About the Blog:

Guelph Politico is locally sourced and dedicated to covering the political and cultural scene in the City of Guelph. Est. 2008.

Monday, October 25, 2010

A Museum Defense

So here we are on the eve of the election, and I have one more issue in me, as a concerned citizen blogger, to pimp. Mostly it has to do with history. Our history and the placed its housed in.
During this election there's been a lot of talk about capital expenditures and the amount of money they cost and whether or not we should be proceeding with them given the current financial climate. And further, how do we choose what projects are the most important to proceed with? Now, to many candidates, the test of excess versus essential has come down to the new Civic Museum, which is currently under construction.
When the museum is mentioned, if it gets mentioned, it's usually in the context of money squandered. An example of a funding priority made by a council more concerned with decadence than necessity. So is a new location for the Civic Museum a waste of money or a practical investment? What was it that George Santayana said about those doomed when forgetting the past?
Not that there's actual doom per se, but let's think about this in technical terms. The Civic Museum houses 30,000 artifacts and over 4,000 photographs, and if you've ever been to 6 Dublin Street you can see that they don't exactly leave it lying all over the museum floor, and obviously we're not just talking about trinkets like arrowheads and thimbles. Nope, the Civic Museum has a wide selection of items from Guelph's history, from instruments manufactured and sold by the Bell Organ Company to a wide variety of vintage garments. And they're all stored in a cramped basement.
Let's not forget that if the museum needs to expand, then let's save two birds with one stone, so to speak. The Convent, a piece of our heritage from the earliest days of Guelph, was a dead building standing. No one was sure what to do with it, or even if  it was possible to save it. And that's not to mention that old rule about real estate: location, location, location. If the museum that focuses on Guelph's history is going to be moved anywhere, then why not next door to the Royal City's most well-known landmark.
And while we're at there's the immobile McCrae House. Guelph is known the world over as the birthplace of Col. John McCrae, author of "In Flanders Fields" but I wonder sometimes how many Guelphites know this and appreciate this. Certainly, this is an extreme example of the history to be found in our sorted berg. I mean, not everyone writes the seminal poem that's become The voice of war and remembrance both in Canada and worldwide. But without McCrae House I wouldn't have held in my own hands last year a piece of paper donated to the museum that was issued to a field commander on November 10th, 1918 ordering him to have his men stand down the next day at 11 am. That's how renowned McCrae House is.
As for the Civic Museum, it provides endlessly fascinating insights into our town. From Guelph's old streetcar system to the great Mondex experiment, I never leave that building without learning something new. Granted I'm biased on the basis of being a history nerd and the fact that I've volunteered at both museums the past two years, but I wonder how many other people are so convinced that a new museum is a luxury purchase, have ever actually been to either the Civic Museum or McCrae House.
And in museum circles (if there is such a thing) our institutions are well regarded for their variety and dedication to the preservation of local history. These things matter. Knowing where he come from matters. And to have a place where you can walk in and for a couple of bucks have access to a wide-ranging amount of Guelph-centric knowledge is amazing and not to be underestimated. I was at a Museum event where Lloyd Longfield of the Chamber of Commerce talked about how when he came to Guelph, he made a specific stop at the Museum to learn more about the town. Why would he take the time to do this unless the ebbs and flows of a city's business future has a lot to do with where it's been in the past? How interesting.
"Study history, study history. In history lies all the secrets of statecraft." -Winston Churchill
“I think a secure profession for young people is history teacher, because in the future, there will be so much more of it to teach” - Bill Muse
“History repeats itself, has to, nobody listens” - Steve Turner

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