Just over 25 people joined Boissevain Mayor Judy Swanson yesterday evening to discuss the future of the Beckoning Hills Museum. Council members sat with those who have been on the museum's board in the past, and with residents who have a passion for keeping the history of the area alive.
The museum has been in a difficult situation over the past few years and pretty much came to a close earlier this year.
At their December 29th meeting in 2022, the Beckoning Hills Museum directors of the baord resigned effective December 31st of that year and handed over the keys and reports to the Municipality.
The Municipality of Boissevain-Morton has now assumed care and control over the beloved museum and its thousands of artifacts.
The museum first opened its doors to the public in 1967 with the desire to preserve and showcase artifacts and collections that had been significant to the history of Boissevain-Morton - to preserve 'objects of lasting interest or value' which tell the story of the settlement years, of those who pioneered this area before us.
The total number of artifacts range between 7,000-8,000 and the great deal of time it has taken to preserve, archive and catague the collections and artifacts was shared at last night's meeting.
The museum has been run totally by volunteers, with 12 volunteers carrying the majority of responsibility in 2022, for a total of 395 volunteer hours. The total number of visitors in 2022 was just over 400, which is 11% of the number of visitors to Boissevain's Wildlife Museum.
From May to September there are, on average, 1-2 visitors per day, and many days there was no one but the volunteer waiting to welcome people in.
But what to do with the museum going forward?
Mayor Swanson says the strong support around the municipal board room table confirmed the desire of the community to continue operations, to keep the history of the community and share it with upcoming generations.
"We wanted to have this because we wanted to know is there an interest in this municipality and in this town for Beckoning Hills. There absolutely is, and tonight proved that.," explains Swanson. "So, now as a council we have a better understanding of what we can do and how to move forward."
"There were some wonderful ideas brought out here tonight," she adds, "and I think it's a turning point for the museum, and I think we could maybe do something totally different that would be kind of like stepping out of the norm for museums. But making it special, and still remembering the history that's there.
Thoughts and suggestions from Tuesday evening's meeting:
- The museum is important for our community roots
- The museum needs updating, change things around
- Enhance the visitors' experiences, like have a record player going and show how it works
- Paint can freshen up the inside / outside walls
- Make the experience fresh, like featuring specific rooms (kitchen, living room) with the items of that era, such as the 60's and 70's
- Make the back room a storage area and rotate artifacts on display on a regular basis
- Use the Wildlife Museum's Bear Den as a display area for the Beckoning Hills, with rotating displays, and perhaps as a 'tease' to draw folks to the museum down the road.
- The three museum need to be under one room, to accommodate staffing over the busy summer months. The wildlife museum has a great summer of visitors as it is also the tourism center of town. Tommy Turtle is definitely a draw.
- To build onto the existing Beckoning Hills Museum is an idea, as there is 50 feet behind the current building, however its very costly
- We need more volunteers to help to share the load
- We need a designated curator to promote the museum with tourists, schools, specialized programs for the museum and really give it a vision and a future, and to head up fundraising efforts. Once you have someone take the lead, more volunteers will follow
- How do we document the artifacts and how they work? their purpose? The generation that knows this history is getting older and their story will be lost
- We need to cull the many duplicates, and/or those collections that are not relevant to the history of this area. The museum was often seen as a 'drop off' of personal collections when folks moved or down-sized. But are these collections relevant to Boissvain's story?
- Help is needed to go over all the artifacts and cull what is no longer relevant; to contact those whose names are on the culled items on file
- Those culled items that have no name attached to them, can they be offered up as a fund-raiser for the museum?
- What's the story we want to share with the museum, other than a massive collection of artifacts?
- As it was opened in 1967 it should be officially designated as a Municipal Heritage Site - by doing that can we acquire more provincial funding?
- The museum's front needs a facelift, something to catch people's attention, to bring folks in, to entice travellers to stop and check it out.
- The International Peace Garden can be a place to further promote the museum as a nearby attraction
- The duplicate artifacts could be showcased in the display windows or cabinets at the different local businesses who would like to, as a bit of a tease to draw attention to the museum. Approach all the businesses and ask if they would be interested in items that relate directly to their mode of business (such as agriculture, radio, office, law) - maybe once items are set aside for this invite business owners to an open house
About a dozen people offered as volunteers to help out with sorting and documenting the artifacts, finding previous owners in the task of culling out the duplicates. As well, about 7 people offered to sit on the new museum board to further discuss what the options are and how to move forward.
Giving the museum a facelift was a common theme throughout the meeting. "We have to make some changes," shares Swanson. "We're not sure how those changes will look like right now, but we cannot continue to keep the same and continue to do the same."
"It's certainly an opportunity for us to turn the page and do something that's really fun and interesting and make the museum, make all the museums in this community, accessible to our children, so our children understand where our history is."
"I'm excited to see what the committee that was formed tonight will come up with, and I encourage anybody else who has any interest in the museum to give me a call and let me know if you're interested. We'll need lots of help to get this up and running again."
Please listen to the entire interview with Mayor Judy Swanson below!
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