Canadian Heritage Committee on April 24th, 2012
A recording is available from Parliament.
On the agenda
- Jim Watson Mayor, City of Ottawa
- Michele McKenzie President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Tourism Commission
- Judith Baxter Volunteer Director, John Fisher Memorial Museum
- Jane Fullerton Chief Executive Officer, New Brunswick Museum
- Pierre Wilson Director-Curator, Musée des maîtres et artisans du Québec
Mayor, City of Ottawa
Well, to be fair, I started with a meeting with Minister Moore to talk about our plans, so that we could engage the federal government, because we know that the federal government will plan an integral role in celebrations on Parliament Hill and throughout the national capital region.
Also, the mayor of Gatineau—across the river—and the president of the NCC and I have a regular meeting. It has been a standing item on our agenda to start the dialogue. I met with the Prime Minister to give him an overview of some of our hopes and aspirations for the 150th.
Eventually when we bring forward an action plan at our level, it will go to a committee, which is the opportune time for the public to give their input. As for members of our council, I know that Councillor Hobbs has already gone out to various cultural groups in her community, and Councillor Bloess will do the same so that we can reach out to have a real grassroots celebration. It shouldn't be a top-down organization, because we want as many people involved as possible. It's their celebration, not just the government's celebration.
Rathika Sitsabaiesan Scarborough—Rouge River, ON
What I'm saying is that it should be the people's party as well, so I'm glad to hear that from you.
The Chair Rob Moore
That concludes this panel.
I want to thank you, Michele, and Mayor Watson, for being here. We really appreciate your input and the contribution that I'm sure both the City of Ottawa and the Canadian Tourism Commission are going to make as we develop our plans for this celebration. Thanks to both of you.
We will break for a couple of minutes so that the next panel can come up.
The Chair Rob Moore
We'll get started again. This is the second half of our meeting.
As a reminder to committee members, all our witnesses have been invited for their particular contributions in their areas. We don't expect anyone to have all the answers on how we as a nation are going to celebrate Canada 150. That's partially our job. We as a committee have taken on this study. We're hearing from diverse witnesses and then we're going to be making recommendations to government. We look forward to our witnesses' contributions in their individual areas.
Today we have, from the John Fisher Memorial Museum, Judith Baxter, who is the volunteer director. It's nice to have you here with us, Judith. From the New Brunswick Museum, we have Jane Fullerton, the chief executive officer. From the Musée des maîtres et artisans du Québec, we have Pierre Wilson, the director-curator. Welcome to all three of you. You each have 10 minutes to present, and then we will have a round of questions and answers.
Does anyone want to start first? If not, we'll go alphabetically.
Go ahead, Judith.
Judith Baxter Volunteer Director, John Fisher Memorial Museum
Good afternoon, my name is Judith Baxter.
I'm very pleased to have been invited to discuss ideas for the celebration of Canada's 150th anniversary, especially from a rural point of view. I represent a small community museum, the John Fisher Memorial Museum, which is part of the mandate of Kingston Peninsula Heritage Inc. The museum is located in the basement of an active school—from kindergarten through grade eight—in the heritage district of Kingston, New Brunswick.
As Kingston Peninsula Heritage Inc. is a totally volunteer organization and a member of the Canadian Museums Association, I would first like to say that we are huge supporters of the CMA proposal for the matching donation program, the Canadians Supporting their Museum Fund. Kingston Peninsula Heritage Inc. has also been a recipient of a Young Canada Works in Heritage Organizations program, and we support the CMA's effort to have these funds increased.
May I say that I clearly remember the 100th anniversary in 1967. I went to Expo. I hauled kids there. John Fisher spoke at our local 1789 Anglican Church as one of his stops on his cross-country tour, talking about small-town Canada in his capacity as Mr. Canada.
In 1967 the centennial farm designation was a great success, especially in our area. Each century farm was given a plaque, and there are even a few visible today as you drive around the country roads.
The family farm has been in decline since the 1967 celebrations. However, in recent years there has been a growth in small organic farms, which are attracting a younger generation of farmers. Located on the Kingston peninsula is a Saturday morning farmers' market, which works on the premise of 60% farm produce/product. In support of this small but growing farm sector, and since there are many such markets across the country that are highly supported by the general population and viewed as destination shopping, I suggest that these locations could be targeted as areas for celebrating rural Canada.
How might federal funds be directed? Please, let's not have any posters. A poster is at best a one-time waste of your dollars. A poster is quickly disposable. Since I suspect that in this economic climate there will not be an appetite for large-scale capital projects, consider something lasting and effective like a celebration kit.
