I officially graduate from Western this week, and with a public meeting with the Gananoque Town Council Tuesday night I thought it best to get my post up early this week. Although off my running theme of exploring the military relics, I thought I’d talk about something that has been bothering me about the collection.
Around me everyday are thousands of little pieces of history. They speak with a language all their own; there are clues to their former use and value, sometimes obvious, other times quite obscure. The problem is that an artefact’s value is often not in their original functions, it’s in their stories. Good record keeping is the key to preserving the stories, and that is where I think part of the Gananoque Museum’s problems began.
When any object is donated, there is always a story to go with it. Yet, we have so many trinkets, so many photo albums for which the records merely state a donor and a lacklustre entry such as “one locket with photos, black.” Whoever those people were in that locket, and whatever value someone ascribed to the item is gone forever. What we have left is a soulless prop, and the tragedy of a story untold and lost to time. A museum should be a repository for our history, our story, not lifeless things. Those inanimate objects are meant merely to articulate part of the story, and act as a tangible proof that an event did occur or a person lived. An item shown for its monetary worth or rarity should be left to an antique dealer. The story-less artefact defeats the purpose of a museum. Yet, it is not a hopeless cause, much can be salvaged through research, but it takes time, and very often it takes considerable money. In the field of Public History, both are often in short supply.
I’d like to extend an invitation to anyone who knows of anything they or a relative donated to the Gananoque Museum to please write down or tell me the story of the item. There is a cost to storing every piece, and unfortunately those pieces without a story may be the first to find new homes. Stories can be e-mailed to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you can, please try and remember roughly what year you think the objects were donated. Also, I'm extremely encouraged by the large number of offers to volunteer. I’m attempting to get to each in turn, so if you’ve sent me an offer, I will be in touch soon.