New exhibit spotlights weird and wonderful artifacts from Canadian history

The Canadian Museum of History’s newest exhibit, Unexpected! Surprising Treasures From Library and Archives Canada, opens Dec. 9

  • Dec 09, 2022
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  • 3 minutes
Searching for Evidence of UFO Landing in Falcon Lake, Man. (Credit: Department of National Defence, 1967. © Library and Archives Canada)
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In 1825, Ludwig van Beethoven gave a manuscript of an original piece of music to a visiting fan, Canadian music teacher Théodore-Frédéric Molt. That document containing a brief piece entitled “Frue dich des Lebens” (or “Rejoice in Life”), along with a rendition of the haunting music, is just one of the treasures from the Library and Archives (LAC) collection on display now at the Canadian Museum of History’s latest exhibit, Unexpected! Surprising Treasures From Library and Archives Canada

The exhibit features 36 fascinating finds from deep within the national archives’ labyrinth of dust-free cabinets and temperature-controlled rooms, including declassified photos and correspondence from a 1960s UFO investigation in Falcon Lake, Man., a giant 19th-century painting depicting the teachings of the secretive Free Masons, a map of buried treasure on Oak Island, N.S., and more. Unexpected! is organized into three categories – wonders, secrets and mysteries – and is on until Nov. 26, 2023. 

Take a peek at some of the exhibit’s most intriguing artifacts.

Fool’s Cap Map of the World: O caput elleboro dignum (A Head Worthy of Hellebore)

Credit: Unknown artist and engraver, about 1590. Copperplate engraving on paper. © Library and Archives Canada, e003901385
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This strange print just might be the most mysterious map in the world. The map, based on the work of Flemish cartographer Abraham Ortelius, allows historians to date the print to the late 1500s. The Latin mottos on the jester’s cap and collar refer to fools and foolishness, suggesting that the print’s purpose was probably satirical. Even with these clues, however, no one has yet identified the printmaker nor whom they intended to mock.

Masonic tracing board

Credit: unknown artist, about 1818. Oil on canvas © Library and Archives Canada, e011408996)
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This large and unusual painting, called a tracing board, was used by a masonic lodge in rural Upper Canada in the 1800s to instruct new initiates in the lessons and secrets of the society. It is a figurative representation of King Solomon’s Temple, filled with objects and images that symbolize various aspects of masonic teachings. Produced around 1818, it is one of the oldest artifacts of its kind in Canada. In addition to their secret rituals, masonic lodges provided social connection and material support to men and their families in new settler communities. (Credit: Masonic Tracing Board Belonging to Rideau Lodge no. 25, Burritts Rapids, Upper Canada (Ontario).

Searching for Evidence of UFO Landing in Falcon Lake, Man./UFO Report

Credit: Department of National Defence, 1967. © Library and Archives Canada
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Credit: Department of National Defence, 1967. © Library and Archives Canada
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When prospector Stefan Michalak reported an unidentified flying object (UFO) landing near Falcon Lake, Manitoba, in 1967, the police, the military and the National Research Council all investigated. Authorities took UFO reports seriously during the Cold War, but not because they believed in flying saucers and extraterrestrials. Instead, they worried that “mysterious” flying objects might be sensitive military equipment or even Soviet secret weapons.

Beethoven manuscript

Credit: Ludwig van Beethoven, 1825. Ink on paper. © Library and Archives Canada, e01131318
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Ludwig van Beethoven composed this brief fugue entitled Freu dich des Lebens (“Rejoice in Life”) for a visiting fan, Canadian music teacher Théodore-Frédéric Molt, as a souvenir of their meeting.

Map of the Aivilik Region

Credit: Map of the Aivilik Region. Ijiraq (Ewerat) (cartographer), C. Hullmandel (lithographer), 1822. Lithographic print. © Library and Archives Canada, e011211396
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Ijiraq, an Inuit woman and mapmaker, drew this map of the Aivilik region of present-day Nunavut for British explorer William Edward Parry, who published the maps in England. The map records the Inuktitut place names, which reflect knowledge of the land from time immemorial. Parry and other colonizers gave their own names to many of these places, but Inuit communities are now restoring their original names. A set of three historical maps by Ijiraq and her fellow mapmaker, Illilliuq, feature in the exhibition, alongside a new map from the Inuit Heritage Trust that shows the extent and persistence of Indigenous place names.


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