Collaborative Exhibition on Ancient First Nations Village Wins Gold Medal

c̓əsnaʔəm, the city before the city Shares History of Musqueam People  

WINNIPEG, Sept. 24, 2015 /CNW/ - A unique collaboration amongst three Vancouver cultural institutions and the University of Waterloo has been named winner of the 2015 Governor General's History Award for Excellence in Museums: History Alive!

The History Alive! Award, a partnership between the Canadian Museums Association (CMA) and Canada's History Society, which recognizes individuals or institutions that have made remarkable contributions to a better knowledge of Canadian history has been given to c̓əsnaʔəm, the city before the city. The exhibitions tell the story of c̓əsnaʔəm, one of the largest ancient Musqueam villages and burial sites upon which Vancouver was built. It was jointly curated by the Musqueam First Nation, the Museum of Anthropology (MOA) at UBC, the Museum of Vancouver (MOV), and Susan Roy from the University of Waterloo.

The three-location exhibition is intended to generate public discussion about indigenous history, and to raise awareness of the significance of c̓əsnaʔəm for the Musqueam people and Vancouver. The ancient village of c̓əsnaʔəm was founded about 5,000 years ago at what was then the mouth of the Fraser River, and is today in Vancouver's Marpole area.

"Our elders speak of c̓əsnaʔəm as a place where families lived and laid their people to rest, and as a highly sophisticated society. That's why the exhibition is called 'the city before the city'," says Jordan Wilson of the MOA and co-curator of the exhibition. "There's a popular misconception these settlements were quite small and primitive, but in fact it was a very large, thriving place. Our community felt it was important to share our history and teachings in our own words."

"c̓əsnaʔəm: The City Before the City shows what can be done when museums and communities collaborate. Resources are pulled together and Canada's history is shared in innovative ways," says John G. McAvity, CMA Executive Director and CEO. "This is a ground-breaking exploration of one of the largest ancient villages and burial sites upon which Vancouver was built and a great opportunity to educate Canadians about their heritage."

"Museums are no longer just passive buildings that store old objects. They play an active role in sharing new knowledge," says Janet Walker, President and CEO of Canada's History Society, which administers the Governor General's History Awards. "c̓əsnaʔəm, the city before the city  is a perfect example of how a museum exhibition can counter an existing narrative—that Vancouver is a young city of immigrants—and replace it with a more truthful version of events. In this way, museums help shape our future as well as our past."

The joint exhibitions opened last January at the Museum of Vancouver, the Museum of Anthropology and the Musqueam Cultural Education Resource Centre. It continues until January 2020 at the MOV and until January 2016 at the other two locations. Each location explores different aspects of c̓əsnaʔəm, through artefacts — collected mainly in the 1920s and 1930s — and oral history, photographs and new technologies such as 3-D printing.

"This hyper-collaborative project relied on innovative research and the development of new curatorial practices to promote a better understanding of Aboriginal history in Canada," says Viviane Gosselin of the MOV. "The exhibition team is ecstatic to receive this prestigious award!"

Representatives from the four partnering institutions will be presented with a gold medal by His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada, at Rideau Hall on October 16.

Also invited to Ottawa for the awards event are two projects named as finalists: the Royal BC Museum for "Our Living Languages: Peoples' Voices in British Columbia" and Musée de société des Deux-Rives (Québec) for MOCO: L'étoffe d'une ville.

About the Governor General's History Award for Excellence in Museums: History Alive!

The Governor General's Award for Excellence in Museums: History Alive! is a partnership between the Canadian Museums Association and Canada's History Society. First presented in 2011, it honours significant achievement in the historical field and encourages standards of excellence specifically in the presentation, preservation and interpretation of national, regional or local history.

About the Canadian Museums Association
The Canadian Museums Association is the national organization for the advancement of Canada's museum community. The CMA works for the recognition, growth and stability of the sector. Canada's 2,600 museums and related institutions preserve our collective memory, shape our national identity and promote tolerance and understanding. Learn more at

About Canada's History

Canada's History is a national charitable organization whose mission is to promote greater popular interest in Canadian history, principally through its publishing, education, and recognition programs. In addition to administering the Governor General's History Awards and publishing Canada's History magazine (formerly The Beaver) and Kayak: Canada's History Magazine for Kids, Canada's History produces a number of educational and online programs to encourage a Canada where people are deeply engaged in connecting with their shared past.

SOURCE Canada's History

For further information: Mafoya Dossoumon, Canadian Museums Association, Phone: 613-567-0099 ext. 243, Email:; Barbara Czech, Canada's History, Phone 204-832-3578, Email:


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