The Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum has recruited pharmacist Sean Simpson as the face of a major $10-million project aimed at revitalizing and expanding the facility.
Simpson will lead a community campaign to raise $5 million from donors. With matching government grants, the museum hopes to cover the full $10-million cost of the expansion.
“He understands how important the history is in our town and how important it is to enrich the knowledge of our youth in that history as well,” said Sarah Kaufman, managing director and curator of the museum.
“He was really the perfect candidate” to lead the Building History: Strengthening Community campaign, she added.
Simpson, the pharmacy liaison at Simpson’s Pharmasave, has supported the museum over the years through donations and assisting with its apothecary collection, she said.
The campaign, now in its formative stages, is to revitalize and renovate the museum, a project Kaufman said she’s been working on for more than a decade.
Over the years, she’s been “trying to find ways to make our museum more relevant to better meet the needs of the community, to better meet the needs of the tourism community (and) the economy that’s here,” she said.
The historical society owns land behind the museum’s Memorial Hall and plans call for a new, two-storey 6,225-square-foot facility to be built there.
The basement of that structure will be connected to a new basement to be dug under Memorial Hall, providing much-needed storage space and ensuring the structural safety of the 115-year-old building.
Simpson and Kaufman will be the faces of the campaign and the two main points of contact for everything to do with the expansion.
“Our town has such a rich and vibrant history,” Simpson said in a news release.
“This project will enrich our ability to share the story of our heritage with our children and those that follow them.”
He told The Lake Report the museum, at 43 Castlereagh St. in Old Town, is really a “hidden gem” in the community.
“I think not a lot of people are aware of how cool it is and all of the history that’s here,” he said.
“We live in, obviously, a very historical town, so it would only make sense that the museum becomes more well-known within the community, not amongst even just residents, but even amongst the people that visit our town,” he added.
The museum expansion will include new exhibit space for the facility’s more than 53,000 artifacts. That’s a lot of items for a small museum, Kaufman said.
“Our spaces are so tight right now,” she said.
The design also will include interactive exhibits, a new gift shop, community event spaces and improved accessibility so that it’s open to everyone.
“This will allow us to have anyone (who) can come in and learn, reach all of the exhibition spaces, all of the community spaces and bathrooms,” said Kaufman.
At the moment, the museum is not fully accessible to people with mobility issues, she said, and that concerns her.
She wants the space to be accessible to both visitors and staff.
“We’ve got steep stairs when we go to our collection spaces and such, which can be very tricky for hiring someone who has those mobility issues,” she said.
Kaufman said she’s excited about the new interactive exhibits, which would include a mix of hands-on and virtual reality experiences.
“I’m someone who loves the mix of digital interactives, but also hands-on interactives, so we’re really liking the combination between the two,” she said.
The project is “shovel ready” and all that is needed is the money to make it a reality, she said.
So, in his leadership role, Simpson will be helping connect donors to the museum, spreading the word about the project and showing donors the current space and its potential.
“I think that we have a world-class town and we have world-class residents that live here and I think they deserve a museum that is fitting for them,” said Kaufman.
She said anyone looking to help preserve NOTL’s history, as the only local history museum, is encouraged to contact Simpson or herself.
“I can give them a tour of the site and how it will change. I’m happy to do that for anyone who’s interested in donating to the project,” said Kaufman.
She’s hoping the project will be completed by 2026, which is the 100th anniversary of the death of Janet Carnochan, the founder of the museum.
Carnochan also fundraised to build Memorial Hall, which was the first Ontario building to be built for the sole purpose of being a historical museum.
“It would be really great to open up around that anniversary and kind of commemorate her and her accomplishments for the growth of our organization,” said Kaufman.
Anyone interested can reach out to her at email@example.com. Simpson can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.