Canadian Participation and National Representation at the 1851 London Great Exhibition and the 1855 Paris Exposition Universelle


  • Stuart Murray


Canada’s participation at the first two great international exhibitions of the nineteenth century, the Great Exhibition at London’s Crystal Palace in 1851 and the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1855, brought together issues and concerns that spanned the full range of the colony’s developing modernity. Both exhibitions, but especially that in London, fostered a focus on objects, whether raw materials taken straight from the ground or manufactured articles, as representing all that was positive about human and cultural endeavour. The exhibitions and the steps that led up to Canada’s participation — the governmental discussion, the method of selecting exhibits, the very idea of representation — highlighted key moments at a point in Canadian history when the natural logic of the imperial tie was being rethought in light of a growing awareness of a sense of national community. While this process can be found across the range of political, social, and cultural activities in the 1850s and 1860s, the exhibits and the manner in which they were chosen and displayed offer a particular vision on the transformation of Canada from colony to nation.