From Pulp and Paper to Community Hub

During the month of December I am participating in #reverb14 as a means of getting my writing habits back on track. I will be altering the prompts as needed to fit within the scope of this blog. Today’s prompt is: When did you feel beautiful this year? Why? Altered prompt: Discuss a beautiful heritage project or site from the past year.



St Marys Pulp and Paper Complex

One of the most inspiring revitalization projects in my community this past year has been the transformation of the St. Mary’s Paper Mill site. Initially known as the Sault Ste. Marie Pulp and Paper Company, which was built by Francis H. Clergue in 1895, the site remained operational until St. Mary’s Paper went bankrupt in 2011. A shot history of the pulp and paper industry in Sault Ste Marie can be found here.

Riversedge Developments purchased the site in 2012 and since that time the site has undergone significant revitalization. Much of the unique architecture found on the site has been preserved and there are plans for the site to be developed as a cultural and tourism hub.

The first phase of the project has seen the opening of the Mill Market in the former Board Mill Building, the former machine shop being developed as a concert venue, and the Algoma Conservatory of Music moving into the old administration building.

The site is being used for both public and private events and is slowly integrating itself into community life. It is great to see the revitalization of this industrial site and the preservation of such an important piece of heritage. Overall this is a great example of adaptive reuse of an industrial heritage site.

Changing Expectations: Parenthood and Work Balance

I’ve started, rewritten, and deleted this post a few times.  I’ve been struggling with how to broach a topic that is intrinsically personal – pregnancy, parenthood, and workplace expectations – but has a need to be discussed more broadly.

 My partner and I are approaching a life changing event, the birth of our first child.  As the due date creeps ever closer I’ve been thinking a lot about how parenthood and concepts of gender interact with workplace expectations.  Particularly in relation to the archival profession, academia, and historical trends in Canada.

A few years ago I had taken a sick day and was shocked when a colleague responded with “You aren’t pregnant are you?  Because you know that would pretty inconvenient timing for us all right now and throw a wrench in our plans.”  At the time I laughed it off.  But now that I am actually pregnant the words shed light on some of the obstacles many women face in the workplace.

That single comment isn’t representative my experience — I’m extremely lucky to have a very supportive workplace and access to generous maternity benefits (yay for living in Canada).  I plan on taking seven months off work and my partner will be taking the remaining five months of the parental leave. I decided not to take the full year off work for a number of reasons – the desire that my partner have a chance to bond with the baby, a strong feeling that I might go stir crazy at home, and because I don’t want my professional life to stop when I enter this new phase of my personal life.

On a professional level I’ve been struggling with how to prioritize my semi-work related commitments.  Things that aren’t required by my job but that I’ve always associated with work and professional development.  Namely journal issues, book chapters, and conference panels I’ve been asked to contribute to.  I’ve declined a couple of contribution requests out of a desire to try and simplify my commitments in the upcoming year.  But, I’ve committed to a couple of lower pressure and longer deadline projects for 2015-2016 and hope to keep up with most of my current commitments (albeit scaled back a bit). I know my life is going to drastically change in the next couple of months and it’s impossible to gauge how that will impact my commitments long term. 

When thinking about this issue I’ve found it helpful to read about the experiences of others in the heritage field and academia who are discussing work/life balance in the context of parenthood and gender expectations. A few of the most useful sites have been:

  • Nursing Clio a collaborative blog project that links historical scholarship to present day gender and medicine issues. 
  • The Women in Archives series on the Chaos —> Order blog. A two week series focusing on the issues of gender and social inequalities in the context of institutional/professional/social legacies. 
  • Hook and Eye is a group blog dedicated to writing about the lives of women in the Canadian University system.  Contributors are from a range of backgrounds affiliated with universities such as undergrads, grad students, postdoc, sessionals, professors, administrators, alumna, emerita, etc. A number of posts have been written on parenthood, gender expectations, and life balance. 

Parks, Public Art, and Community Gardens

I recently spent a few days in Chicago, Illinois.  This is the second post in a series about the museums, architecture, public gardens, and art I visited while there.  The first post can be viewed here.

One of my favourite mornings in Chicago was spent wondering around Millennium Park and the numerous public gardens in the area. Millennium Park contains a number of great public art pieces, examples of great architecture, and regularly hosts free music events.


