Lest we forgetPublished on November 24, 2010

  • Graham Cowen

Perched on the banks of the Ottawa River is one of the city’s most dramatic pieces of modern architecture: the Canadian War Museum.

Dedicated to the remembrance and preservation of Canada’s military history, it stands as a monument to those who gave, and to those who continue to give in service of their country. As you might expect, the museum is a building positively steeped in significance and symbolism.  

Rising from the landscape of LeBreton Flats, the structure exhibits a multi-layered complexity.

The main concrete enclosure of the museum is redolent of a military bunker, raw, angular and functional, while arching above this, hinting at a deeper symbolism, is the sharp, copper clad blade of the Regeneration Hall, which rises from the building’s rooftop Memorial Garden.  

The lined and dotted face of the blade represents the phrases “Lest we Forget” and “N’oublions jamais” in Morse code.

This complexity and symbolism continues as you move inside the building; various concrete finishes adorn the internal walls, recalling trenches, fortresses and gravestones.

Walls are assembled at odd angles, jarring the senses and creating a feeling of dislocation and disorientation, akin to that experienced in battle, and the light-filled Regeneration Hall provides us an opportunity for quiet reflection, drawing the eye skyward and framing a view of the Peace Tower.

The museum’s tiny Memorial Hall contains a single object: the gravestone of the Unknown Soldier. Every year on Nov. 11 at 11 a.m., light falls from the hall’s single window directly on the stone, reminding us of those that sacrificed everything in the cause of peace.

Designed by Raymond Moriyama, himself one of more than 20,000 Japanese Canadians interned by the Canadian government during the Second World War as an enemy alien, this astonishingly accomplished building first opened to the public on May 8, 2005, the 60th anniversary of VE Day. 

It remains today a monument to bravery, to the incredible regenerative power of nature and to the quest for peace.

Moriyama sums the project up most succinctly: “What we’re trying to do here is represent the ordinary Canadian doing extraordinary things in extraordinary times and situations ... there’s something modest but strong in that”.  I think that’s something that we can all celebrate.

More information can be found at the museum’s web site and YouTube channel.

Thanks for reading and speak soon!


Graham is the owner of Blueberry Interiors, a new interior decor consultancy, specializing in modern and contemporary design themes. You can keep up with him here at Ottawa at Home, on Twitter by following @grahamcowen, or you can reach him directly at graham@blueberryinteriors.ca

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