Bytown Museum

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Bytown Museum
Musée Bytown
Bytown Logo Blue 2012.jpg
Exterior Bytown Museum Ottawa.jpg
Established 1917
Location Ottawa, Ontario, Canada lower locks of the Rideau Canal at the Ottawa River just below Parliament Hill
Type History museum
Director Robin Etherington

The Bytown Museum (French: Musée Bytown) is a museum in Ottawa located on the lower locks of the Rideau Canal at the Ottawa River, just below Parliament Hill. Housed in the Commissariat Building, Ottawa's oldest stone building, the museum provides a comprehensive overview of the origins of Bytown and its development and growth into the present city of Ottawa.

Founded in 1917 by the Women's Canadian Historical Society of Ottawa (WCHSO), the Bytown Museum was originally located in the old registry building at 70 Nicholas, across from the Carleton County Gaol. The Museum moved to its current location in 1951 and has operated from the Commissariat since, with the exception of a brief period from 1982-1985, when Parks Canada (the building's landlord) conducted renovations.

Permanent Exhibit[edit]

The Museum's permanent exhibit is spread over the second and third floors of the Commissariat Building.

Second Floor Gallery[edit]

The Second floor of the Bytown Museum explores the history of the National Capital Region from the origins of European settlement in the area to the incorporation of Ottawa in 1855.

The Temporary Gallery and Community Gallery are also located on the Second Floor.

Third Floor Gallery[edit]

The Third Floor of the Bytown Museum continues the narrative of the second floor, examining the development of the city of Ottawa, the social and cultural life of Victorian times, the assassination of Thomas D'Arcy McGee and the burning of the Parliament Buildings, as well as Canada's involvement in international conflicts.

The Third Floor Gallery also houses A Day in My Life, the museum's children's area.

Temporary Exhibits[edit]

The Bytown Museum's Temporary Gallery, located on the second floor of the museum, regularly features exhibitions highlighting Ottawa's history, culture, and community. Past exhibits include:

Six Moments in the History of an Urban Forest (2011)
Six Moments in the History of an Urban Forest (2011)

2011: Six Moments in the History of an Urban Forest, an exploration of the role of trees in Ottawa's urban history. This exhibit was a collaboration with Carleton University.

2012: Rebranding Bytown, an artist-in-residence exhibition done in collaboration with Michèle Provost. Rebranding Bytown critiqued "the necessary and sometimes incongruous role played by marketing and commerce in the operation of a local history museum."[1]

2013: Mexico Fantastico, a celebration of Ottawa's Mexican Community. This exhibit was a collaboration with the Mexican Embassy in Ottawa.

2014: Ottawa Answers the Call: The Capital and the Great War, which explored the role of both Ottawa and its ordinary citizens in the First World War.[2]

2015: Hidden in Plain Site: Ottawa's History in the Background, a collection of highly magnified historical photos that exposed hidden details of the past.[3]

2016: Forged in Fire: The Building and Burning of Parliament, an account of the burning of the Parliament Buildings.

The Museum is currently preparing its 2017 Temporary exhibit, entitled Bytown Museum: A Century of Community. The exhibit will present the history of both Ottawa and the Museum itself through 100 artifacts from the Museum's vast collection. The exhibit will open on February 3, 2017.[4]


The Commissariat Building[edit]

View from the Bytown Museum: Entrance Bay in Fall
View from the Bytown Museum: Entrance Bay in Fall

The Commissariat Building, Ottawa's oldest existing stone building, was built in 1827 by Thomas McKay (pronounced Mc-Eye) as part of Col. John By’s Rideau Canal project. A commissariat is an army storehouse; it was used to house many supplies required by British troops such as food, black powder, and money for pay. The Commissariat Department was a civilian service employed by the British Treasury responsible for procuring, inspecting, and issuing food, forage, and fuel rations required by the soldiers of both the Horse Guards and the Ordnance Department. The building is located at the mouth of canal

During the construction of the Rideau Canal, the Commissariat Department also sold provisions (e.g. salt pork, flour, and rum) to civilian contractors when supplies could not be found in isolated construction areas. In some cases when contractors abandoned their projects the Commissariat Department provided supplies directly to canal labourers. At the time of its construction it was one of the largest buildings in Bytown.

The Ontario Heritage Trust erected a plaque for The Commissariat Building 1827 In the lobby of the Bytown Museum, beside the third lock of the headlocks of the canal, between Parliament Hill and the Château Laurier, off Elgin Street, Ottawa. "Distinguished by skilful masonry and solid construction, the Commissariat building provides an excellent example of the workmanship of the Scottish stonemasons employed by Colonel By to work on the Rideau Canal. Used as a storehouse during the canal's construction, the building now houses the collections of the Bytown Museum." [5]

A Celtic Cross was erected by the Rideau Canal Celtic Cross Committee at the Ottawa Lockstation "In Memory of 1000 workers & their families who died building this canal 1826 - 1832."

The Commissariat was investigated by the Girly Ghosthunters (Ep. 4) given persistent rumors of paranormal activity.

The Bytown Museum[edit]

The museum was opened in 1917 by the Women’s Canadian Historical Society of Ottawa (WCHSO) to house the collection of artifacts that the society had amassed since its founding in 1898. The WCHSO had searched for some time for a suitable location for a museum before obtaining the lease for 70 Nicholas – the old registry building across from the Carleton County Gaol – in 1917. Prior to this, the WCHSO had moved the collection from location to location in Ottawa, in addition to organizing traveling exhibitions. Many Ottawa figures contributed to the refurbishing of the space for the WCHSO: Thomas Ahearn provided appliances, J.R. Booth redid the floors, and the governor of the gaol sent inmates across the street to paint and decorate the interior. The museum was housed in the Registry Building from 1917-1954. In 1951, the women secured the lease to the Commissariat and began the long process of preparing the building for the collection and the move itself. By 1954, the move was complete.

When the Commissariat was closed from 1982-85 by Parks Canada for restoration work, the museum was temporarily relocated to Wellington St. The Historical Society of Ottawa (HSO) was responsible for the management of the museum until 2003, when a Board of Directors was established and the museum was registered as a not-for-profit charitable organization.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Upcoming Exhibit - Rebranding Bytown". Canadiary Canadian Events. Retrieved 2017-01-23. 
  2. ^ "". Retrieved 2017-01-23.  External link in |title= (help)
  3. ^ "Hidden in Plain Sight - Bytown Museum | Ottawa Arts Council". Retrieved 2017-01-23. 
  4. ^ "Temporary Gallery - Bytown Museum". Bytown Museum. Retrieved 2017-01-12. 
  5. ^ Ontario Heritage Trust
  • Campbell, Vera (1986), Bytown Museum treasures. Bytown pamphlet series, Ottawa, Ontario: The Historical Society of Ottawa 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 45°25′33″N 75°41′52″W / 45.425809°N 75.697764°W / 45.425809; -75.697764