Visitors will do a double-take at portrait exhibit of famous Canadians

OTTAWA - Traitor, autocrat, heartthrob, scrapper — just a few of the provocative nouns used to compel us to take a different look at Canadian historical figures in the new portrait exhibition "Double Take."

Fifty-nine prominent historical figures are featured in the exhibit at the Canadian Museum of Civilization that just opened across the Ottawa River in Gatineau, Que. The photos, sketches, cartoons, and paintings adorn the walls in the special exhibitions wing of the Museum.

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Each portrait is accompanied by three key words or phrases to describe the famous Canadian. For Metis resistance leader Louis Riel, the description reads: "Leader. Traitor. Father of Confederation."

The images, spanning 400 years, come from the countless photographs and sketches stored in Canada's archival trove.

"The portraits tell compelling stories of assumed identity, assassination, exploitation, discovery, invention, injustice, activism and achievement," said Daniel J. Caron, deputy head of Library and Archives Canada, which organized the showing.

Carolyn Cook, the curator behind the exhibit, said this theme is meant to encourage visitors to look at familiar historical figures in a different light. Organizers wanted to highlight two words that would be fairly standard summations and a third that's more provocative or highlights a lesser-known fact.

Cook was fascinated by the less familiar stories that came along with the portrait subjects.

Jacques Plante, who became the first goaltender in the National Hockey League to wear a protective mask during a game, was also a life-long knitter. His mom taught him to knit his own toque to save money when he was a child. Later on in life, he used to knit to calm his jittery nerves in the dressing room before games.

Personal objects of significance often accompany the portraits. These include Plante's famous "pretzel" mask, a vase where Sir John A. Macdonald reportedly hid his alcohol stash, a paper dress graced by a pensive looking Trudeau from his 1968 Liberal leadership campaign, and the revolver allegedly used in the only assassination of a Canadian federal politician, Thomas D'Arcy McGee.

"There's something about the objects that really somehow brings them to life and adds more depth to the experience," said featured photographer David Henderson, who works at the Museum.

Henderson's thrilled with how the exhibit turned out.

"It's stunning. Beautifully done."

His photograph of late writer and activist June Callwood is one of the portraits in Double Take.

Henderson took the photo shortly after Callwood was diagnosed with terminal cancer and she later told him it was the best photo of her ever taken.

Videos and voice recordings are also featured in the exhibit.

"Rwanda has my soul," a sketch portrait of Senator Romeo Dallaire by Elaine Goble, is accompanied by a recording of Dallaire's reaction to the drawing.

"It was a surprise in how deep it was able to go inside me," he says in the recording.

More than 100 works are featured in the exhibition, which is open until October 14, 2013.

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