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Quebec’s museum network: A model for the Francophonie

Quebec is recognized for the quality and diversity of its museums. The Société des musées du Québec (SMQ) is an association of more than 400 institutions located in major cities and municipalities of all sizes throughout the province. These museums, exhibition centres, interpretive sites and parks showcase the heritage, history, archeology, art, science, lifestyles and environment of the various regions of Quebec. The SMQ’s website offers an effective tool for finding institutions that correspond to your interests. The democratization of art and knowledge started in the late 1960s, and the profession of museologist was established in the 1980s with the creation of university programs in museology and the opening of the Musée de la civilisation. In 2000, Quebec’s Department of Culture and Communications implemented its museum policy Vivre autrement … la ligne du temps, another important step in the evolution of Quebec museology. Quebec’s museums often serve as a model for the Francophone world because of their vibrant, captivating and diversified content. They also play a key role in Quebec’s cultural outreach and enrichment.


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An overview of Quebec’s museums sector

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Dale Chihuly’s The Sun in front of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

Quebec’s four major museums—the Musée d’art contemporain and the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal in Montreal, and the Musée national des beaux arts du Québec and the Musée de la civilisation in Quebec City—are stops on major international exhibition circuits. The opening of the Musée de la civilisation in 1988 breathed unprecedented new life into Quebec’s museum network. The success of the museum, which draws large crowds, is reflected in the circulation of its thematic exhibits on the international circuit and the borrowing of its “musée de société” concept by several European museums, including the Musée de la civilisation de l’Europe et de la Méditerranée in Marseilles and the Musée d’histoire de l’Europe in Brussels. Pointe-à-Callières in Montreal is one of Canada’s major archeological museums, and the McCord Museum pioneered the use of digital tools in museology. Quebec City and Montreal, both established in the 17th century, have several historical and heritage museums and interpretive centres, as well as a range of exhibition and interpretive sites on a wide variety of subjects.

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Zoo Sauvage de St-Félicien

There is also a variety of choices in the regions. In Trois-Rivières, for example, BORÉALIS focuses on the regional paper industry, while the Musée québécois de culture populaire showcases day-to-day aspects of Quebec’s collective culture. The Musée d’art de Joliette has the largest collection of art outside the major urban centres, and is recognized for the quality of its exhibitions. In Lac-Saint-Jean, the Zoo sauvage de Saint-Félicien/ Centre de conservation de la biodiversité boréale presents animals in their natural habitat and showcases the region’s historical heritage. In Sept-Îles, the evolving permanent exhibition at the Musée régional de la Côte-Nord focuses on the human adventure in the region over millennia. In Rimouski, the tour guides at the Maison Lamontagne, which dates back to 1744, share the construction techniques used at the time and showcase the lifestyle of the house’s inhabitants. In Saint-Jean-Port-Joli, the Musée de la mémoire vivante collects audio and video testimonies of inhabitants of the region so that future generations can have access to their life stories, skills and memories. The Musée de la nature et des sciences de Sherbrooke uses an interactive approach to amaze, educate and captivate visitors. The Musée de l’ingéniosité J. Armand Bombardier in Valcourt follows the lives of Joseph-Armand Bombardier and his successors to show that creativity and innovation are within everyone’s reach. In Saint-Anicet, the interpretation centre for the Droulers-Tsiionhiakwatha archeological site showcases the remains of the largest Iroquois village ever found in Quebec. These are only a few examples of the wealth of Quebec’s network of museums. The rest are yours to explore.

A changing world

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Laiterie Charlevoix, Cheese Economuseum

The mission of a museum is to preserve and exhibit its society’s legacy. Museums must also remain relevant and attractive if they are to play their full role as cultural and social stakeholders. That is why museums in Quebec and the rest of Canada are striving to meet the challenge posed by today’s technological revolution and changes in their clienteles’ expectations. Since the early 1980s, Quebec’s museums have continued to improve their practices through the exploration of international trends, increased collaboration and constant innovation. Thanks to university research, the annual conventions of the SMQ and the Canadian Museums Association, the daring and creativity of the multidisciplinary teams led by professional museologists, and the various financial assistance programs offered by the Department of Culture et des Communications, Quebec museums have succeeded in attracting visitors and reasserting their relevance.

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Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec

The Info-Muse database was created by the SMQ, the central body dedicated to promoting the vitality of Quebec’s museums. Today, it contains more than a million entries describing the collections of some 150 museums. The SMQ also offers consulting services and training, conducts studies, develops management tools, fosters collaborative efforts, and carries out promotional activities. Most of the museums and interpretive centres have now developed activities for schools and fun activities for young people. They organize interactive activities and welcome public participation in their exhibitions. More activities, such as conferences, film screenings and treasure hunts, now complement their exhibitions. They have incorporated the intangible heritage, the human dimension of feelings, skills and values, into the objects and sites they showcase. Thanks to Virtual Museum of Canada funding, they have created a large number of online exhibitions. They also draw on the potential of digital tools to create immersive environments or reveal unusual aspects about the phenomena and objects in their exhibitions. In short, Quebec’s museum network is a dynamic and creative environment.

A few historical landmarks

1750–1800: Religious communities preserve works of art, objects and written documents related to the history of New France.

1806: The Séminaire du Québec opens the first museum in Canada, a science museum in Quebec City.

1824: The first private museums open in Montreal and Quebec City.

1879: The future Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal opens the first art museum in Canada, the Art Gallery.

1922: The Quebec government establishes the Commission des sites et monuments historiques and enacts a law creating the Musée de la province de Québec.

1933: The Musée de la province de Québec, now the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, opens in Quebec City.

1958: The Association des musées de la province de Québec, now the Société des musées du Québec, is established.

The 1960s: The Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal presents its first major international exhibitions, which draw crowds of visitors. Several regional museums open.

1965: The Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal opens.

1975 : Quebec’s Department of Cultural Affairs establishes the Service des musées privés.

The 1980s: Several museums open or are expanded or renovated, reflecting to the rapid development of the network. The SMQ is restructured and professionalized.

1987–1988: University programs in museology are offered in Montreal and Quebec City.

1988: The Musée de la civilisation opens in Quebec City. Its innovative “musée de société” concept goes hand in hand with several other innovative exhibition concepts, which stimulate the museum community.

1992: The ÉCONOMUSÉE network, another innovative concept combining museum exhibitions, the showcasing of artisanal skills and the sale of objects made on site, is developed. Pointe-à-Callière opens in Montreal.

1999–2000: The Groupe-conseil sur le patrimoine culturel proposes overhauling the Cultural Property Act, which becomes theCultural Heritage Actin 2011. The debate leads the Quebec Department of Culture and Communications to recognize the intangible heritage. In 2003, UNESCO adopts the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, and the International Council of Museums incorporates the concept into its new definition of “museum” in 2007.

2000: Implementation of the “Vivre autrement… la ligne du temps” policy of the Quebec Department of Culture and Communications.

2004: The Observatoire de la Culture et des Communications du Québec conducts an extensive survey in order to review the current state of heritage sites and museums in Quebec. Between 2006 and 2010, 11 reports review the state of Quebec’s museums.

2006: The Department of Culture and Communications establishes the five components of the Fonds du patrimoine culturel québécois to promote the showcasing and preservation of Quebec heritage. Component 4 supports the creation and renewal of permanent and travelling exhibitions.

2008: An overview of the evolution of the network of museums is published in honour of the SMQ’s 50th anniversary.

2011: The SMQ holds estates general on the future of the museum network and makes a series of recommendations aimed at increasing museum funding.


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