Vegetables in Millennium Park flower bed

 I loved the fact that so much of the downtown area had been preserved as green space. The space the Millennium Park occupies was  maintained by the Illinois Central Railroad and prior to 1997 the area was filled with railroad tracks and parking lots. Through a public and private partnership the now 24.5 acre park was turned into a public space built on top of the ‘unsightly’ parking lots. Photographs of the transformation of the land can be seen in the Chicago Public Library Millennium Park Digital Collection

The park is perhaps most well known for its inclusion of the work of architect Frank Gehry in the Jay Pritzker Pavilion and BP Bridge.  Both are beautiful structures and during my visit we took in a bit of the Grant Park Music Festival in the Pavilion.

The park also has a number of public art installations including Cloud Gate (aka the bean), Crown Fountain, and currently 1004 Portraits by Jaume Plensa is on by the Crown Fountain.

Art In The Farm Garden

I was also enthralled by the integration of vegetables into the gardens of Millennium and Grant Park.  A number of the main gardens and flower beds in Millennium Park contain corn, tomatoes, herbs and other veggies.  When harvested the vegetables are being donated to local non-profits. 

Youth working in the Art In The Farm Garden

There were also a number of vegetable only gardens in other sections of the park.  The community driven nature of these initiatives is inspiring.  The Grant Park “Art in the Farm” urban agriculture project is managed by Growing Power which trains and employs at-risk youth in urban agriculture and community food system development.  The gardens were both beautiful and practical.  It was great to see people working in the gardens and actually engaging with the green space. 

The prevalence of community gardens reminded me a lot of wartime community gardens that were started during WWII.  In Chicago over 1,500 victory gardens were started in the city mostly by people who had never gardened before.  An interesting comparison between the 1940s victory gardens and contemporary urban gardening can be seen here.

You can easily spend hours wondering around the parks in Chicago taking in the public art, gardens, and examples of community building.  I also spent considerable time in the Lurie Garden, which I’ll talk about in a separate post.

Photo Credit: Andrew MacKay.

Commodifying Archives

The July/August issue of Muse contains an article by Toni Lin on “The Role of Commodification in Archival Institutions.”  Lin does an excellent job of outlining the perceived pros and cons of commidification and the impact it can have on public access, archival funding, and preservation.

The article concludes that some level of commodification may be necessary for many institutions and can serve as a way to bolster shrinking revenues. Research services, reproduction of archival materials and legal sale of deaccessioned materials can be viable funding supplementation options.

Lin notes that there must be an balance been the need to provide free open access to archives and charging for research or reproduction fees.  She suggests that archival institutions should benefit financially from doing research instead of the money going private researchers.  This isn’t a bad idea — but for many archives adding in-depth research services simply isn’t possible.  Staffing constraints, particularly in smaller institutions, often make offering full research services impossible. 

Digital reproduction and user fees are another way in which archives can recoup or raise funding.  Many institutions have opted to allow users to obtain personal use or research copies of materials free of charge.  This is then balanced by charging for high resolution images, commercial uses, and publication quality prints. At times navigating copyright and privacy legislation can make this reproduction and user fee service more challenging.  And these fees often don’t make a huge amount of money but they do help offset costs.

Overall, Lin’s piece highlights the changing financial landscape facing archives and other heritage organizations.  It is becoming increasingly necessary for organizations to look to new funding sources and ideas.  Commodification and using collections to raise funds isn’t a new idea, but it is one that might gain more prominence as budgets continue to shrink. 

A Quick Look At Northern Ireland

The bulk of the time I was in Ireland was spent in the Republic of Ireland.  I did a day trip to Northern Ireland as part of an organized group.  It was a really long day but it was nice to be able to see a couple of sites in Northern Ireland. The tour included a visit to the Carrick-a-Rede island rope bridge, the Giant’s Causeway, and short stop in downtown Belfast.

The Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge wasn’t anything spectacular.  However, the views of the coastal region at the site and on the drive to the site were nice.  The rope bridge itself crosses a 20 meter gap, and is located in the spot that was traditionally used by salmon fishermen to cross to the island.  The original rope bridge used by the fisherman was much more rustic with only a single hand rail.  The bridge used today is fairly sturdy and wide.  The island and the pathway to the rope bridge have great views of the ocean and on a clear day you can see a portion of Scotland.

The Giant’s Causeway is a UNESCO world heritage site made up of unique basalt rock formations which were created during an ancient volcanic eruption. There are a number of folk stories and legends surrounding the site and how it was formed.  One of the more well known stories suggests that the causeway is the remains of a bridge that a giant named Finn McCool built to cross from Ireland to Scotland.   The intersection of folk lore, natural heritage, and scientific explanations is interesting on this site, however very little signage is located near the actual site.

There is a formal visitors centre on site, however if you walk around the centre you can access the

causeway without paying a fee.  This resulting in missing out on some of the interpretative aspects but if you’re on a budget or a time limit it might be the way to go. 

