Welcome to my new blog. I hope you’ll find it interesting enough to visit regularly. We certainly have not had any shortage of important developments at the Canada Science and Technology Museums Corporation (CSTMC) since I first started here. So if the trend continues, I’m confident this space should make for some interesting reading in the months and years to come.
As everyone knows, shortly after I took on this new job, we had to close the Canada Science and Technology Museum (CSTM). A leak in the roof had caused mould to grow in a wall, but I didn’t want to sweep the situation under the rug with a quick patch-up job, while running the risk that we’d be back to square one if a new leak sprang up six months down the road. I am sincerely sorry for the inconvenience the closure may have caused our visitors and members, but I believed it was time for a permanent solution, and we spared no effort in ensuring we reached such a solution.
We were therefore beyond pleased when – only two months after announcing the CSTM’s closure – the permanent solution we were looking for materialized as the Government of Canada announced it would financially support a complete overhaul of the CSTM, and committed $80.5M, to get the job done by 2017. I think we may have set a new speed record for the fastest approval of a major federal funding project, and for that I’m immensely proud of the team here at the CSTMC who put in the long hours, and went above and beyond normal expectations. I think it brilliantly illustrates the commitment of the entire team towards the institution, and it makes me very confident about the enormous amount of work we have cut out for us to reopen in 2017. Last, but not least, I thank the Government of Canada – particularly the Minister of Canadian Heritage, as well as the other Ministers involved – and all of the public servants who analyzed our needs and weighed our options with us who deserve our compliments and thanks for their understanding of the urgency of our situation, and their grace under pressure in finding solutions with us so quickly.
We also owe great thanks to our community in Canada’s Capital Region. Throughout the CSTM’s history, it always could count on very strong local support, and this backing from our community was there for us again in our time of greatest need.
When we had to close CSTM, we sent out a call – because if Canadians couldn’t come to their museum, then the museum would go to them. We asked those who thought they might be able to help us showcase our exhibitions in their spaces / facilities / buildings to come forward, and we’ve had great responses. We received many helpful offers, and we once again should be able to invite Canadians to experience soon their fascinating scientific and technological heritage in additional alternate locations.
In the meantime, don’t forget to stop by Library and Archives Canada on Wellington Street, who are graciously hosting our updated Echoes in the Ice exhibition about the doomed Franklin exhibition. The update to the exhibition following the discovery of Franklin’s flagship Erebus was due to start showing at the CSTM when we had to close, yet with Library and Archives help, we almost didn’t miss a beat.
There have been arguments as to whether it was better to give the CSTM the complete makeover it’s getting now, or whether it would have been better to build a brand new museum, possibly downtown or elsewhere.
We looked at all the scenarios, and the one we’re going ahead with is the one that made the most sense, for a wide variety of reasons. Let me go through some of the main ones.
First, I don’t buy the argument that in order to succeed, or to have good attendance numbers, a museum needs to be downtown. I see proof of that in the fact that, although they’re also located at the periphery, the Canada Aviation and Space Museum and the Canada Agriculture and Food Museum have seen their attendance numbers go up. We know our audience is overwhelmingly composed of families with children and school groups, and being outside the downtown core is not an impediment to them.
Perhaps more importantly: we own the land where we are, all 25 acres of it. This is something we have complete control over. It means the space we’ll need to grow in the future is already ours, right now. It means we can start thinking about addressing some of our other challenges right now. Now that the problems with the museum’s roof and the other structural issues of the building are being dealt with, we can turn our attention to some of our other challenges, such as our inadequate, overcrowded collection reserve storage issues, for instance. Stay tuned, there’s probably be more to come on that topic later…
Yes, the crisis and the new opportunity for the CSTM were the headline-grabbing events for the last few months. In many ways, it is pretty unfair to concentrate only on the CSTM, so allow me to level the playing field a little. They say good news is not news. That’s unfortunate because, while the spotlight has been on the CSTM’s situation, the Canada Agriculture and Food Museum (CAFM) and the Canada Aviation and Space Museum (CASM) have continued to make us proud.
I was still new at this job this summer and it was at the CAFM one day at 4 p.m. when I had just seen for the first time in my life cows get milked – that I realized how massively popular the CAFM can be. In August, it was my first Ice Cream Festival, and seeing more than 7,000 visitors fill the site with laughter and fun was something to behold. I’m told it gets even better over the four-day Easter weekend. Can’t wait to see that!
This year also marks the centennial of the beginning of the First World War, and we are very proud to showcase at the CASM one of the world’s finest collections of aircraft from that era (according to CNN, we’re among the Top 10 aviation museums in the world, not enough people realize that). So in order to share these gems in our collection, CASM has teamed up with developers from SE3D to create a mobile device app. Frankly, I think everyone who’s tried the Ace Academy mobile app – and at last count that was more than 10,000 people in more than 100 countries – has been stunned at how rich and awesome it is. It allows you to virtually fly those rare aircraft, discover other artefacts from the collection… and it’s a lot of fun. Go ahead and try it, it’s free and available for download on Apple and Android devices. I guarantee you won’t be able to put it down.
Finally, as we enter the Holiday Season, allow me to invite you to come to enjoy all that our museums have to offer during this period. The CASM will commemorate some of the most poignant moments of the First World War, recreating the atmosphere of the Christmas truce that fighters from both sides of the Western Front observed 100 years ago, illustrating humanity’s brightest qualities even in one of its darkest hours. For a more light-hearted holiday outing, come breathe some fresh air on the farm, then warm yourself up inside the new Learning Centre with one of many delicious treats we’ll be cooking up throughout the holidays. Happy Holidays to everyone and their loved ones!