Preserving and celebrating our history and people

Photo: Chinese Cultural Centre, 1986. Winnipeg Foundation Executive Director Alan Howison and Dr. Joe Du of the Winnipeg Chinese Cultural and Community Centre, photographed in 1986. Source: Winnipeg Foundation files.


Winnipeg is fortunate to have such a diverse population. Our unique cultures enrich the Canadian mosaic and contribute to our collective heritage. However, for generations the dominant narrative often focused on the settler experience and perspective. Society – and charities – are now working to share stories that represent the full spectrum of our diversity.

The Foundation didn’t start out supporting Culture and Heritage. In 1940, when the Winnipeg Art Gallery requested The Foundation take out a Patron’s Membership, the appeal was denied on the grounds that “it would set the precedent for similar treatment of other cultural organizations.”

By 1961, The Foundation had reversed that decision. In a press release issued that year, The Foundation announced it would support cultural institutions for the first time. Four charities each received $5,000: Royal Winnipeg Ballet, Winnipeg Art Gallery, Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, and Manitoba Theatre Centre. Through the ’60s and ’70s, substantial resources were delivered to these and other arts and cultural institutions.

Recognizing the importance of celebrating and sharing diverse cultures, The Foundation began making grants to grassroots cultural organizations. For example, in 1986 The Foundation made a $20,000 grant in support of the Winnipeg Chinese Cultural and Community Centre, which had been incorporated in 1983 after 90 per cent of Winnipeg’s Chinese community surveyed indicated a need for such a facility. In 1994, The Foundation granted $20,000 to the Rusalka Ukrainian Dance Ensemble to promote interest in Ukrainian cultural traditions through education, dance, and music. And in 2001, it made a $75,000 grant to the Philippine-Canadian Centre of Manitoba to construct the Philippine Cultural Centre.

Our city continues to diversify. In 2016, 28 per cent of the population was represented by people of colour, and 13 per cent of the population was Indigenous, compared to just 16 per cent and 10 per cent in 1991, respectively.

While the colonial narrative has dominated Canada’s cultural identity for decades, in recent years more organizations are working to change that. Recognizing a need to include different perspectives in their exhibits, Manitoba Museum launched its Bringing Our Stories Forward Campaign in 2015. The Foundation contributed a number of grants to this initiative, including $500,000 to construct an updated Alloway exhibition hall as well as $100,000 to update the Urban Gallery, an evolving gallery/exhibit where previous eras of our city are brought to life through a recreation of full-sized city neighbourhoods; a life-sized ‘snapshot in time’ patrons can walk through.

“We want to ensure that when all Manitobans come in, be it First Nations, Inuit, Métis, or new Canadians, that they all see their stories reflected at the Manitoba Museum,” Claudette LeClerc, Executive Director and CEO of the Manitoba Museum, said in 2019.

This is even more important because it’s the community interactions that make the museum special.

“It’s that day-to-day connection to the staff, our volunteers, the people who interact with the Manitoba Museum, it’s those interactions that are most enriching,” LeClerc said.

This sentiment is echoed by Stephen Borys, Director and CEO of the Winnipeg Art Gallery,

“The strongest narrative that has been produced and communicated to our audiences is a non-Indigenous narrative,” Borys said in 2019. “We’re needing to step back a bit and let others lead.”

To celebrate its 95th birthday, a grant of $950,000 over three years was made to Qaumajuq – the Winnipeg Art Gallery’s brand new Inuit Art Centre. This space, opening in early 2021, will focus on telling Indigenous stories through artifacts, carvings, Elders, traditional knowledge keepers, filmmakers, and more.

“We’re not throwing out what’s been done, but at times we’re putting that to the side, to allow a more authentic voice to come out. It’s important for us to let go of some of the control,” Borys said about Qaumajuq and its mission. “When we are responding to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action for museums, one of the biggest calls is for rethinking the narrative for what we have presented, and who is behind that narrative. With the opening of the Inuit Art Centre, it’s the perfect time to be laying the groundwork for that.”

Group touring Manitoba Museum’s new Winnipeg Gallery
Manitoba Museum, 2019. Legacy Circle members get a sneak peek at Manitoba Museum’s new Winnipeg Gallery.

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