The Giant’s Causeway is an extremely popular natural heritage site.  There are also very few restrictions on where visitors can explore.  There are a couple of different walking paths which approach the site and a number of shoots which climb up the surrounding rocks and hills.  Visitors are able to sit on the rock formations, climb up the honeycomb looking rock clusters, and walk freely along the rocky shore. 

Given how busy the site is and how unrestricted access is to the site I wonder about the long term impacts of turning the Giant’s Causeway into a tourism destination.  The human element inevitably has some impact on the condition and maintenance of the site.  The Giant’s Causeway is a beautiful piece of natural heritage tucked on the coast of Northern Ireland.  I could have easily spent a multiple hours walking around and exploring the site and the surrounding area.

Local History and Artwork at the Galway City Museum

It rained a lot while I was in Galway.  The rain seemed to come in bursts, it would rain for ten minutes and then it would be sunny, twenty minutes later it would rain for another ten minutes.  In my mind a rainy day is a perfect day for a trip to a museum.  The Galway City Museum located near the River Corrib by the Spanish Arch was a great way to spend a couple of hours.  Admission is free and the Museum is well worth a visit. 

The permanent galleries focus on the history of Galway, with the main floor’s exhibitions focusing on prehistoric Galway and medieval history.   The mixture of explanatory text, historical photographs, and archeological artifacts was well done in this area.  This space concisely explains the geographical formation of the area and the early settlers.

In the large atrium of the museum is a Galway Hooker that was made for the museum by Pat Ó Cualáin and Micheál MacDonncha from An Cheathrú Rua.  The boat is named Máirtín Oliver in honour of the last King of the Claddagh village.  The boat is an amazing piece of craftsmanship and the placement of it makes it impossible to miss during any visit to the museum. 

During my visit there was a couple of temporary exhibitions that I particularly enjoyed.  The Derrick Hawker: An Islands’ Retrospective exhibition was a great example of a city museum incorporating local artists into the space.  The exhibition focused on the paintings and sketches done by Hawker with an emphasis on his work showcasing the Connemara region and the Ballynakill Lake in Gorumna. 

The Hawker exhibition was complimented by an exhibition of ceramics and glass works on loan from the University of Limerick.  The exhibit contained works from around the world and the vast majority of them were practical ceramics such as vases or bowls.  The catalogue of the collection which was the basis of this exhibit can be seen here.

Other than the exhibitions I really enjoyed the physical space of the museum.  A number of the walls of the museum are glass which allows for great views of the city from the gallery spaces.  It was also interesting to see that most exhibition text was in both English and Gaelic.  I would be interested to know how many of the exhibition visitors read the Gaelic text over the English.

During my visit there was also a curatorial meeting doing on in one of the exhibition spaces that was under renovation.  The public historian and exhibition in installer in me couldn’t help but listen in briefly.  It was neat to see staff actually collaborating in the exhibition space and actively considering how the space would work with the flow of the museum overall.

Shifting Priorities and Heritage Relevancy

The May/June issue of Muse included a number of short pieces focusing on relevancy, visitor engagement, and doing more with less resources.  A short International Council of Museums (ICOM) writeup by Mannon Blanchette hit the issue squarely on the head by noting,”In the face of constant and rapid transformations, museums are trying to meet the important challenge of remaining relevant and effective…”

Heritage organizations across the spectrum are being asked to provide more with fewer financial and physical resources.  Arts and heritage organizations are at times seen as ‘extras’ by communities, individuals, and funding bodies.  Yet, the preservation of our past, the educational value of heritage, and importance of community spaces are all things which museums contribute to communities. 

So how are heritage organizations adapting to changing societal needs and expectations?

  • Building a digital presence.  Using social media and digital collection tools it is possible for heritage organizations to reach potential visitors in new ways.  However, the most effective digital presences are engaging and not merely static websites.  Creating a digital space which invites user participation and encourages online users to visit a physical space requires staff time and commitment.
  • Seeking new sources of funding.  With declining governmental funding many heritage organizations are looking to revamping their funding structures.  This often includes developing a great capacity for fundraising and an emphasis on seeking private donors.
  • Emphasizing community connections.  Providing services to the local community the extend beyond a heritage collection are often part of this.  Initiatives such as participating in Doors Open events, sponsoring a community garden, partnering with other organizations to host events, and bringing heritage outside of the institution through booths and off site outreach programming are all ways which heritage organizations have fostered strong community connections.
  • Social engagement.  Heritage organizations need to be stronger advocates for their needs and in promoting their services and values.  The days of simply waiting for people to visit an institution based on chance are gone.  Active communication with stakeholders, potential visitors, and the community at large are essential.

