An idea to consolidate museums

Port Dover Harbour Museum

By David Judd

 

Norfolk CAO Jason Burgess has an idea for the future of Norfolk’s museums: consolidate them at Simcoe’s historic town hall on Colborne Street.

 

Consolidating museums would save money and breathe new life into a heritage building that Mr. Burgess calls “a crown jewel.”

In a January 9 memo to council, Mr. Burgess emphasized that consolidating museums is NOT (his emphasis) an approved strategy.

Instead, Mr. Burgess called it “an example of stretching our thinking of heritage and cultural services within a broader corporate strategy.”

Last year council closed Simcoe’s Eva Brook Donly Museum and Teeterville’s Pioneer Museum, leaving three museums in Port Dover, Waterford and Delhi.

At the start of 2020, the three remaining museums each had a curator and an assistant.

The museums closed in March in response to COVID-19 and some staff were reassigned.

Last Tuesday, councillors tentatively approved cutting one curator position in this year’s budget. If the cut is approved, remaining staff would rotate among museums.

Port Dover Harbour Museum
Port Dover Harbour Museum.
Simcoe Colborne Street building
The Colborne Street building in Simcoe.

Norfolk has been spending about $1.6 million on museums each year.

Total annual revenues, including all government grants, have been about $140,000.

Council is looking for ways to cut $7 million in spending over the next two years to help put its finances back in shape.

Consolidating museums is an “example of the possible,” CAO Burgess said in his memo.

The Colborne Street building has housed Norfolk’s main offices and council chamber for the last 20 years.

Previously, it was Simcoe’s town hall and, before that, it was Norfolk County’s courthouse for 100 years.

Some of Mr. Burgess’s thoughts:

  • - The Colborne Street building is not practical to continue using for offices.
  • - However, the historic building is a “crown jewel” and must be protected and maintained.
  • - Invest $5 million to renovate the building as a museum site.
  • - The location, next to Simcoe’s public library branch in a former jail, would “provide a unique offering to the community.”
  • - A renovated building could provide a platform for the museum to generate new revenues and integrate into economic development strategies.

The memo did not detail potential savings from consolidating museums.

And it did not discuss the futures of the Port Dover Harbour Museum, the Waterford Heritage and Agricultural Museum and Delhi’s Tobacco Museum — whether some or all of them might close.

The memo to councillors raised the possibility of putting the brakes on the museums’ current collections.

Mr. Burgess attached an article from the International Journal of Heritage Studies focusing on “de-growing collections to allow for future heritage development.”

The Colborne Street building opened in 1864 next door to the county jail, which had been built in 1848.

It was designed by famed Brantford architect John Turner to replace a previous courthouse that had burned down.

Ontario sold the courthouse to the Town of Simcoe for $75,000 in 1972.

Controversy followed after a citizens’ group resisted town council’s decision to demolish the courthouse and build a new town hall.

In 1975, town council saved the building after receiving a $250,000 provincial heritage grant, which paid about one-third of the cost of renovations.

The building reopened as Simcoe’s town hall in January 1978.

Norfolk County took over the building in 2001.

 

Originally Published January 20, 2021

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