The genesis of the CMA

The genesis of the CMA: 1948—1959

The idea to put together a Canadian Museums Association (CMA) came just before Canada got involved in the Second World War. Attempts to officially organize, however, were thwarted by timing: a lack of funding, the war and the fact that each museum in Canada was concentrated on its own daily existence. By 1947, the tide had changed, when a small group of farseeing museum professionals gathered at Musée de la Province de Québec. They were prepared to pull together and do all of the necessary groundwork involved in establishing a national network to speak on behalf of Canada's museums.

"There wasn't any nervousness about it," remembered Donald Crowdis, one of the founding members of the CMA. "I guess we were excited. It was a new thing… the government certainly wanted it."

In a two-hour meeting, delegates from 13 museums decided that the time had come to form the CMA. In the 1930s, the British Museums Association president Sir Henry Miers had surveyed about 70 of Canada's 100 museums and found them wanting. These earliest members of the CMA wanted to remedy the problem and advocate for Canada's museums, art galleries and sites of historical significance. All of the issues that were to develop in later decades were raised at this first meeting: training, membership requirements, professionalism and advocacy. Over the next six decades, these issues would rise and fall in importance, in various fascinating ways.

The 1950s saw an increased focus on the need for skilled presentation of artefacts, in a time when the public relations industry was building momentum. The influence of commercial advertising was keenly felt in the world of museums, causing a concern with display that has continued on to today. In the face of such expert competition, it was argued, museum designers had to acquire new skills, and exhibits must take on a different character. Thus, the art of display rose in importance in the newly national discussion.

Museum workers were also very interested in the latest technology: television. In the early fall of 1954, at the Manitoba Museum, the staff produced 18 children's television shows live from inside their galleries: "As CBOT has no studio at the time, the production had to be in the museum building. Fortunately, this is a high structure, and there is a clear field for microwave beam from here to the Bell Telephone Building, where a second link could carry the picture to the station. The huge van that houses the CBC mobile unit was to be parked in back of museum building," wrote curator R.W Sutton.