Cool ’60s Design exhibition to open at the Canadian Museum of Civilization

This exhibition celebrates Canadian industrial and artistic design of the 1960s, a vibrant and turbulent decade that brought enormous change to Canada and to Canadian-made products. Led by the federal government, Canada wanted to show the world that it was now a modern and innovative country, firmly focused on the future. It was a heady combination for Canadian artists and designers.

“The 1960s were a golden age for Canadian designers, who were clearly among the most talented and imaginative in the world,” says Dr. Victor Rabinovitch, President and CEO of the Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation. “This exhibition celebrates their personal achievements, and provides insight into Canada’s social, political and artistic development.”

Through both industrial and craft objects as different as airport seating, macram wall hanging and stereos, Cool ’60s Design tells a unique story of creativity and success. Among the more renowned items is the sleek and angular Contempra telephone designed by Northern Telecom. It was a radical departure from the bland and boxy telephones of its day, and it helped launch a design revolution.

The exhibition has three principal themes: Designing a Modern Nation, Canada Welcomes the World, and Same Decade, Different Styles.

Designing a Modern Nation looks at the federal government’s role as a key promoter of Canadian design in the 1960s, most famously through its search for a new national flag. Less celebrated, but just as important, was the commissioning of new airport terminals across the country. Ottawa insisted that the buildings, their fixtures and their public art project an image of modernism and sophistication to the world. The government also helped ignite and explosion of “space-age” Canadian designs such as the domed Ball-B-Q cooker, through its sponsorship of the Alouette satellite program.

Canada Welcomes the World focuses on Montreal’s Expo 67, which is widely known as the most successful world fair in history. Expo 67 attracted 50 million visitors and became an extraordinary international showcase for Canadian artists and designers. The celebrated Habitat building and its display suites furnished by Canadian designers are featured prominently in the exhibition.

In Same Decade, Different Styles, counterculture macram meets pop aesthetic plastic and Scandinavian teak. This section highlights the profound impact that baby boomers had on Canadian design as they began to flex their muscles in the marketplace. Out went the severity of postwar modern design; in came a youth-oriented pop aesthetic, epitomized in the bright colours and fluid designs of plastic furniture. As the decade progressed, the interest of Canadians shifted from national to individual identity. Mass-produced objects began to fall out of favour as Canadians sought to express themselves as individuals. Among other things, this section features handcrafted ceramics, see-through acrylic chairs and an earth-friendly table made from tin cans.

In the public’s mind, the 1960s are often reduced to a few iconic images. However, this exhibition proves that the reality was much more complex and interesting.

Cool ’60s Design will be open to the pubilc from February 25 to November 27, 2005 at the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Quebec. For more information, please visit