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Museum History

Did you know that the official name of our museum building is the Victoria Memorial Museum Building? Situated on McLeod Street in Ottawa, it has been the home of the Canadian Museum of Nature (formerly the National Museum of Natural Sciences) since 1912. Over the many years since its construction, the building has become a national monument and landmark.

Heritage in Stone

Most of our exhibitions and programmes are housed in the Victoria Memorial Museum Building. (The Natural Heritage Campus in Gatineau, Quebec, is the site of our administrative, research and collections operations).

A fine example of early 20th-century architecture, the "castle" (as it is affectionately known) has had a long and lively history. In 1905, in a field in the south of Ottawa, work began on a massive new building formed out of local sandstone.

The chief architect and designer, David Ewart, created a fanciful castle-like structure that has been described as "Scottish baronial" in design. The architecture was intended to mirror the Centre Block of Canada's Parliament Buildings, due north of the museum's site. Both buildings share similar stonework on the facade and, at one time, shared a similar tower. Unfortunately, in 1915, the top of the museum's tower was removed because the foundation could not sustain the tower's weight.

A new tower, called the Queens' Lantern, replaced it at last, in 2010.

Famous Tenants

Over the decades, the Canadian Museum of Nature has shared the Victoria Memorial Museum Building with a number of notable tenants:

  • In 1916, the building became the emergency headquarters for the Canadian government after the Parliament Buildings were consumed by a great fire.
  • When former prime minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier died in 1919, his body was lain in state in the auditorium.

Three major museums had their start at the castle. Look at our timeline to see which ones had their beginnings here!

It wasn't until 1988 that our castle became the exclusive home of the Canadian Museum of Nature. Starting in 2005, this historic site has been undergoing its most comprehensive renovation to date. The first phase was unveiled in October 2006, and the second phase in May 2010.