Museum of Dufferin works to preserve & showcase local history

February 27, 2020   ·   0 Comments

By Brian Lockhart

It is a place filled with treasures, curiosities, and personal remnants and reminders that document the history of Dufferin County.

The Museum of Dufferin houses a large collection of artifacts, documents, and archives specific to the region. It is a record of past lives, businesses, clubs, churches, and institutions that built and shaped the County.

When you visit the Museum, you are really seeing only a small fraction of the collection. There are thousands of historical items located in a storage area on the lower level. They are meticulously researched, documented, and stored in climate controlled rooms that regulate humidity and other factors that could damage them.

Artifacts are brought out of storage at different times and put on display, depending on exhibits and themes the Museum is planning for the public.

Behind the scenes, there is a team of experts who do all the work to select pieces for the museum and maintain the archives. Museum volunteers also play an important role in researching and cataloging the items.

Museum Curator, Sarah Robinson, arrived in her position at the Museum after a lifelong interest in history.

Sarah graduated from the University of Guelph with a degree in history, then attended Algonquin College in Ottawa and received an advanced diploma in Museum Studies.

“I was pretty particular about what I wanted to do with my life,” Sarah explained of setting her goals. “At Algonquin it was more of a technical program where it’s more hands-on and you’re learning exhibition techniques and things like that. I really climbed the ladder at the Museum. For me it really worked out. I started as a volunteer and then became a summer student and was here for three years. I was the previous curator’s assistant for two years.”

When the previous curator retired, she was a perfect fit for the position, with knowledge of the area, experience at the Museum, and expertise in the field.

Born in Orangeville and raised in Caledon, Sarah said she had the advantage of already knowing the history of the region by growing up here.

“It’s not a requirement to know the history of the museum where you are going be to a curator, but it helps,” she explained. “When I started I came in with a knowledge of Dufferin County. It also helps knowing people from the area – knowing who to reach out to if I had questions about a local businesses that closed down for example, and maybe I know someone who worked there at some point and we are doing a specific project.”

As curator, Sarah’s position encompasses a lot of responsibility.

She looks after exhibits, incoming donations of objects and art, research, co-ordination of volunteers, and arranging for events on site.

Sarah also does speaking engagements off site.

“We are a museum and we hold the history of this county. We preserve it and we are preserving it for future generations,” Sarah said of the Museum of Dufferin’s mandate. “We are here for people to learn and to explore.”

She added, “Recently there has been a shift in what the idea of a museum is and we’re trying to explore that as well. Museums can’t just be a place where old stuff is placed into an exhibit case. It has to be more interactive and it also has to be more of a community hub. We have to be a place where we bring the community together.”

Sarah and the Museum team are always planning interesting events that will bring in people of all ages and varied interests.

The work at MoD never stops. In the archives room, staff are constantly working with old documents including everything from newspaper articles to personal letters that have a historic reference to the County.

While many people offer to donate items, the Museum can’t take everything people bring in. Items should have a specific connection to Dufferin County.

Sarah said the most important aspect of an item is the story that goes with it.

“The criteria we go with is that we have to understand the significance to Dufferin County. Artifacts will go on display some day and we need to be able to tell the story of them. The example I always give is, a hat is a hat, until you tell me why it relates to Dufferin County and why it’s significant.”

Many local people appreciated the archives section of the Museum where they can research local family history.

The Museum of Dufferin is located at the corner of Highway 89, and Airport Road.

On site, the Museum boasts the most extensive public Cornflower glass collection anywhere in the world. The striking floral pattern was developed in 1912 by a young glass-cutter named William John Hughes. The Dufferin-born artisan grew his tableware creations into a national brand that has been enjoyed by Canadian families for over a century. 

The Museum continues to promote its True. Grit. exhibit, running until April 1. In this collection, the Museum looks to Dufferin’s past to understand where, and how, our community began. The display of artifacts, archival materials and modern photography compares and contrasts the pioneers and the present-day people who have made important contributions to Dufferin County.

A brand new exhibit, titled 20/20 will debut in the Museum’s main gallery on June 20. The colletion will explore pressing issues and topics relevant to today’s society, such as the environment, family and relationships, fashion, communication and our growing community. 

There are numerous feature exhibitions planned throughout the year. Temperance and Temptation, which debuted upon the reopening of the Museum last fall, will run until August, with galleries dedicated to the works of locals Amy Shackleton, Steven Volpe and Rosemary Molesworth to come later this year. 

The Museum of Dufferin is open to the public from Wednesday to Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

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