaHH – Ottawa’s History and Heritage in Pictures.

– Catherine Ramey


[1] “Historical Timeline,” Canadian Museum of Nature.

[2] James Powell, “The Victoria Memorial Museum,” Today in Ottawa’s History, April 28, 2018;  “Victoria Memorial Museum National Historic Site of Canada,” Canada’s Historic Places.

[3] “Victoria Memorial Museum National Historic Site of Canada,” Canada’s Historic Places.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] “History and Buildings,” Canadian Museum of Nature.

[7] “Victoria Memorial Museum National Historic Site of Canada,” Canada’s Historic Places.

[8] “History and Buildings,” Canadian Museum of Nature.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid;  “Victoria Memorial Museum National Historic Site of Canada,” Canada’s Historic Places.

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