There will be no café, no coat check and only one show, but one of the most popular museums in Canada will reopen next week. The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts announced Friday that it will stage a limited reopening June 6. The only exhibition will be Egyptian Mummies: Exploring Ancient Lives, a display of mummies from the British Museum, which was forced to close two weeks early in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It has now been extended to June 28 for visitors who purchase timed tickets online.
The Quebec government allowed its museums to reopen as early as this weekend, but the MMFA delayed one week to mount physical-distancing plans. The mummies show, which uses scientific and historical research to uncover the lives of the six ancient Egyptians inside the coffins, is the only part of the museum’s exhibits and collections that will be open. Visitors, who are encouraged to wear masks, will enter at set times and follow a one-way path. The specialized gift shop and bookstore located at the end will be open as will some washrooms, but there will be no guided tours, educational activities or food services.
“If we want to attract visitors, we have to convince them we are a safe COVID space,” MMFA director Nathalie Bondil said in a recent interview.
Museums have started to reopen in Western Canada – the Winnipeg Art Gallery was first out of the gate on May 5; the Royal B.C. Museum announced this week that it will reopen June 19 – but Montreal is the first to reopen the type of blockbuster that would usually attract large crowds. Before closing, 245,422 people had visited the mummies, putting the show on track to become the most visited museum exhibit in Canada in 2020. Alongside the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto and the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, the MMFA is the most visited museum in Canada. In 2019, it welcomed almost 1.2 million visitors and also organized the most-visited show in Canada, an exhibit devoted to the French fashion designer Thierry Mugler that was seen by almost 300,000 people.
Both the ROM and the Museum of History remain closed. The ROM, which was supposed to welcome the mummies in May, is now in discussions with the British Museum to bring the exhibit to Toronto in the fall.