Friday, September 22, 2006

About the Project

As far as many Canadian towns go, Gananoque is quite old. The American Loyalist, Joel Stone, founded the settlement in 1791, but the area has been inhabited for ten thousand years, or more. The collection, therefore, contains artefacts dating from pre-history, through the Loyalist-era and up to the World Wars. It is a surprisingly large collection, containing a great deal of archival material, including antique books, local business and town records, perhaps thousands of photographs, as well as part of the correspondence and private papers of some of the original residents; the oldest document dates to 1767. The military collection is certainly worth note, and there are all the nineteenth century artefacts you’d need to furnish a museum. There are presently serious concerns for the collection’s well being, as will be shown.

As you can see in these pictures of former exhibits, The Gananoque Museum was your typical small town institution, replete with spinning wheels, war trophies, and grandma’s tea cups. It first opened its doors in 1964, under the direction of the Gananoque Historical Society, but was later turned over to the town. The building which housed the museum was originally built in the 1840s as the Albion Hotel and later the Victoria Hotel. The property was purchased by the Jones Shovel Factory in 1901 and operated as their front offices until 1960, after which it was bought by the town to serve as the Public Library (which it continues to do).

The museum’s days ended at the close of the 2000 season, when the building became the home of the Gananoque Chamber of Commerce. Why this happened is unclear, but the death of museums is something that has occurred in many communities, large and small. In the coming months I’ll hopefully uncover some more information that may shed light on this event, and help other small museums avoid the same fate.

You can see in these pictures the present and heartbreakingly critical state of the former museum’s collection. Although heated in the winter, there are no other environmental controls, nor is there any organization. The collection has been unceremoniously and roughly moved numerous times. Bathrooms were constructed for the Chamber, and many of the artefacts were left uncovered – the extent of the damage is not fully known. A card catalogue exists, as does a binder containing an accession ledger, but there is no knowing at this point what is actually in the collections as there are significant gaps in the records and there are no locations recorded.

You can make out a few artefacts in these pictures, and the serious task involved in saving this collection is obvious. There are a thousand museological nightmares here, as you can see artefacts haphazardly piled and sunlight blazing through. If you look closely you can make out a Link Trainer, the original flight simulator of the allies in WWII, among many other large artefacts. A brief walk through revealed safe conduct passes of German POWs, military medals, Loyalist pledges, century-old police files, Paleo-Indian spear points, militia papers from the 1820s - and that was in a quick scan without the joyous rummaging and exploring that will now ensue!

The process will have to be meticulous and slow if it is to succeed. Over the past couple of weeks, I have been busy drafting collections policies to determine what we will keep, organizing the scattered museum files into an archival fonds, and setting up a solid and efficient procedure. As there is no room to work in the collection’s present location, the town has generously provided more than ample work space in a nearby facility. The Arthur Child Heritage Museum has also come through with providing temporary office space, some equipment and endless amounts of moral support.

I will begin by going through the collection, item by item, and room by room, re-cataloguing, cross-referencing, photographing, and researching as I go. Following CCI guidelines, I’ll also endeavour to isolate problems such as mould etc. and figure out what actions I can take. Then, at the end of the project, we’ll find a safe and lasting location for it to be properly stored and set about digitizing as much as we can.

Tune in next week as I’ll hopefully have narrowed down a proper computerized catalogue system. I’ll also share some of the joys of grant writing, and best of all, reveal some of the lost treasures dug up in the Gananoque Museum Collection.


No comments: