The 1960s for Canadian Museums: 1960 – 1969

The 1960s were heady years for the Canadian Museums Association (CMA), with the infusion of millions of dollars for new museums and additions to old ones. Government supported historical projects were designed to commemorate Canada’s 100th birthday, and CMA publications abounded with announcements of centennial projects and ads for new jobs. The influx of centennial money created hundreds of museum jobs — almost too many.

“Suddenly there was a shortage of talent,” Donald Crowdis, a founding CMA member, recalled. People with commercial backgrounds and experience designing store windows got involved in designing Expo ’67 exhibits and they continued on in museums afterwards. This change in personnel created an accidental philosophical shift in museums, Crowdis added, with objects taking a back seat to displays.

Yet, for the first time, it paid to work in museums. It was in the 1960s that working in museums became a career — and therefore, training was essential. Individual members were given voting rights in the late 1960s, which shifted the focus of the CMA to the nature of the museum profession itself. The first Museums Association Diploma examinations were held concurrently in Canada and England in November 1963.

Birthdays are also a time of reflection, and 1967 saw the CMA turn 20 years old. In keeping with the centennial theme, the organization decided to take stock of itself. Lest the original spirit of the organization become stagnant, the centennial goal within the organization became a question of defining what the CMA should be doing to further benefit its members by 1967. CMA president Loris S. Russell wrote:

“When I was a lot younger, I lived on what passed for a farm, and on windy days I used to delight in standing up to my shoulders watching the heads of grain bowing in unison as the wind billowed through them. With only a little imagination the field became an ocean and I a traveler on it, borne along by great waves. It is possible in an association such as this, to fall into the same sort of trance and to feel buoyed along by the impression of great movement. When I was a little boy I always felt a little sad each time to have to face reality — the realization that the sea of wheat around me wasn’t actually moving and neither was I.”


Test Your Knowledge Circa 1964 [PDF]

Russell suggested that an affirmation of faith in the association was in order. The CMA set up a standing centennial committee in 1964 to try and raise $25,000 to set up a permanent Secretariat Office in Ottawa. It opened in 1965 on Sparks street with Archie Key as field director. With the office came a psychological shift for CMA members — now they had a budget, paid employees, money for projects, and space to set up a reference library.