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Quebec Popular Culture at the Museum POP


Where Gumbo Was #493

Halfway between Montreal and Quebec, in the pulp-and-paper town of Trois-Rivieres, the Museum POP is a super-friendly museum for families, and an eye-opener of sorts for visitors to French-speaking Canada.


POP used to have more intimidating names; it was previously the Museum of Popular Arts and Traditions, and the Quebec Museum of Popular Culture. It opened in 2003, but it took until 2018 to develop its major exhibit on Quebec culture, partly because there was broad disagreement on what that was.


So, the museum hired a consultant to ask Quebecers, a thousand of them, what they thought most represented the uniqueness of Quebec and should be focuses of the museum. The list they came up with is an eclectic one, and all are represented in the main exhibition.


And the topics: Language, food, hockey, First Nations, tales and legends, ingenuity, winter and music. The date wall here reflects some of the important dates of Quebec popular history, such as the opening of Schwartz's Delicatessen in Montreal, and the invention by Bombardier of the ski-mobile. We're talking pop culture here, not which general fought which battle.


There are also two other main exhibits in the modern museum building. One is Circus Time! which looks at Quebec's long-standing circus traditions, with Quebecois performers active in many circuses. Quebec is also the home of the original Cirque du Soleil, which now has shows in numbers of cities.


The 1930s circus set above has beautiful detailed metalwork. Toy circus trains were also popular. Above that, unicycle act and circus posters.


Costumes and clown faces are part of the exhibit; the top set of costumes is from Cirque du Soleil. And, speaking of clowns, this poster is from a comic circus that had quite an audience.


DNA of Superheroes invites kids into a world of comic superheroes, with opportunities to dress up a bit and act a bit as superheroes themselves while stopping Squirrel Monster from his evil plans.


The superhero play area has plenty of bright lights, flashy 'lab equipment' and places to climb and hide. Too bad I'm not a kid!


The main hallways of the museum include some other play-focused items, including displays of toys from other times, perhaps more familiar to the grandparents of today's young visitors.


In the popular culture hall, winter gets a lot of play. Ooops, a pun; some of the winter exhibit is literally about play and the role of winter sports, especially hockey in Quebec. But it's not all play, and there's a full range of the tools and strategies people in Quebec need to deal with the cold.


Just how bad is winter in Quebec? Here's one indication. All of the seven snowiest cities are in Quebec, as are two of the seven cities with the cruelest winter wind-chill index. On that list, add two other Canadian cities and three in Scandinavia. Yes, that bad.


Displays about First Nations culture and music are here, as well as ingenuity, with a number of Quebec inventions (besides the ski-mobile). Baby monitors are on the list, along with Crocs and a three dimensional jigsaw puzzle.


The issue of language can be a fraught one in Quebec, where an official provincial government committee is in charge of maintaining the purity of Quebecois French. It's described as the same written language as France, but with a regional difference in pronunciation and vocabulary.

Some of the vocabulary issues are not about added Quebecois words, but about rejecting some of the English words that have become common in France. The cartoon pokes a bit of fun; the balloon says "He's an inspector from the Office of French Language, who is returning from a stay in France!"


A wall of speakers invites visitors to listen to Quebecois speakers and try to identify their local or regional accents; that one is clearly for the locals!


But, turning back to the question of evil plans. The kids may have defeated Squirrel Monster, but there's still a shadow hanging over the museum... It is attached to the 1822 Trois-Rivieres prison, shut down for sanitary reasons in 1986. We skipped the chance to tour it, and especially we weren't interested in its closed-for-Covid special offer (see below).

TR Prison

The blurb for that offers "For more immersion, visitors go through the admission process (fingerprints, photo, delivery of prisoner's clothing). They are then taken back to a wing of the prison to spend the evening there. During this period, a facilitator accompanies the group to bear witness to the prison reality. They are then invited to sleep in their respective cells, and benefit the next morning from a breakfast typical of those of a prisoner." No thanks!


The museum also has some student artwork that evokes the prison, but it was not clear under what circumstances it was created. Suffice it to say, not nice! There's also a small section in which visitors are asked to consider whether imprisonment is really the answer to dealing with criminal behavior. The survey is ongoing and may influence a future exhibit.


In the meantime, we spent our last minutes at the museum in a happier place, a giant exhibit of pins, or as they're called here, macaroons. Political ones, pun ones, rude ones, union ones, commercial ones, all you can print on a button. They're the collection of Rene Marois, a retired postman, and his two sons. Together, the collection includes 27,000, and it's still growing. Real pop culture!

Congrats to George G, who once again worked out where Gumbo was!


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The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

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