Many years ago, Kingston Peninsula Heritage Inc. purchased cloth bunting—red, white, and blue fabric, very thin material. We have yards of it and we decorate everything. The bunting that is available for events now is plastic and is a one-shot-use expense. By packaging a celebration kit of reusable items—bunting, flags, banners, etc.—and including ideas on how these might be applied for local use you would be creating a visual expression of celebration across the country. A kit can be reused and recycled. These same celebration kits could be made available to museums, farm markets, schools, legions, etc.
In 1967 Canada was a different place, less corporate and more communal. The country was just beginning to discover and celebrate the diversity of its people, but in 2017 we may work to discover why we are all Canadians and celebrate being Canadian with less emphasis on our diversity. One way this may be approached is by telling the story of why we are Canadians and how this concept of one country developed; how people from differing backgrounds, financial status, and cultures were able to come to a fair and equitable consensus.
Why has telling the federal story been lost on our youth? There must be a way to highlight the story of the Fathers of Confederation, the arguments for and against Confederation, and what was taking place on the world's stage that brought about these discussions. How might federal funds facilitate this action?
In discussion with a friend, the following idea surfaced—six degrees of separation from our Fathers of Confederation. We saw this as a social media activity, hopefully targeting a youthful demographic. Perhaps this is an area that could be partnered with a RIM or a Rogers corporation for their expertise in design and promotion. Perhaps the corporate sponsor could run a competition for development of the program through tech schools.
Needless to say, this concept needs some fleshing out. This project would, however, have overtones of genealogy as well as social science. It may well be a project that may interest an online genealogy server like ancestry.ca.
The John Fisher Memorial Museum opened in 1982 and is only part of what this small community volunteer organization does, as is true with all community organizations. Located on a peninsula, the community has been saved from urban sprawl, as transportation is serviced by a ferry system. We have the advantage of being rich in vistas, built heritage, and low population. We are, however, cursed by being located in a local service district without municipal funding, nor have we businesses or deep pockets from which to draw much-needed funds.
Besides the museum, our mandate covers a heritage river lighthouse, an 1810 cottage in which we operate a tea room and gift shop, an artifact collection of 3,449 items, and a heritage garden that attracts a great deal of day-trip attention. We operate through the summer with federal and provincial student employment grants. These students are taught everything from accessioning artifacts to doing genealogy research, dealing with the public as tour guides, or waiting tables. They learn to sell in the gift shop and cook in the kitchen. Each becomes well versed in telling the story of the Kingston peninsula, gaining many skills through the summer and developing a pride of place.
How might federal funds aid in what we do? Our biggest hurdle is renewing an aging volunteer organization. This is an area where the CMA's Canadians Supporting their Museums Fund would be of great benefit to our organization. This shared donor giving may also encourage more volunteer participation, as the museum sector is seen to be an honourable contributor to the Canadian way of telling each of our stories.
Our second hurdle is accessing funds already available to small museum organizations. All the available programs at present require the organization to have at least one full-time employee. At present and in the foreseeable future, any funds we raise or have donated go to maintaining the heritage structures we own.
How we will celebrate the 150th anniversary of this beautiful country? In the past, we have celebrated the landing of the Loyalists with parades, teas, and special exhibits. We celebrated the provincial bicentennial with folk festivals, built heritage, and special exhibits. We celebrated the millennium by having the crossroads at Kingston—which include the 1789 church with a Loyalist graveyard, the 1788 rectory, the 1788 Union House, the 1810 Carter House, and the 1910 Macdonald Consolidated School—designated a provincial historic district.
Last summer, in celebration of the first European community in New Brunswick, the 400th anniversary, we held a cairn rededication on Catons Island in the Saint John River.
This year, in celebration of the War of 1812, we are supplying a heritage choir for the various celebrations that will be taking place across the province.
As volunteers, we are adept at working on a shoestring and at the last moment. I can guarantee that with your support and, if necessary, without your support, we will be celebrating the 150th anniversary of Canada, for the simple reason that in the museum community, we remember our diversity and celebrate our heritage. It's our passion.
I thank you for this opportunity.
The Chair Rob Moore
Next we will have Jane Fullerton.
Jane, I want to congratulate you for your exhibit at the War Museum. I understand that it's not often they have exhibits from other museums, and it was successful. So congratulations on that.
Jane Fullerton Chief Executive Officer, New Brunswick Museum
The Chair Rob Moore
The floor is yours.
