The National Collection

Among the museums that are part of Musées de la civilisation complex, Musée de l'Amérique francophone is one that gives access to exceptional historical heritage.

This heritage is as much about the burgeoning society in New France as it is about French-speaking life in North America. The consultation room allows users to query the database of all Musées de la civilisation's collections.

Musées de la civilisation, donated by Mrs. Saint-Laurent and Mr.Turcotte, photographer: Amélie Breton – Perspective Photo, 2006-305

The National Collection

Since its inception, Musées de la civilisation1 has been exploring as many issues of contemporary society as those of the past. This approach contributes to making it a dynamic and accessible institution. Because of how they represent our civilization and their multi-disciplinary nature, the collections clearly reflect this characteristic.

From the outset, openness to others and to social debates has contributed to the growth of the collections. First ethnographic in nature, they now focus more on society, in alignment with the cultural project of the Museums. The institution thus contributes to the footprint of society through its heritage, its diverse transformations and its current realities. Three main themes guide the cultural project and its collections - the power and structure of societies; exchange and communication; creation and innovation.

Over the years, the collections of Musées de la civilisation have been extraordinarily enriched, going from 50,000 objects in 1985 to over half a million in 2014, including the historical archives and rare and old books.

The contribution of successive acquisitions, donations, bequests and loans has allowed us to gradually expand the collections. The Museums preserve and manages numerous collections and holdings in its reserves. The collections continue to develop thanks to the contribution of many donors in accordance with the cultural project of Musées de la civilisation.

1 National Museums Act, R. S. Q., chapter M-44 (subsection 24.1, paragraph 2).
Québec: Éditeur officiel du Québec, 1998.

The Québec ethnologic collection, for which Musées de la civilisation became responsible in 1985, was built over some 60 years. The majority of the 50,000 objects depict Aboriginal and French Canadian ways of life in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

The Québec ethnographic collection had humble beginnings in 1927. An inventory of the collection some 20 years later revealed that after the departure of Pierre-Georges Roy, first curator of what is today Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, the "Canadiana" collection included barely one hundred objects. From 1941 to 1952, the number rose to nearly 550. When Gérard Morrisset took over the museum's management, from 1953 to 1965, the collection grew by an average of more than one hundred objects per year. Towards 1965, it had exceeded 1,000 pieces. The arrival of large private collections would provide the impetus to have it recognized as a national collection.

The Coverdale Collection

In 1968, the Government of Québec acquired the Coverdale collection, which comprises 2,500 objects, mostly from Québec. Of that number, nearly 800 objects are associated with some 75 cultural groups. Furthermore, the collection includes traditional Québec furniture, several examples of which are featured in Jean Palardy's book Mobilier ancien du Québec. Earthenware, tin, terracotta and porcelain objects, along with light fixtures, cookware and weapons complete this exceptional collection.

Copper and tin objects, Coverdale Collection
Musées de la civilisation, photographer: Alain Vézina, 68-1498, 68-117, 68-319

Amerindian cradleboard, Coverdale Collection
Musées de la civilisation, photographer: Pierre Soulard, 68-3104

Chapais House and the Lucie Vary Collection

In the late 1960s, the Government of Québec acquired the Chapais house in Saint-Denis-De La Bouteillerie and all its contents. The property provides a first-hand glimpse into a middle-class family and its links to Québec history. In 1969, a private collection belonging to Lucie Vary, featuring close to 600 objects, exceptional both in terms of diversity and quality, was added to the national collection.

The Ministère de l'Agriculture Collection

The collection features rugs, blankets and other household textiles, several of which have won awards at contests or provincial exhibitions, and ceramic wares from the Beauce region. It also includes pieces acquired abroad. This 1983 collection, which was further enriched with other objects in 2000, was finally added to the national collection.

Knotted blanket
Musées de la civilisation, photographer: Idra Labrie – Perspective –83-274 (détail)

In the 1960s, the Ministère des Affaires culturelles mandated geographer Michel Brochu to find objects representative of Inuit and Cree cultures in New Québec. Some 800 sculptures form the core of the collection. The Ministère then added an equivalent number of Inuit objects through the Fédération des coopératives du Nouveau-Québec. Several other objects representative of various Aboriginal nations were also included in the collection. The First Nations and Inuit collection, including a sizeable part of the Coverdale collection, boasts nearly 4,000 items.

