By Stephen Vance, Staff
The Meaford Museum has been buzzing with activity and visitors in recent months, thanks in part to some new programs and a mini-makeover at the facility.
Many in the community expressed concern during last year’s municipal budget preparations after it was learned that the museum would see a significant cut (20 percent) to its budget in 2014.
Meaford Treasurer Darcy Chapman explained to council during the initial presentation of the then-proposed 2014 budget that municipal staff had conducted a comprehensive review of all of Meaford’s cultural and recreational facilities, and while most other municipal services have a relatively low municipal subsidy per user, the museum requires a staggeringly large per visitor subsidy.
“We drilled down to certain program costs. So we understand the fact that for the 4,700 youth and children’s visits at the library that it costs the municipality $0.42 per visit to run that program. That’s the kind of level that we drilled down to this year,” explained Chapman.
Chapman told council in December that while services such as the arena, the public swimming pool, and even Meaford Hall have a cost per visitor to the municipality of just a few dollars or less, the cost to the municipality per visitor at the museum is $64. Staff told council that they will be exploring various models to increase visits to the museum and to drastically lower the cost per visitor.
Shortly after the 2014 municipal budget was approved by council, the museum’s curator – a nearly 20-year employee – resigned suddenly, leaving the facility without a manager.
The municipality later announced that Meaford Library staffer Jody Seeley would assume the position of Museum Services Coordinator, and it didn’t take long for Seeley to make some changes at the museum.
In her first months on the job, Seeley has made changes to the museum website in order to make it easier to navigate, added a wide range of new programs in hopes of attracting more visitors, reorganized the research room, as well as adding a fresh coat of apple red paint in one of the exhibit rooms.
Seeley’s work appears to be paying off. Meaford’s Director of Community Services, Dan Buttineau, told council on April 14 that the number of visitors to the museum in the first few months of this year has increased dramatically.
Total visits to the museum in the first three months of this year have jumped to 218 compared to just 63 visits in the same three months last year. The number of off-site programs offered by the museum increased from 34 in the first three months of 2013 to 65 in the first three months of 2014.
“Through the introduction of new initiatives and outreach programs, staff and volunteers have effectively doubled visitor numbers when comparing 2014 to 2013. A number of new program initiatives have been introduced to the Meaford Museum itinerary, including: “Artifacts Detectives”, “Pioneer Days”, and “History of Street Names in Meaford”, to name a few,” wrote Buttineau in his report to council. “The physical use of the space at the Museum has also been enhanced and realigned to better accommodate multi-functional uses and provide visitors with a welcoming entry and customer-friendly greeting atmosphere. This has included an approach whereby exhibits are now being organized and arranged to complement their connectivity with one another; to bolster historical value and synergy of heritage; and enhance visual affect and impact on visitors and guests.”
Councillors were impressed with the progress that Seeley and the museum volunteers had made in the first quarter of the year.
“Do you go out at night, put on a cape and fight crime too?” Councillor Mike Poetker asked Seeley. “Whatever you touch turns to gold.”
“I’m blown away with all the things happening down there,” offered Councillor Lynda Stephens.
Current planned activities and programs at the Meaford Museum include:
Royal Tea with Queen Victoria in May to celebrate her birthday.
Army Day at the Base in June to highlight the history of the Base.
Summer programming for families.
Canada Day tent for families in partnership with the Meaford Public Library.
Miller Worsley Expedition (War of 1812) in August – Expedition will set out from the Meaford Museum and waterfront and travel west by vessel to Wasaga Beach over a four day excursion.
Future Activities and Programs at the Meaford Museum include:
Genealogy “How-to” workshops in partnership with the Meaford Public Library.
Lunchtime Learning Speaker Series – Local history experts and genealogists present short topics over a lunch hour.
British Home Children speaker in the fall.
Expert on Arnham to speak on connection to the local community.
“How-to” days – learn knitting, quilting, candle making – traditional crafts by local experts.
Curator for a Day Group, in partnership with the Meaford Public Library, will teach you the skills of research and cataloguing of a collection.
Old Fashioned Apple Pie Baking lessons this fall to celebrate the Apple Pie Trail.