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Heritage Minister supports reappointment of two Ottawa museum directors

Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly is supporting the reappointment of the President of the Canadian Museum of History and the President of the Canadian Museum of Nature after they received letters from the Liberal Government asking them to step down.
Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly is supporting the reappointment of the President of the Canadian Museum of History and the President of the Canadian Museum of Nature after they received letters from the Liberal Government asking them to step down. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Two museum directors in Ottawa have received Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly’s support for their reappointment after they were asked to step down earlier this month.

Margaret Beckel, the President of the Canadian Museum of Nature, and Mark O’Neill, the President of the Canadian History Museum Corp., were among the 33 cabinet appointees who were reinstated by the previous Conservative government near the end of its term.

The Liberal government’s house leader Dominic LeBlanc sent letters to the recent appointees asking them to instead resign at the end of their current term.

However, he referred the decision of the museum directors’ reappointment to Minister Joly for review and she has given them her endorsement.

READ MORE: Despite government request, some Conservative appointees refuse to step down

Beckel said she was relieved to hear that the minister supported her reappointment for another five years after her current term ends in June 2016.

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“Dealing with such sudden and unexpected uncertainty was difficult,” Beckel said.

“But I did believe that our track record and experienced results of the past four years would really speak for themselves, and this is really just about another process, not about merit.”

From 2010 to 2015, the Museum of Nature has seen an increase of over 150,000 annual onsite visitors. Beckel was appointed President in March 2011.

“It’s an honour and a privilege to work for a museum,” Beckel said. “I believe that museums have a vital role to play in our society to help us understand our human and natural worlds, and it’s also just an incredibly inspiring place to be, so it’s a delight to serve my country in this way.”

Mark O’Neill has been the president of the Canadian History Museum Corp., which runs both the Canadian Museum of History and the Canadian War Museum, since June 2011. He said he was very pleased to receive Minister Joly’s support.

“It’s such an honour to serve in a job like this,” O’Neill said.

The Museum of Nature, the Museum of History, and the War Museum all have projects underway that Beckel and O’Neill will be able to continue their work towards – most notably, their plans for Canada’s upcoming 150th anniversary in 2017.

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Beckel said the Museum of Nature will be opening an Arctic exhibit in 2017 to commemorate the anniversary.

“We’re telling Canada’s Arctic story. It’s 40% of our land mass and it’s a big story and an important story to tell,” Beckel said.

Before that, the museum will be unveiling its Landscapes of Canada Gardens in spring 2016. It will be an outdoor exhibit on the museum grounds.

“I’m really delighted that I’ll be here to see all of that come to fruition,” Beckel said.

For the 150th anniversary, the Museum of History will be opening a Canadian History Hall that will span two levels of the museum and cover 40,000 square feet, O’Neill said.

“It will be a comprehensive presentation of Canadian history, from indigenous people right to Canada in the present day and all the history in between.”

O’Neill said his team is focusing on developing international exhibits, partnering with other museums across the country, and creating traveling exhibits that can be shared around the world, such as the Museum of History’s recent Terry Fox exhibit.

The War Museum is also due to open a new exhibit about the Battle of Vimy Ridge in 2016.

O’Neill said he is pleased that he will be able to continue the work that is already underway on these projects.

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“It really is a privilege to be able to lead such a team of professionals in both museums,” O’Neill said.

“We have in the War Museum and the Museum of History some of the country’s greatest museumologists and to be able to work with this team and implement the projects is really a once in a lifetime opportunity.”