Headdress of the Chief of the Huron-Wendat nation
Musées de la civilisation, photographer: Amélie Breton – Perspective Photo, 64-28

Inuit woman's coat
Musées de la civilisation, photographer: Alain Vézina, 89-2006

Amerindian ceremonial tunic
Musées de la civilisation, photographer: Idra Labrie – Perspective Photo, 68-3175

In 1995, Séminaire de Québec priests signed an agreement with Musées de la civilisation for a "loan for use" of their holdings, historical archives and library of rare and old books. In doing so, they significantly enriched the national collection and broadened its potential for disseminating, researching and analyzing material. The collections of the seminary that founded Université Laval were built for educational and higher learning purposes, and are divided into various categories: the scientific object collection (physics instruments and mounted specimens); the anthropological collection reflecting the priests' occupations on the territory and their international relationships (Amerindian, Inuit, Egyptian, Cypriot, Asian and African objects); the fine arts collection (engravings, paper-based works, paintings and sculptures); and the collection of decorative arts.

Bird collection specimens
Musées de la civilisation, History of the Séminaire de Québec Collections. The Fine Flowers and Nature of the Collections exhibition, photographer: Idra Labrie – Perspective Photo, 0018_relv_0007

Works from the Fine Arts Collection
Musées de la civilisation, Revelations. Understanding the World Through Art exhibition, photographer: Annabelle Fouquet – Perspective Photo, 0138_relv_0036

Tabernacle of brothers François-Noël and Jean-Baptiste-Antoine Levasseur
Musées de la civilisation, Séminaire de Québec collection, restored by Centre de conservation du Québec, 1994.67626.1 - 37, in the exhibition Revelations. Understanding the World Through Art, photographer: Annabelle Fouquet – Perspective Photo, 0138_relv_0107

Consisting of textual documents, ancient maps and plans, unpublished manuscripts, sheet music, photographs, the institution's holdings and archive collections reflect events and life journeys that have shaped society.

The historical archives are related to the migration, establishment, development and expansion of French culture and Catholic spirituality in North America. They also reflect the strong vitality of Québec society. As such, the Museums preserve the private archives of individuals and institutions involved in collecting artifacts. These ensembles ensure a comprehensive understanding of the heritage of Québec society and other civilizations.

Essential sources of information, the archives are an economic, intellectual and sociocultural portrait of the development of society and individuals alike. And this is just one example of the huge potential for finding information and making interpretations through consulting just a single document or archive.

The Fonds du Séminaire de Québec covers all of this school's activity from the time of New France until today. As a heritage founder of the history of French America, these archives also make up a substantial part of the memory of humanity. A significant portion, 1623-1800, is therefore classified in the UNESCO Memory of the World Register because of its inestimable historical value, consistency and uniqueness.

Louis XIV's letters patent
Musées de la civilisation, Séminaire de Québec archival holdings, photographer: Amélie Breton – Perspective, Séminaire 11, no 2.

General Hospital Quebec from the Ice, 
Musées de la civilisation, fonds d'archives du Séminaire de Québec, 1993.15171

Rare and Old Books

From the very beginning of the seminary, in 1663, Mgr François de Laval, the first bishop of Québec, encouraged the sharing of books. The prelate thus created a library of tremendous wealth.

The library contains the first books having circulated in the colony and original editions of the accounts of 17th and 18th century explorers. The library also contains European incunabulum (books published before 1500), Canadian incunabulum (books published before 1820) and priceless old editions. It brings together numerous books, newspapers and pamphlets about science, law, philosophy, literature, music, art, geography and history. Computerized cataloguing has been used on over one fourth of this impressive collection.

The historical library covers the period from the 16th to the 20th century. It is full of exceptional works and genuine witnesses!

Musées de la civilisation, Centre de référence de l'Amérique française, October 19, 2008, photographer Idra Labrie – Perspective Photo, 4133_icono_0055


– General information –

T. 418 643-2158 ext. 796

- General information -

T. 418 643-2158 ext. 796