A Masterpiece of Innovative Museology and Architectural Integration
Since it opened in 1988, Musée de la civilisation has pursued a ground-breaking mandate with bold exhibitions centred around the human condition. It has taken a resolutely avant-garde approach as a museum, looking at cultures from near and far, and has become one of the most visited museums in Canada, with a string of international awards to its name. What’s more, its modern architecture fits perfectly with the centuries-old surroundings of Old Québec.
The human condition
Musée de la civilisation de Québec is a living museum dedicated to exploring every facet of the human condition. From how the body works to how society works, from the history of Québec to the history of the world, the museum contemplates all phenomena related to the advance of humanity. Its dynamic approach features multimedia presentations and interactive technology alongside traditional guided tours.
The museum’s all-time most popular exhibits include Memories, which looked at the emergence of a distinct Québec culture; Encounter with the First Nations, on Québec’s aboriginals; Rome, on the storied history of Italy’s capital; and I Hear You Singing, an interactive way to discover Québec’s musical past. A series of public debates on burning issues of the day and workshops for young people have also been a lasting success.
Old and new
Designed by architect Moshe Safdie and built in the 1980s, Musée de la civilisation has won a number of awards for its architecture, including the Governor General’s Award in 1992. Right in the heart of Old Québec, the Museum is distinctly modern while blending in with its historical setting. A huge foyer links the museum’s two exhibit halls.
The outside walls are made of limestone—a common building material in the area—the triangular windows on the roof are a nod to the dormer windows of old, while the copper roof mirrors the Château Frontenac and other buildings in Upper Town. The belltower is also reminiscent of the city’s many churches.
A wealthy residence from the French Regime
Maison Estèbe, a sumptuous residence built in 1751 for rich wholesaler Guillaume Estèbe, is integrated into the design. The stone building typical of the urban architecture of the French regime stands on a vaulted cellar and has a gable roof. Its firewalls are a reminder that the home once had two others beside it. Its vaulted cellar is today home to the Museum store, and its upper storeys contain offices, including the office of the Museum’s executive director.
The Museum complex also includes another historical building—the building occupied by the Quebec Bank from 1863. It too is used for offices.
One organization, three museums
Since the 1990s Musée de la civilisation has also managed Musée de l’Amérique francophone—the oldest museum in Canada, founded in 1806. Located in Upper Town, it oversees and presents the collections of the Séminaire de Québec, including the Seminary archives, which are included on the UNESCO Memory of the World Register.
Since 1999 Musée de la civilisation has also been responsible for Musée de la place Royale, just around the corner. This museum features exhibitions on the history of Place-Royale where the colony was first founded and on the life and travels of Samuel de Champlain.