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Tuesday, May 28, 2024
NOTL Museum’s spotlight on donors: David Murray and Elizabeth Surtees
Since moving to Niagara in 2001, David Murray and Elizabeth Surtees have helped create educational programming for the NOTL Museum, to keep locals informed of the expansive history of their town. SUPPLIED

Barbara Worthy
Special to The Lake Report

A society that doesn’t learn from its past is doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past — and it’s a philosophy embraced by David Murray and his wife, Elizabeth Surtees, who have been decades-long supporters of the Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum.

“The more you know about your history, the more commitment and sense of belonging you have to your community. And the museum has that history,” Murray said, as he reflected on the reason he and Surtees have given generously to the museum’s capital expansion campaign — in the form of a significant six-figure donation.

The couple’s support of the museum, since moving to Niagara in 2001, has resulted in the addition of significant learning and education platforms.

They have created programs as diverse as the hugely popular “Famous and Infamous” monthly lectures, the installation of several significant brass heritage plaques around the villages that make up Niagara-on-the-Lake, as well as sponsoring the nine-part “History of Niagara” documentary series.

“There are so many people coming to the Niagara area,” said Surtees.

“However, many of them are not aware of Niagara’s history. It’s all there to explore at the museum – but as the collection continues to grow, the museum itself must expand.”

The need for expansion is nothing new.

The Niagara Historical Society was formed in 1895, and with its first president and curator, Janet Carnochan, it operated out of one room in the Niagara Court House — until the size of the collection demanded more space.

Under the formidable Carnochan, Memorial Hall was built and completed by 1907 on Castlereagh Street, the first purpose-built museum in Ontario.

By the 1950s, it had grown to include the Niagara High School (circa 1875) and today is the home of the newly branded NOTL Museum.

The museum houses more than 50,000 archives and artifacts and presents more than 100 programs every year that explore Niagara-on-the-Lake’s diverse history.

Murray, a history graduate of the University of Wales and later the University of Manitoba, brought his own unique world vision to the museum.

A retired labour arbitration judge, his career has taken him around the globe, from correspondent for the Thomson Media chain, to his role as a seasoned arbiter for municipal, academic, professional and civil labour disputes.

A critical observer of people and places, Murray also has a deep appreciation for the rare and beautiful, as seen in his antiquarian 92-volume travel book collection, “The Twenty Shilling Series,” published between 1901 and 1921.

Now housed in Brock University’s library and special collections, Murray fell in love with their stunningly preserved colour illustrations and unusual detail.

While searching through one particular antiquarian book shop, Murray met another book lover, Surtees. 

Originally from Dorset, England, and a graduate of the University of London, Surtees was manager of administration for CJRT Radio in Toronto (better known today as JAZZ.FM91).

From under the shadow of the Toronto Gooderham Building, their shared love of books grew into love and admiration for each other.

That shared passion resulted in Murray and Surtees undertaking a variety of philanthropic activities with the NOTL Museum, as well as being the major private donors toward the 2016 renovation and expansion of the NOTL Public Library. 

“But there’s the social aspect of the museum that we like so much,” said Surtees. “It’s a place where we feel connected to the community, and you just can’t help but learn something new there.” 

Both Murray and Surtees have each previously served two terms as museum board members, during the initial development of its expansion plans. 

“We’ve seen this need grow over the years, not just for the collection, but also in terms of accessibility,” said Murray.

“This museum breathes history and is an historical structure in its own right. But the expansion is essential — and now it’s time to make it happen.”

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