Humanitas by any other name (or, Toronto to get its own city museum)
The most memorable museum I have seen in my life and travels is the Eel Interpretation Centre in Kamouraska, Quebec. It was owned by a local eel-fishing family that, during the off-season, charged admission to their garage. They displayed their nets and explained Japan’s insatiable appetite for eel. One wall was devoted to collateral damage: a taxidermist had stuffed all the animals (other than eels) that had been accidentally ensnared in the nets, from raccoons to seagulls to a sad-eyed baby seal. It was the corniest, most picayune museum ever, but it was brutally honest; the lesson learned was that eel fishing is fascinating, and that sometimes bad things happen. I mention it as an omen: this morning, the mayor’s executive committee (known to City State as the Committee of One Mind) approved the latest proposal to build a Toronto Museum.
The Toronto Museum Project, formerly known as Humanitas, has lots of impressive names behind it, including former Toronto mayor David Crombie and former Toronto Star mayor John Honderich, both of whom were in attendance at Committee Room 1 this morning. The proposal suggests building the museum in the old Canada Malting site, the building with those big silos down on the waterfront. All great so far. And the museum will no doubt be a shrine to diversity, which is what it should be. But diversity hasn’t come easy, and if this museum turns out to be a museum about People Living in Harmony, it will be a dreadful bore. In museums especially, honesty is the best policy