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Missing artifacts flagged by auditor recovered by Canadian Museum of History

The corporation doesn’t have a robust way of keeping tabs on the 4 million items in the museums’ collections: auditor general
The Museum of Canadian History says five items of historic significance that were deemed missing during a recent investigation by the auditor general have been recovered. The Canadian Museum of History is pictured from the Ottawa River in Gatineau, Que., on Tuesday, June 21, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Five historically significant artifacts that were deemed missing from the Canadian Museum of History during a recent investigation by the auditor general have been recovered, the museum said Friday (Aug. 11).

The Crown corporation is responsible for both the museum of the same name and the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa.

In a report published Thursday, the Office of the Auditor General of Canada said the corporation does not have a robust way of keeping tabs on the four million items in the museums’ collections.

The audit said the museums had no plan to address a list of 800 items documented as missing between 2012 and 2022, at least five of them with significant historical value.

In a statement Friday, the museum said those five items have been found in their vaults since the auditor’s investigation wrapped up.

The missing items included three masks, a pair of moccasins and a backrest.

The Canadian Museum of History sits across the Ottawa River from Parliament Hill and its collection includes documents, artifacts, works of art and other specimens related to Indigenous and Canadian history and culture.

The Canadian War Museum displays and maintains collections of military vehicles, artillery, uniforms, medals, personal memoirs and works of art.

“The Museums take the preservation, conservation and maintenance of the collections in its care very seriously, and work to ensure that best practices are followed,” the Canadian Museum of History said in a statement Friday.

“That said, there is always room for improvement, and we look forward to implementing the recommendations and advancing best practices as we move forward.”

The museum corporation says most of the remaining missing items are from the war museum’s living history, dress and insignia collections and it is confident they are also located somewhere in the vaults.

The museum has assigned specialists to help comb the vaults for the missing objects. The museum plans to inventory the collection this fiscal year, and expects the items will turn up then.

Many of the objects in the living history exhibits are props that are intended to be used by the public.

The museum staff believe the lost items from the dress and insignia collections may be the result of cataloguing issues, where the items were logged multiple times.

“Later renumbering of these acquisition lots in decades past has led to discrepancies and created challenges of reconciling records to objects,” the Crown corporation said in a statement.

“As with many Museums with vast collections numbering in the millions, the misplacement of objects within collections vaults does occasionally occur.”

The museum said it is a matter of policy not to disclose the financial value of the lost items.

“We consider all objects in the collection as valuable as they help to tell the stories that have shaped our history,” the museum said in the statement.

Federal Crown corporations are subjected to audits once every 10 years.

The auditor’s investigation was intended to determine whether assets were safeguarded and controlled, and found the museum’s practices could put the whole collections at risk.

Despite the significant and concerning findings, the report concluded the corporation was still capable of carrying out its mandate, and the museums agreed to all 11 of the auditor’s recommendations.

Laura Osman, The Canadian Press

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