Museums in Historic Buildings.

September 3, 2016

Normally, there are three types of establishments that museums inhabit, buildings that were built for the purpose of housing museums, buildings that were built for another purpose and eventually a museum started using it, or buildings that have historical significance that a museum is using.

I have always been more intrigued by museums that are using historic buildings. I simply find it ironic; a place where you go to learn about history within a historic location. The building in which you entered to see artefacts can be considered an artefact itself if you really think about it.

This is the case with the Welland Historical Museum. It is currently situated on King Street, specifically 140 King Street, which was once the Welland Public Library from the 1920’s to around 10 years ago. When you enter the museum and go to the reception, there are two plaques on the right wall that were from the original library, giving information such as the librarian and the board of management.

To me, these museums are the most interesting because it means that literally everything around you when you are in them have historical significance. Technically everything has some sort of significance to history, but being in an old library that is now a museum and houses many artefacts means there is an abundance more history than usual. The very gallery you are walking in when looking at our exhibits used to be full of books and shelves and quite possibly at one point some of your family members had walked in the same room, only for a different purpose.

At the Welland Museum, when I would sit at the reception desk, quite a few people would walk in from time to time and ask where the library is because they thought that the museum was the library. This is normally due to the fact that the exterior of the building has a sign engraved into the wall that says “Public Library”. I have even had someone ask why we haven’t considered removing it to avoid confusion. However, due to historic reasons, it cannot and should not be removed and as a museum, would we really want to remove something like that? Keeping such a vital part of the building and simply redirecting people who are looking for the library isn’t a burden at all, really. Removing the sign on the other hand…

This subject does bring up an interesting topic; if museums occupy old buildings of historical significance, what should they be allowed to modify if changes are needed? For example, to accommodate a larger collection or to improve on preservation methods. Also, to what extent can the historically significant buildings that museums occupy be modified before museums are going against their very purpose, preserving history? The Ontario Heritage Act is very specific as to what changes can be made on designated buildings, which enables the architectural features of the building to be preserved.

-Alacia Michaud
Welland Museum Blogger

(Version française):

*French version coming soon!

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