Railway Museum Funding.
The Railway Museum of Eastern Ontario had a float in the Smiths Falls Santa Claus Parade on Sunday, Nov. 25. At the front of the train, leading the way, are Freddy White on the left, and Michaela-Marie Devoy on the right. Museum curator Anne Shropshire is holding Devoy.
The Railway Museum of Eastern Ontario is seeking $35,000 a year from the Town of Smiths Falls as a way of keeping “sustainable.”
“The museum has balanced the books and we are now in a break-even situation,” said Tony Humphrey, vice president of the museum, during a presentation to Smiths Falls town council’s committee-of-the-whole meeting on Monday, Nov. 26. “We need secure and reliable funding.”
Council agreed to look at the issue during budget deliberations, but councilors did voice their support for the museum as a major economic and educational institution in the town.
“The railroad is not only a big part of our history, it is part of our future,” said Coun. Ken Graham. “It is still a major employer in this town.”
Anne Shropshire, the museum’s curator, pointed out that the museum has been making great strides on its own initiative to reach its current level of success. The museum is now open 252 days a year, as opposed to 126 in 2010, and it welcomed 4,700 visitors in 2012, as opposed to 2,680 in 2010. About 25 per cent of the museum’s visitors were from Smiths Falls, with another 25 per cent being drawn from within an hour’s drive of the town. The number of members of the museum has also gone up, from only 35 in 2010, to 116 today.
The museum has also diversified itself, offering itself to events, group tours, and has developed four new curriculum-based programs which have drawn about 150 local elementary school students to its doors.
“Sustainable funding is important so that we can continue to grow the museum,” said Coun. Chris Cummings. “Sustainable funding is important so that we can continue to grow the museum.”
Coun. Dawn Quinn even went so far as to place the museum on the same pedestal as the town’s own UNESCO World Heritage site.
“It could be as big as the Rideau Canal in this town,” said Quinn.
“How can we grow?” asked Shropshire. “How can we be sustainable?”
One way in which this is being done is by attracting new board members, including, they hope, one woman, a younger person, preferably aged 30 to 40, and a newcomer to town as part of a community engagement and marketing strategy.
The museum will also be hosting strategic planning sessions on Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013, “to make sure we are on the right track.”
Shropshire admitted that while “collections are the backbone of any museum,” at her facility, “the space isn’t being used as well as it could be.”
Local educator Blake Seward was part of the museum delegation and revealed that he had been working with satirist and CBC Television star Rick Mercer this past weekend on a research project.
“I spoke with him about the possibility of coming to Smiths Falls,” said Seward. “What makes our town unique from other towns? Maybe Brooke Henderson could give him (Mercer) some golf tips? Maybe a trip down the canal? Our past is a virtual gold mine that has not been tapped and, like a gold mine, it needs to be exploited.”
While Seward is only too happy to talk up Smiths Falls to a potential well-known visitor like Mercer – and, hopefully, his film crew as well – Seward added that other potential visitors not scoping out shooting locales would instead be drawn by the town’s museums.
“We should think of our museums as educational portals working with tourism,” Seward said. “Our museums here do offer something substantial.”
Fellow delegation member Ron Stronski agreed.
“We have a great opportunity here to showcase Smiths Falls,” said Stronski. “Smiths Falls was built on the railway. We need to endorse this (funding request) to the fullest. I support and encourage any monetary effort by the town.”