Chief Executive Officer, New Brunswick Museum
We were very proud to be able to open the exhibition on New Brunswickers in war at the War Museum in December. This was the first time a provincial museum had an exhibition at the War Museum. It's a great opportunity for us to share stories of New Brunswickers not only with the broader population here in Ottawa but also with a national museum at the national capital.
The New Brunswick Museum is the provincial museum for the province. We have a very broad mandate, everything from billion-year-old fossils through the natural science stories, through human history and art and archives right up to contemporary art created six months ago. So it's a broad mandate. We are Canada's oldest continuing museum. We started in 1842 with a collection by Abraham Gesner and existed in several forms through to 1929, when we became the provincial museum. So 2017 is a really important year for us because we will be 175 years old. That's something we will take great pride in celebrating and sharing that year.
Today I'm here to talk about another important event—perhaps almost as important, if not more important—and that's Canada's 150th birthday. This is certainly a great opportunity for Canadians across the country to be able to understand more about how Canada came to be, how we came to be this country, how we have survived a number of different natural, economic, and other situations over the years, what we have achieved as Canadians, and where we can go in the future. It's an opportunity to learn and to understand. It's for those who have generations of roots here in Canada as well as for new Canadians. We see this as a really important opportunity for Canadians to come together as a group to understand more about where we came from and where we can go in the future.
Museums certainly have a role to play in that. Some people think museums are about things, about objects—the fossil, the plant, the piece of art, the hat sitting on a shelf somewhere. But we're really about stories. We're about the stories behind those things. Without a story, the thing is not important. It doesn't have any relevance. It's the story, the person who wore that hat, who then did something while wearing that hat.
That's what museums are about: we're about the stories. Our role is to collect, preserve, and understand those stories and to communicate them to the public in a variety of different ways, so we can take the past, we can bring it forward to the present, and we can also make sure it's there for the future. We link the past and the future together. In that role, it is certainly appropriate that we, the museum community—whether it's a provincial museum, a community museum, a regional museum, a museum of interest, or a national museum—are thinking about how we can participate in 2017.
There are a number of different ways museums can do that. Certainly, as Judy mentioned, museums will be doing exhibitions. We'll do larger exhibitions; we'll do smaller exhibitions. We'll find ways of connecting with the communities we serve on the stories of Canada—how Canada came to be and where it may be going in the future.
That's something we'll do, and certainly opportunities to facilitate that and encourage that would be very beneficial.
But I think there's another opportunity museums could be taking advantage of, and that's to connect Canadians. We work in our own communities, whatever that community is. But what's really important is that Canada is a large, geographically diverse country with a lot of different interests. Not just the scenery but the people, the work, and the activities in Canada differ from region to region. It's really important that Canadians understand the different regions and what is happening in those regions.
There are opportunities for museums to connect regions together, to connect communities together. It could be by a travelling exhibition like the one the New Brunswick Museum did in Ottawa, to be able to bring what looks like a New Brunswick story to the national capital and talk about it as part of the national picture. Or it could be through smaller scale showcases of special treasures. The New Brunswick Museum could send to Alberta several treasures that are important to New Brunswick and have Alberta museums exchange those. The links that are actually there now today, and have been there historically, are actually recognized and discussed around some really key stories. So, certainly showcase exhibitions, probably on smaller scale smaller than a larger travelling exhibition, are realistic and could link a variety of parts of Canada together and encourage some dialogue.
Certainly technology now offers us so many opportunities to connect.
The New Brunswick Museum could be looking at doing discussions with the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre in Yellowknife, an opportunity for school kids or for senior citizens to connect with others about what life is like in a different environment, what is important to them, what their heritage is, and how we can share it. There are a lot of opportunities to link children and families, students, seniors, people who have been here for a long time and people who are new to Canada, across Canada so that they're sharing stories themselves and learning more about what Canada is and how we're going to go forward in the future.
There's the opportunity, as we look at 2017 itself and at that key period around Canada Day, to look at a program that might support museums across Canada offering free admission. June 21, National Aboriginal Day, through to July 1, Canada Day, would be a great opportunity for museums, with some financial support, to be able to offer free admission to encourage people not only to come in, learn about the past, and think about the future but also to encourage communities to use museums and other cultural and heritage centres as locations for celebrations. Museums are not actually supposed to be boring and dull. You're supposed to have fun and enjoy yourself when you go to a museum, and the opportunity to think of those as places of celebration and to encourage communities to build some of their activities around that and to be able to offer free admission I think would be a significant opportunity. It could be a great gift to the present activities of 2017 to be able to do that.
