The Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum is moving ahead with plans for an expansion that would almost double its space, but first, there is a strategic plan to be developed for the next four years.
And public input is requested to help develop that plan.
While an envisioning session planned for Friday, Feb. 28, is ostensibly to talk about using the existing museum space, it will also give the public, and the many groups and community organizations that have been invited, an opportunity to look further into the future, when an expanded space provides more options.
“We’re looking for feedback about what we are doing that you like, and what we could improve on,” says Sarah Maloney Kaufman, managing director and curator of the museum.
The expansion will allow room for a larger collection, more exhibit space and more programming,
Although Kaufman has some ideas of what she would like to provide, she wants to hear what the public has to say.
“We want to hear from the public about this building for the next four years, but we also want to take a look at the future, and what we can do when we have more space.”
For example, she would like to see more children’s programming. The Kids Curator Camp has always been well-received, but it can only be held in the summer, taking advantage of the outdoors.
“I’d like to have a March Break program, after-school programs and a Family Day program,” she says. “But we don’t have the space inside.”
She would also like to see a permanent exhibit that is more inclusive, that takes in all the villages of NOTL, as well as Black history and the Indigenous community.
The name has been changed recently to the Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum to reflect that it belongs to the community. “We are NOTL’s community museum, and we need to be more visible,” she says. “Our collection is the community’s collection. We have town documents and artifacts of town history,” she says, including military history, churches, the waterfront and agriculture. “We want the community to realize it’s theirs, and take ownership of it.”
The more input they receive from the community about how to proceed, the better, she says.
There will be more promotion of the new name, a new logo and new signs to promote in the near future, Kaufman added.
But the Niagara Historical Society will continue as owner and operator of the museum, maintaining membership, fundraising and supporting the museum. “I operate the museum on their behalf. We have always been tied together and always will be.”
Kaufman says the building expansion is expected to cost about $8 million, while they are budgeting another $2 million for the additional exhibitions and programming to make use of the added space. They have applied for a grant from the provincial and federal governments, and hired a professional fundraising company to approach foundations and members of the public who are interested in history and heritage preservation.
The Niagara Historical Society was established in 1895. Originally housed in the Court House, the museum collection was moved to its present location in Memorial Hall in 1907.
“It hasn’t expanded since the 1970s. It hasn’t been renovated since the 1990s. We’re in desperate need to expand,” says Kaufman. “We house more than 53,000 artifacts, a massive collection for such a small museum.”
Also propelling the project is the need to accommodate the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, by 2025.
An envisioning session for the public is being held Friday, Feb. 28, from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. There is also a survey to fill out at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/NiagaraMuseum.