Nontraditional Events in Heritage Spaces

Last week I had the pleasure of attending a concert as part of Bon Soo (think Winterfest on a Northern Ontario scale).  The concert featured two great traditional music groups, Dentdelion and Les Poules à Colin.  The music was a great display of traditional music heritage and the preservation of Canadian francophone culture.

In addition the concert being an example of the preservation of traditional music, the concert was held at the Canadian Bushplane Heritage Centre and was a great example of a heritage organization using its facility to move beyond internal display space.  Granted, February might not be the best time of year to host an event in an airplane hanger — most of the audience kept their coats on throughout the evening. But, events such as this highlight the efforts the Bushplane has undertaken to become known as a flexible conference, wedding and event venue in Sault Ste Marie. In the past few years the Bushplane has hosted bridal shows, conferences, a stroller fitness program, a beer festival and countless other events.

During intermission at last week’s concert, attendees were welcome to wonder amongst the planes displayed in the main portion of the Centre’s hanger. I over heard one attendee remark, “I had no idea planes were so big” and the few children who were in attendance seemed in awe of the space.  Despite having lived in the area for three years and having a love history, I had never set foot inside the Bushplane prior to the concert.  Events such as concerts have the ability to introduce new people to a museums and inspire interest in a facility that some people might never have entered otherwise. 

Facility rentals also have the potential to be great sources of additional revenue for heritage organizations.  In the case of the Bushplane they have invested money in tables, chairs and linens to make their space more appealing and to facilitate a rental package.  Clearly, a venue such as an airplane hanger has a few more space options than a small house museum.  But, even smaller museums can be used for wedding photos or meetings.  Multipurpose spaces provide heritage organizations with flexibility in display, rentals, and outreach activities.

What nontraditional events have you attended or organized in a museum space?

Photo credit: dblackadder

Looking Forward: Heritage Activities in 2013

My last post of 2012 looked back some of my favourite heritage experiences of 2012.  This post looks forward to 2013 and some of the heritage activities I’m excited about for the upcoming year.

  • The winter issue of the Public Historian contains a review I wrote about a walking tour in Milwaukee.
  • In April, I will be attending and presenting at the NCPH 2013 conference in Ottawa, Canada. Later in the month I will also be visiting Montreal for work. While in Montreal I hope to visit the McCord Museum and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.  
  • Singing with the community choir, in the historic 12-sided round barn in May.  It’s great to see a heritage space being used by the community in so many diverse ways.
  • In late September/early October 2013 My partner and I are planning a trip to Ireland.  We haven’t fully fleshed out what were are going to include in our trip — but I’m sure it will include museums, built heritage, historic sites, and lots of natural heritage.

 I’m also looking forward to continuing to read and engage in activities for professional development.  In 2013, I hope to continue to strengthen my skill set with activities relating to exhibit development and records management. 

Looking Back: Top Heritage Experiences of 2012

This past year has been filled with a variety of heritage focused experiences, archival moments, and history based exploration.  Below are some of my favourite public history moments from the past year:

  • The best museum experience I had this year was hands down my visit to the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. I wrote about my experience here.
  • The best conference experience I attended was the National Council on Public History 2012 conference.  The dynamic nature of the conference, the variety of attendees and general history goodness won me over. 
  • Similarly, the best historical tour I participated in 2012 was at the NCPH conference.  It was a walking tour of downtown Milwaukee put on by Historic Milwaukee Inc.  The weather was on the chilly side during this tour and I remember the wind being particularly harsh, but I loved learning about the built heritage, early history, and local events of Milwaukee.  The tour was well contextualized and provided a great introduction to the history of Milwaukee. 
  • Best natural heritage experience of 2012 is a hard choice.  I’m torn between the drive along the beautiful North Shore of Lake Superior and seeing the Agawa Pictographs.  Both were memorable experiences and spoke volumes about the rich heritage that exists in Northern Ontario. 
  • I was fortunate to celebrate Canada Day  at The Forks heritage site in Winnipeg, Manitoba.  This was probably the most memorable and most diverse celebration at a heritage site.  It was great to see a natural heritage space being used for events by the general public and to see the in progress building of the Museum of Human Rights.

Other heritage highlights of 2012 include seeing the Body Worlds Vital exhibit at Science North, drinking tasty beer in the Third District in Milwaukee, being proposed to with a piece of estate jewelery, the Truth and Reconciliation event I attended in Toronto last February, and having the time to read about aspects of archival practice, public history, and Indigenous heritage that I’m interested in.  Looking forward to many more heritage filled moments in 2013.  Providing the world doesn’t end tomorrow, of course.