65 Years in the Commissariat

“The perfect setting for the Bytown Museum”

On June 27, 1952, the BYTOWN MUSEUM opened its doors in the Commissariat, Ottawa’s oldest stone building and Lt. Col. John By’s storehouse during the construction of the Rideau Canal. The Women’s Canadian Historical Society of Ottawa had founded the Bytown Historical Museum in the old city Registry Office at 70 Nicholas Street in October of 1917. Described as being, “inadequate for years” the Society had been in search of a larger, more permanent home for some time before the Commissariat – our current home – was proposed.

Whitton Keys 1951_WEB

Significant funds were raised to make urgent repairs to the dilapidated building and the WCHSO took possession of the keys from Mayor Charlotte Whitton in September of 1951. Despite being described as “encrusted with century-old dust and grime” with deteriorated plaster, a leaking roof and an inadequate electrical system, the Building Committee report described the Commissariat as the “perfect setting” for the Museum – a sentiment shared by staff, volunteers and visitors alike to this day.

An Ottawa Journal article of June 28, 1952 entitled, Perpetuates Old Landmark In New Bytown Museum, detailed the opening:

In the presence of many who are interested in the preserving of relics closely associated with the history of Ottawa, the renovated Colonel By warehouse at Canal Locks was opened yesterday as the Bytown Museum with a reception given by the Women’s Canadian Historical Society of Ottawa.

The ceremony was presided over by Comptroller Powers, who welcomed guests to the Commissariat; a “fine building, rich in historical association.” One cannot help but wonder at the fate of the building had the women of the Historical Society not seen its immense potential. We thank them daily for our fine home, and hope they would approve of our interpretation of their original vision for the Museum.

Today, the BYTOWN MUSEUM is an independent registered charity, not-for-profit. It builds upon the heritage of those intrepid women of the WCHSO. We are a small but deeply dedicated team of professionals, Ottawa enthusiasts and history lovers. Our mandate is to collect, preserve, study and make accessible the material and cultural heritage of the Ottawa region’s multicultural and diverse history. Through our important and eclectic collection of over 10,000 artefacts, the Museum strives to tell the stories of an evolving city – from its first inhabitants and the early days of Bytown to present-day Ottawa. We engage in innovative programming, exciting exhibitions, public access projects and community involvement and are active with local, national and international partners. In 2017 the BYTOWN MUSEUM celebrates its 100th anniversary along with the 10th anniversary of the Rideau Canal’s UNESCO World Heritage Site status as well as Canada’s 150th birthday! Ottawa truly does begin here!