Living Library Inspires Human Books to Share Their Stories…

December 2, 2012

Irena Szpak, Hyman Yanofsky and Adam Leclerc’s lives are all open books, literally.  Irena, Hyman and Adam have joined nineteen other people from the Ottawa region to volunteer as ‘living books’, sharing with the public their personal stories as they relate to conflict. 

At age 14, Irena trained with the Polish Resistance and was later taken by cattle train to a work camp in Germany.  She survived to have a family and emigrate to Canada; Hyman joined the Canadian army to fight Hitler by intercepting messages from the enemy as he travelled through Europe; and Reservist Adam Leclerc spent seven months with the POMLT (Police Operational Mentoring and Liaison Team) training Afghan police to deal with security issues.

The Canadian War Museum, in partnership with the Ottawa Public Library and CBC, brought the Human Library program to Ottawa.  The Museum featured one-on-one conversations with individuals who have fascinating personal life experiences and stories. 

For their innovative and inspirational project that redefined the meaning of the term “living history”, the Canadian War Museum for “Human Library” is the recipient of the 2012 Governor General’s History Award for Excellence in Museums: History Alive! presented by the Canadian Museums Association.

“We are extremely honoured to be the recipients of this prestigious award,” said Mark O’Neill, President and CEO of the Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation which operates the Canadian War Museum.  “The Human Library concept was a dynamic and engaging way to help our visitors understand the personal stories that have shaped and continue to shape Canada’s military history.”

Two projects received the Museum Association’s honourable mention, they include:

Le Musée national des beaux-arts du Québecfor Les arts en Nouvelle-France. This exhibition proposes a rereading of art in New France – from the founding of Quebec City to the taking of the capital by the British in 1759 – in order to evaluate its impact on later artistic development and on the evolution of the concept of cultural heritage. Every form of art is represented – painting, sculpture, prints, drawings, fancy metal ware, furniture, textiles and decorative arts – in order to represent the civil and religious spheres. This project has been made possible by an association between the Musée and a vast research project on the topic led by professor Laurier Lacroix of the Université du Québec à Montréal.

Le Musée minéralogique et minier de Thetford Minesfor Défi Asbestos Hill : première mine du Nunavik. This exhibition looks at the experience of miners who worked in Northern Quebec between 1970 and 1984. The Museum invites visitors to explore their encounter with the land and its people through testimonials, anecdotes, photographs, everyday objects, tools, minerals or naturalized specimens. The public can also admire the beautiful sculptures and other Inuit objects from national or private collections, showing contact between miners and Nunavimmiuts (Inuit from Nunavik).

On December 10, 2012, His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada, will honour the Canadian War Museum for their achievements and contributions to furthering interest in and understanding of our history and heritage.  Representatives from Le Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec and Le Musée minéralogique et minier do Thetford Mines will also travel to Ottawa to take part in the events around the Governor General’s History Awards.

“The Canadian War Museum has created a unique and memorable experience with its Human Library program, truly bringing our country’s history to life,” said John G. McAvity, Executive Director of the Canadian Museums Association.  “We are honoured to present them with this year’s History Alive! Award, and to recognize the exceptional work of the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec and the Musée minéralogique et minier de Thetford Mines.  All three projects demonstrate the important contributions of museums to a better understanding of our history, our culture and our society.”

Announcements continue throughout the coming week and profiles of all the recipients, will be available at

The Governor General’s History Awards bring together museums and community organizations, students, teachers, historians, writers and media producers to celebrate as well as learn from each other.  The day prior to the award ceremonies, recipients will participate in a public history forum at the Canadian War Museum.  This year’s forum, “How Should the Great War Be Remembered?” is open to the public to attend onsite or online by registering at

About Canada’s History Society

Canada’s History Society is a Winnipeg-based charitable organization devoted to popularizing Canadian history.  In addition to publishing Canada’s History (formerly The Beaver) magazine, and Kayak: Canada’s History Magazine for Kids, the Society also produces a number of awards and programs to encourage more discovery, celebrations and understanding about our rich history and culture.  More details can be found at

About the Canadian Museums Association

The Canadian Museums Association is the national organization for the advancement of Canada’s museum community.  The CMA works for the recognition, growth and stability of museums and galleries.  Canada’s 2,500 museums and related institutions preserve our collective memory, shape our national identity and promote tolerance and understanding.  Learn more at

 About Ecclesiastical Insurance

Ecclesiastical Insurance is the insurer of choice for Canada’s places of worship, retirement communities, education facilities, registered charities, non-profit organizations and associations, arts and culture organizations, and heritage properties. The company was established in the United Kingdom in 1887. Ecclesiastical is owned by a charitable trust and is committed to serving the needs of its customers, broker partners and the larger community.

For further information or to arrange an interview, please contact:

Nicole Harris                                                          Deborah Morrison

Maverick Media Solutions                                    Canada’s History Society

Cell: 204-470-4555                                                  Office: 204-988-9300 ext. 222                      


Yasmine Mingay

Canadian War Museum

Office: 819-776-8608

Posted by: Canada's National History Society- Winnipeg on December 4, 2012.
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