The Dream of a New National Portrait Gallery for Canada

April 4, 2011

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In 2009, the Harper government ended the dream of a national portrait gallery for Canada.  A small program bearing the name continued in Library and Archives Canada until 2012 when it was replaced by a digital “Portrait Portal,” showing copies of portraits in Library and Archives Canada collections only.

A new dream needs to take its place.

The new dream can wake our pride in our nation.  We have come together over millennia, beginning with the arrival of our aboriginal peoples whose legacy has passed through generations, now welcoming even the youngest child in a family arrived yesterday from the most distant place on earth. 

We all have faces and stories; we all have a right to meet each other, to love our pasts and hope for our futures. 

This is the heart of a true national portrait gallery: it enshrines who we are at a personal level, with our unique heritage, and also challenges us to understand and celebrate who we are becoming.

Where can we dream of finding this true national portrait gallery? 

First, we can dream it is where we look today to honour our peoples and our stories, in our capital which welcomes two million visitors each year from every far-flung part of our nation and the world.  We come to stand where our nation’s legislators stand, where our nation’s judges stand, where our nation’s treasures of art and knowledge are held in trust for us.  Here we have great portrait collections in storage, with thousands of paintings and millions of photographs.

But Ottawa is only a starting point.  

We can dream it is also wherever we live in Canada, partnering with our provinces’ and territories’ special cultural places, and with their great portrait collections.  We can dream it is spreading from them to communities throughout the land, like heartbeats pulsing out news of our great art and unforgettable stories.

We can dream it is in the hands and the vision of our artists, inspired to make new and unique works for a nation that is building and re-building itself on a strong and diverse foundation.

We can dream it is in our reach. 

For our pride, for our hope, for ourselves, for our children, let’s dream that greater dream! 

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