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Thursday, February 29, 2024
Part 2: @themuseum: Connection to area’s history important to NOTL Museum, curator says
Sarah Kaufman, managing director and curator at the Niagara-on-Lake Museum, and Bob Knight, chair of the museum's collection committee, look over a photograph that was recently donated the the museum. Richard Hutton
Bob Knight, chair of the Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum's collection management committee, documents an artifact. Richard Hutton

This is the second of an ongoing series of stories about the Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum as it embarks on a multi-million-dollar fundraising campaign for an expansion that will nearly double the size of the facility on Castlereagh Street.

The Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum is always receiving offers of items to add to its collection.

However, as the museum’s collection continues to grow, finding space to house those new additions is becoming an issue.

“(It’s) a scary thought to think we would have to say no to someone who has something significant and it leaves the community or gets destroyed,” said Sarah Kaufman, the museum’s managing director and curator.

This is why the museum is embarking on a $5-million fundraising campaign to add 8,000 square feet of space to its historic building.

Beyond trying to find space for new items, however, adding to the museum’s collection is a multi-stage process in which the staff have to evaluate each item they receive and determine how strong its historical importance is.

“Staff will talk to the potential donor about it and its significance to Niagara-on-the-Lake’s history,” Kaufman said.

The museum takes items into “temporary custody,” she said, “just to make sure that we know that it’s not ours” and “that we have it on temporary loan.”

Items are then turned over to the museum’s collection management committee, a group of 10 volunteers responsible for assessing potential additions to the 53,000-item collection. 

But not everything makes it before the committee, Kaufman said.

For example, she said, a family could bring something in such as an old wedding dress, which really doesn’t have a tie-in to NOTL’s history. Alternative new homes for the dress might be suggested, such as a textile or fashion museum.

Items that make it to the committee are then assessed to determine the relevance they may have to the town’s history, said Bob Knight, a decades-long museum volunteer and chair of the committee.

Approval of a donation is just the start, he said.

Lately, he and the museum’s volunteers have been working on restoring and preserving a panoramic photograph donated to the museum.

The photo depicts the 146th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. While the photo caption says the picture was taken in Niagara Falls, the battalion received its training at Camp Niagara in NOTL. 

“It was all taped at the back and there was wood to support it,” Knight said, adding the photo first needed to be removed from the frame so it could more easily be stored.

“Sometimes it’s not very good for the photograph itself, which is the case here. This one (is) just stuck to the glass.”

Kaufman said there are some tricks that can be employed to help with such a sticky situation.

“We have to bring in something to heat up the glass to help remove the photo,” she said. “So, we’re bringing in a hairdryer. Nothing fancy, but that will unstick it from the glass.”

Once the photo is removed, any tears will be repaired with tape and the photo will then go into storage. A digital copy will also be made.

“The panoramics are always trickier, but we do have a handheld scanner that will probably just kind of draw along the edge of it to scan the full thing,” Kaufman said.

With the museum running out of space to house new items, there are negative implications for what happens if these historical pieces can’t remain in the town they’ve always called home.

“There’s a potential for things to leave the community, which is unfortunate because then access gets harder for community members to see their own family’s collection, or for researchers to access it here and get the context behind why it’s important,” Kaufman said.

Knight agreed.

“You can’t collect everything,” he said. ”We are short of space. We’re always short on space.”

The museum’s expansion fundraiser, called the Building History, Strengthening Community campaign, would almost double the museum’s current 10,000 square feet of space, adding to the facility’s storage and exhibition spaces as well as providing space to deliver programming.

The museum hopes to receive grants to match the $5 million it raises for what really is a $10-million project. 

The expansion will include a two-storey addition to the rear of Memorial Hall and more basement space for storage.

Hopes are for the expansion project to be completed by 2026, which is the 100th anniversary of the death of museum founder Janet Carnochan. 

Donations to the campaign can be made in person at the museum, at 43 Castlereagh St., during operating hours, 1 to 5 p.m. seven days a week, or online at canadahelps.org/en/charities/niagara-historical-society.

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