By Sue Deschene
Special to The Coast Guard
When the Shelburne County Museum opens its summer schedule on June 1, visitors will notice some changes.
The downstairs gallery has been freshly painted, and the Newsham fire pumper, believed to be the oldest of its kind in Canada, has been moved into the museum's gift shop, to open up more room in the gallery.
“We emptied downstairs,” acting curator Leah Griffiths explained. “The hearse in storage now, because it did dominate the entire downstairs. It's in the storage room, where the fire pumper used to be, and the fire pumper is now in the other half of what was the gift shop … and we've got a fire display next to it, as well.”
The plan is to eventually overhaul the upstairs gallery, as well, and turn it into more of a hands-on, exhibit, Griffiths said. Museum staff are also starting up a new Facebook page and hope to install a harbour cam. The museum will also provide log-in information for ProjectNoah.org, a website where people can upload their own Shelburne wildlife photos.
To reflect the evolution of the Shelburne Museum's collection, Griffiths decided to focus on “The display is about the history of museum display, to show where we're going and how we've changed,” Griffiths said. “We're evolving.”
Museum personnel are sorting through resource boxes to create activities for children. Once the summer students join the staff, they will update the activities to make them more interesting.
Griffith's university degree is in archeology, and so she hopes to create a new activity explaining the importance of archeology projects, as well as laws protecting archeology dig sites. Local archeology naturally focuses on discarded Mi'kmaq and Loyalist artifacts.
“Indiana Jones, as fun as he is, isn't an accurate representation of archeology. Archeology is, in many ways, the study of people's garbage,” Griffiths admitted, laughing. “Middens, outhouses and cesspits are great for that. So it's garbage, but it's garbage that tells you a lot.”
Griffiths has also created a new exhibit called “Artifact of the Month,” which rotates on a monthly basis, highlighting a different piece from the collection. The April artifact was a book chronicling the sinking of the Titanic. This month's artifact is a tea towel from a German U-boat, U-889, whose crew was ordered to surrender near Shelburne on May 13, 1945. The June artifact will focus on the Queen's Jubilee.
Along with the main museum, which stays open year-round, the Ross-Thomson House and Store and the Dory Shop Museum will be reopening on June 1. This year, boat builder Milford Buchanan will be working on a new 15-foot Shelburne Dory designed by Paul Gartside.
Griffiths, who started at the Shelburne County Museum last May, followed a circuitous route into her role as acting curator. Before moving to Shelburne, she was working as a curator at an industrial museum in Prince George, B.C., when her job was eliminated.
Her mother and stepfather retired here four years ago, and they encouraged her to join them. So Griffiths packed her belongings and two cats into her car and made the long cross-country trip to Shelburne.
Originally she helped out as a volunteer. That led to a part-time position cataloguing artifacts. After longtime curator Finn Bower retired in June, Griffiths found herself in the right place at the right time and took over as the museum's acting curator.
Besides updating the museum displays, Griffiths has also been busy organizing and pruning the museum's massive collection, which has storage space filled to capacity.
“There is a new, provincially approved method for accepting donations,” Griffiths explained. “We have to look at (an artifact) and decide, is this relevant, can we use it, can we properly look after it, is it historically significant?” When donations are accepted under this criteria, detailed information will be collected so that future generations will understand why they were important.
Griffiths is also planning to create a working collection to take out to the schools, using many of the duplicate items contained in the collection. These are objects that students can touch and play with, instead of just looking at them.
“It's not that we want to dispose of heritage,” Griffiths noted. “But if you prune the collection, you can focus on the really good stuff, you make it more accessible, and you're not wasting resources on things that aren't of value. So if you've got two things – one has a story attached to it and one doesn't – then you keep the one with a story attached to it.”
The opening reception for the museum's new temporary exhibits will be held on Friday, June 1, from 5 to 6:30 p.m. The museum is also hosting “Loyalist Garden Fun” with Wayne Butler on Saturday, June 2, from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Starting June 1, all three museums in the Shelburne Museum Complex will be open 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily. For more information, call 902-875-3219.