With just days to opening for the 2018 season, the governing board of the Fort la Reine Museum has announced it will be taking the museum in a new direction by not renewing the contract of longtime executive director Tracey Turner. As a supporter of the museum over the years, this begs the question of what was wrong with the old direction for the museum.
By my count, the old direction for the museum has given us the following: a five fold increase in patronage over the last seven years; innovative features such as the “Mystery at the Museum”, and the Halloween “Ghost Walk” that drew attendance in the thousands; top notch national exhibits for our community such as last year’s Panache Caribou and other Cervidae, Anne Frank-A History For Today, and Fighting in Flanders; a local version of Ted Talks with the gatherings called “Meet U” nights; much needed enhancements for museum accessibility, and restoration of heritage buildings; special commemorative events such asNational Aboriginal Day, Canada Day, and Manitoba Day for our community; growing attendance through family and school programs/tours, and drop in activity programs; the scheduling of additional events called Nuit Prairie and the Prairie Ice Festival, and the planned creation of a living tall grass prairie exhibit on museum grounds.
In short, the old direction for the museum has built on an existing foundation of early prairie settler history and brought an aspect of interactive learning, by using museum artifacts as a backdrop to enhance interest and attendance. A direction that placed the museum as a “must see” to showcase what Portage has to offer to visitors outside the community, and which garnered a nomination for marketing excellence for the person responsible by the Central Manitoba Tourism Association.
Since no details have been released to describe what the abrupt new direction for the museum will be, it is left to speculation and rumour what it might be. Will it include the poisoning and eradication of the Richardson ground squirrels, the only living example of early prairie life that the museum purports to represent? Will it threaten the scheduled National Geographic Exhibition on climate change, because it rubs against the views or non-views by board members on the topic of climate change? Will it include dropping plans to establish on site a tallgrass prairie, another living exhibit? Will it strip the museum of its status as the prime focus and stop for local tourist information, despite its prime location along the highway and its provincial designation as a star attraction? Will it return the museum to something that resembles what it was a decade ago: something akin to a museum of itself?
Despite claims of “business as usual”, the governing board with its decision to take the museum in a new direction a week before opening for the 2018 season, and in its scrambling to find replacement staff who have quit in solidity with Tracey Turner, it has created a state of chaos and a cloud of uncertainty over its future. Is it “business as usual” or “a new direction”? To a simple-minded observer, you can’t have both. Supporters of the museum and taxpayers generally, deserve better of the governing board. There are no fossils on exhibit at the Fort la Reine Museum, let’s hope it can be said the same of its governing board if and when it enunciates details of its “business as usual new direction” for the museum.
PS The public is invited to an open meeting regarding the museum, the purpose which is to air concerns and make suggestions as to its future. The governing board and relevant public officials are hereby invited to attend and hear directly from the public on these issues. The meeting is scheduled for May 17, 7:00 pm, Crocus Room, Herman Prior Activity Centre.