It was raining on Parliament Hill as Queen Elizabeth II and Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau signed the Proclamation of the Constitution Act on April 17, 1982. Marks left by the raindrops, as they smudged the ink, can still be seen as physical reminders of the rich history of the Act.
The Proclamation of the Constitution Act is a fundamental document for all Canadians as it symbolizes Canada’s journey from colony to independent country. Like many of history’s most valued documents, it has spent most of its time sealed in a vault for preservation reasons.
As with the display of all collection materials, a balance must be struck. Exhibiting materials involves exposing items to potentially damaging light, while not exhibiting means restricting access to the collection. The loan of the Proclamation of the Constitution Act to the new Canadian Museum of Human Rights in Winnipeg presented an exciting challenge to the Library and Archives Canada (LAC) Preventative Care and Conservation staff—to make the document accessible to Canadians.
So, what does it take to prepare one of Canada’s most significant documents for display?
Studies conducted in 2012 by the Canadian Conservation Institute concluded that the signature inks on the Act are extremely light sensitive. In an effort to prolong its life, the document is allowed only a limited number of display hours per year. LAC staff designed and created a state-of-the-art encasement and display case to protect the Act from harmful light, vandalism and theft.
First, the Act was housed in a custom case that allows the control of humidity, UV exposure, and oxygen levels which will help to further reduce deterioration of the document. A display case was then designed to help limit the total amount of light exposure during exhibition.
The display case incorporates a special layer of opaque black glass (which protects the document from 97% of visible light) but, at the press of a button, it can quickly become translucent as the document is illuminated. The whole system runs on a timer, controlling the length of time the document is visible and records the total exposure over an entire loan period. This will help LAC to monitor the amount of light exposure the Act receives over the course of its life.
This project enhances public access to our country’s heritage without compromising the long-term preservation of the Proclamation of the Constitution Act, and ensures that Canadians will be able to see this national treasure, including generations to come.
Visit the Canadian Museum of Human Rights in Winnipeg for this rare opportunity to see the Proclamation of the Constitution Act and other significant documents from LAC’s collections during the museum’s inaugural exhibitions.