There's also the opportunity to look past 2017 and to ensure that what is being developed as we go towards 2017 and afterwards is something that will contribute to the longer term growth of Canada. I'm certainly in favour of opportunities that will enhance what already exists rather than building new. I think that the long-term sustainability of new opportunities may not be there, so we really have to make sure that whatever is done is something that can carry forward in the future. The idea of a matching program, which the Canadian Museums Association is in favour of, with a limited time period where private donations to museums or other cultural institutions are encouraged with matching funds from the federal government, would be a very important way of encouraging Canadians to think about how they will contribute to the future of Canada and preserve the past.
We all know that if something is right in your own community, quite often it's human nature not to think it's that important, that the museum down the road is not anything really special. When someone from elsewhere says that's important, that they want to ensure that it's there for the future, that they want to recognize it and assist us in doing that, that can be a significant improvement. It can mean that people will pay attention and start to think about how they're going to support the future, the future of an institution and the future of Canada. I think a matching program would be a long-lasting legacy to be able to leave as we go forward after 2017. It's important in what we're doing now that we think about how it's going to work later on. And for museums, we're both the past but we also know that we're here forever, so we have to think in terms of that long-term lifespan.
I would also like to think that we can look at how to take some of Canada's stories to the international stage by building on existing opportunities, using opportunities that are already there, whether they're international visits, trade shows, conferences, or all of those kinds of things. We really need to look at how we could layer in more of Canada's heritage into that. Again, when someone from away, from outside Canada, says, what a great story you have, that's an important thing that you're doing, it helps create pride in Canadians. We know it happens in a local community. It happens nationally as well, and I think there are existing opportunities that just need to be leveraged more to make sure that we can strengthen our international recognition as we go forward towards 2017.
My final comment would be that 2017 is not that far away. For us, this is the planning time if we want to build on what exists, if we want to take advantage of the upcoming commemorative activities. New Brunswick certainly is recognizing the War of 1812. We have a really important story to tell. Without us, Canada might not have existed in the way it does now. So we are looking in the next couple of years to talk about the War of 1812, but we also know there's 2014 and the beginning of World War I, and 2015, and the end of World War II. Some other significant anniversaries or commemorative activities are happening over the upcoming period. We need to think about how we can build those in, build toward 2017 and make sure that 2017 is a very strong year of activity. It's a year that we don't want to regret afterwards.
Individually, organizations and museums will do things, but together, with some support and perhaps some direction from the federal government, I think there are opportunities for us to do a lot more, to do it better and create a stronger series of events, a stronger year for 2017.
The Chair Rob Moore
Finally, Mr. Wilson.
Pierre Wilson Director-Curator, Musée des maîtres et artisans du Québec
Hello everyone. My name is Pierre Wilson, and I am the director-curator,
which does not translate.
It's close enough.
Director-Curator, Musée des maîtres et artisans du Québec
Yes, close enough.
As I said, I am the director-curator of the Musée des maîtres et artisans du Québec and have been for more than eight years.
Founded in 1962, the museum specializes in handcrafted objects made by Quebec masters and artisans. The museum is one of 42 that are recognized and supported by the province's ministry of culture, communications and the status of women. The museum is also a Canadian Cultural Property Export Review Board designated institution. We are the only museum in Quebec specializing in this area, which we like to describe as a continuum that ranges from handcrafted homemade objects and pieces by commercial artisans all the way to professional works of art.
Our material culture collection comprises more than 10,000 objects, from current pieces to items dating back to the 17th century. We receive operational funding from the ministry of culture, the borough of Saint-Laurent, in Montreal, and the Conseil des arts de Montréal. Unfortunately, those funds have been frozen at the same level since at least 1995. With everything else being equal and no such cap on inflation, this freeze has obviously diminished our financial capacity every year. To offset that reality, we managed, for a time, to increase our own revenues through sponsorship, fundraising activities and patronage, but there is a limit to how many new patrons we can find, not to mention, that there are clearly more and more of us vying for this source of funding.
In order to cut spending and reduce our accumulated deficit, in 2005, we also eliminated any expenditures not directly related to our collections. Consequently, we no longer have anyone working on communications or any advertising budget to speak of. And yet, we are very active: collections have grown by 30% over the past 5 years and, on average, we host 16 exhibits and produce 4 catalogues every year.
