The Royal Ontario Museum is Canada’s largest museum. Its collections spotlights art, culture and nature from across the world and the centuries. Located very close to the University of Toronto, its mission is to “transform lives by helping people to understand the past, make sense of the present and come together to shape a shared future.”
A few years ago, we lived in Toronto for several months. I would go out and explore the city almost every day. On one of these excursions, I visited the Royal Ontario Museum. They had a special exhibition going on: the Dead Sea Scrolls. Fantastic, I thought.
I battled the crowds to buy a ticket first, and then, to see the exhibition. My expectations built up as I went along the exhibit cases. The climax was the scrolls. What an anticlimax! They looked like rags with something scribbled on them. Anyway, I felt so lucky to be able to see such an important piece of history and culture.
This is why I love museums, because you can see objects that changed the history of humankind in so many ways. I’ll never forget that visit to the Royal Ontario Museum (PSA: avoid Wednesdays, especially during the summer. It’s their busiest day, I was told.)
The Royal Ontario Museum
This National Landmark was officially opened to the public in March 1914. It underwent successive expansions in 1933, 1947, 1968, 1988. The latest to date, and largest, took place in 2002, when The Crystal was added.
At the beginning, the Royal Ontario Museum was governed jointly by the Government of Ontario and the University of Toronto, hence its location in the University district.
The museum buildings are a hodgepodge of architectural styles: Italianate and Neo-Romanesque in the original building Western Wing;) Art Deco, Neo-Byzantine and Gothic Revival in the Eastern Wing; Deconstructivism in the Crystal.
The addition of the Crystal caused a big controversy. I imagine it must have like that of the Louvre pyramid. Jamaican-Canadian businessman Michael Lee-Chin donated CAD 30 million towards the construction of the Crystal which bears his name. Designed in the Deconstructivist style, the Crystal opened in 2007. It is clad in 25% glass Abd 75% aluminium on top of a steel frame.
It is the museum’s main entrance, on Bloor Street. Inside is the three-story-high atrium, a gift shop, seven galleries, a cafeteria and a restaurant and a temporary exhibition hall.
The Royal Ontario Museum has 27 galleries for its permanent collections. Let’s have a look at some of them.
Eaton Gallery of Rome (Level 3)
This the Canada’s largest collection of Roman artifacts. It spans 1,000 years of the history of Rome from Republic to Empire. I learned about different aspects of everyday life and how Roman culture influenced the culture of the places she invaded. The time frame for this collection is 900 BC to AD 476, the Fall of Rome at the hands of the Visigoths.
Reed Gallery of the Age of Mammals (Level 2)
I was thrilled to find a Glyptodon from Mar del Plata, Argentina, in the collection. Not surprising, since the collection represents the biodiversity of North and South America 65 million years ago. Mastodon, sabre-toothed cat and the giant ground sloth are also part of the collection
James and Louise Temerty Galleries of the Age of Dinosaurs (Level 2)
One of my favourite galleries. I love dinosaurs. The specimens here are from the Jurassic (200 to 145 million years old) and the Cretaceous (145 to 65 million years old). Tyrannosaurus rex, Stegosaurus and Triceratops are some of the fossils in this collection.
Galleries of Africa: Egypt (Level 3)
I found this gallery fascinating. I could see a mummy face to face, although I’m a bit squeamish. The 2,000 objects on display (4000 BC to AD 400) include a fragment of the Book of the Dead. How interesting is that! The total number of artifacts amounts to 25,000.
Gallery of Chinese Architecture (Level 1)
This gallery showcases “the largest and best collection of Chinese architectural artifacts outside of China.” I don’t know whether that’s true; however, I found the collection pretty impressive. Among the more than 200 objects, the Ming, Han and Tang tombs really stand out.
Sigmund Samuel Gallery of Canada (Level 1)
Here I learned a lot about Canadian heritage and history. The emphasis is on the early French and British settlers’ legacy: furniture, portraits, religious artifacts and the like.
Daphne Cockwell Gallery Dedicated to First Peoples Art and Culture (Level 1)
This was my first encounter with the rich artistic and cultural heritage of Canadian First Peoples. I loved the intricate decoration of some garments and learning how they survived the cold (way too cold for me!)
The other galleries of the Royal Ontario Museum
The rest of the galleries are, of course, worth taking the time to visit. Greece, Ancient Cyprus, a bat cave, the Gallery of Birds, the Bronze Age Aegean culture, Korea, Byzantium, Rome and the Near East, South Asia, Biodiversity, Chinese Temple Art, the Middle East, Nubia are well represented at the Royal Ontario Museum.
Read it in Spanish here