Museum creating connection to collective past
By Kate Butler
Director - Haliburton Highlands Museum
May is recognized internationally as Museums Month, with May 18 being International Museums Day, so we thought it would be fun to outline just a few of the many reasons that we think museums are amazing!
There are many famous quotes about the value of history, from George Santayana’s “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” to Bob Marley’s “In this bright future, you can’t forget your past,” but at their core, museums give us an understanding of our community’s story.
It’s so important for all of us to remember that in terms of our local history, we’re simply a small blip – many people have come before us and many will come after. At the Haliburton Highlands Museum, we strive to tell our community’s story as fully as possible, including the story of Indigenous settlement in the area and that of the early European settlers who came here in the mid-19th century, as well as the growth of our villages and hamlets.
Our community’s story and identity is growing and changing with every day, as new residents move to the area. Many of those individuals are summer residents who have fallen in love with the area and want to permanently settle here. Historically, many “summer folks” had their first taste of the Haliburton Highlands through our local lodges and resorts. So much of the rich history of these sites was in danger of being lost, but thanks to initiatives like our Lost Haliburton Boat Tours (returning on Wednesday afternoons this summer) it’s being preserved and shared.
A key part of a museum’s mandate is giving children an understanding of and appreciation for their community’s heritage. Kids so quickly pick up the information we share through our programs, such as Heritage Happenings, and become ambassadors for our community and its heritage. Kids who learn early on to feel pride in their community and its history are more likely to stay engaged with that community as they become adults.
Museums are amazing places for people of all ages to learn, not just about our community’s history, but also new skills. In recent years, we’ve placed a focus on, as we term them, “traditional” skills, which are seeing a resurgence in popularity. Museums are also a wonderful place to learn research skills. We’ve recently piloted a program called Ancestor Roadshow in partnership with the Haliburton Highlands Genealogy Group, which teaches visitors how to research their own family history. Why not come out and join us to pick up a new skill this summer?
In recent years, perceptions of what museums are and what museums do have grown immensely. In fact, this year’s theme for International Museums Day, as declared by the International Council of Museums, is “Museums as Cultural Hubs: The Future of Tradition.” Museums are community spaces, spaces where everyone should always feel safe and welcome. As well as offering programming and hosting a vast range of community groups, the museum is also a place for families and friends to gather – a place to socialize, to learn and sometimes even a place to escape inclement weather!
Many studies have highlighted the value of arts, culture and heritage on our well-being. In fact, a recent movement has seen doctors writing prescriptions for museum and gallery visits as part of treatments for their patients. In Montreal, for instance, physicians have a program through which they can prescribe up to 50 visits to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts to each patient. It has been proven that such visits release feel-good hormones that can help with chronic pain, depression, stress and anxiety. A similar program is in effect at the British Museum and a range of other institutions, but the wonderful thing is that at our museum, we operate on an admission by donation model, so you don’t need to worry about a prescription to reap all these wonderful benefits!
As well as being a safe space for people, museums are also a safe space for our history and the items of which it’s comprised. Did you know that the Haliburton Highlands Museum has a collection in the range of 20,000 artifacts? Every week, new artifacts come through the door and those who choose to donate to the museum know that we’ll safeguard those items they choose to donate and not only that, but display and share them with the rest of the community. Beyond our artifact collection, we also have an amazing collection of photos, which can remind us of the history in the streets all around us. Join us for one of our historic walking tours this summer and see the town on a whole new light!
We invite you to join us at the museum on May 18 from 1 to 4 p.m. to celebrate International Museums Day and share what you love about museums and the role they play in your life! For more details on our fantastic roster of summer programs, check out our website: haliburtonhighlandsmuseum.com. We look forward to welcoming you soon!