Located in the Montreal borough of Saint-Laurent, the museum is far enough away from downtown that we do not see any tourist traffic, even though we are right next to a metro stop. Unable to attract tourists, who, on average, account for 70% of museum visitors in Quebec, we had to set our sights on the local population. According to 2006 census figures, 51% of Saint-Laurent residents were not born in Canada. If we take the children of those residents into account, generally speaking, 85% of the local population is made up of immigrants and those with close ties to immigrants.
By reaching out to social agencies and community groups, we have been able to develop a bottom-up approach, as they say. This approach has made it possible for us to present more than 10 exhibits a year, projects that are actually put together by the groups themselves, not by the museum. Our results have even garnered us invitations to speak at the Metropolis Conference in Vancouver in March 2011, to jointly facilitate a workshop at the International Metropolis Conference on immigration in the Azores in September 2011, and to share our experience at a workshop hosted by the Museum of Civilization in Quebec City this coming October.
I think it's safe to say that these invitations reflect, to some extent, acknowledgement of how unique and effective our approach is, as well as the fact that multiculturalism and interculturalism are on the radar of researchers and policy makers in Montreal, Quebec, Canada and around the world.
Cross-border movement by different populations is an inevitable reality, so instead of trying to restrict it at all costs, we might be better off using non-coercive means to swiftly turn newcomers into contributing members of society who have a wealth of resources to offer. The men, women and children who leave their homes and families to immigrate to an uncertain world they hope and believe will be a better one, are in fact the best, the cream of the crop, so to speak, and they deserve to be given the means to succeed and produce wealth for themselves and their countries.
As you can see, we take our social responsibility very seriously, and we sincerely believe that a museum can serve as a catalyst for social cohesion, intercultural understanding and a collective sense of belonging.
But before our social mission, is our duty to preserve the cultural heritage, first and foremost. That is a museum's primary responsibility: ensuring that this heritage never dies, that it lives on forever, because donors entrust us with collections so we can preserve them for future generations, indeed time immemorial. This duty must be taken seriously and serves as the benchmark against which all our efforts must be measured, particularly in periods of financial hardship, when many a museum comes to a crossroads. Some may have to make deeper cuts still to staff and certainly customer service, in the short term, at the risk of becoming less competitive in the difficult arena of sponsorship and patronage, perpetuating a vicious cycle that may ultimately lead to the disappearance of the weaker and smaller institutions.
In this struggle against time, it is paramount that we believe that all governments are aware of the issues facing the smaller among us and support us by adjusting our assistance and programming.
I am saying this because, although I agree the 150th anniversary of Confederation is an occasion to celebrate and dazzle throngs of tourists, it is also important to remember continuity, what will endure and stand the test of time when all the tourists have gone home and the international media has turned its attention elsewhere. All too often, electoral politics—which, by necessity, reflect a short-term vision—trump the rationale for long-term viability when deciding which projects to support. While fireworks displays are extremely exciting—and I am the first to ooh and aah—the fact remains that once the celebrations are over, it would be unfortunate for the smaller among us not to come out the other end stronger as well.
I have always said that for every Maurice Richard or Wayne Gretzky, there are thousands of little guys playing hockey in the street or on a frozen pond. The few at the top of the pyramid, whether we are talking about a social, economic or sports pyramid, are basically supported by thousands of anonymous and invisible faces who bravely form the base. Your duty, in my humble opinion, is not just to help the big players in the downtown cores and major centres, so they can stand out and dazzle tourists and international visitors, but also to help the small local players in outlying areas grow, endure and recover from a much too lengthy fall.
In this world of capitalism, progress is the only way, and that applies to institutions as well. And freezes and moratoriums are not the way to achieve that progress. Certain cultural heritage institutions, such as museums, will never make money hand over fist, they will always need government and community support because their success is measured by the richness of our cultural heritage, not dollars.
And yet, a number of cultural for-profit businesses also receive government support, sometimes considerable support. I am not asking you to turn your backs on them; I am simply and most humbly asking you not to forget about us.
The Chair Rob Moore
We will now move to our question and answer time.
Mr. Armstrong is first.
April 24th, 2012 / 12:35 p.m.
Scott Armstrong Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, NS
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I want to thank all three of you for your presentations today. Being from Nova Scotia—and Amherst is in my riding, so I'm just across the border—I'm going to start with you, Mrs. Baxter.
You mentioned the structure of your museum. I'm just going to ask you a couple of quick questions about that before I get into my questions about Canada 150. You said you're below a public school?