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Auto Museum upping Canadian content

By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express

Oshawa’s Canadian Automotive Museum is looking to up its Canadian roots.

In particular, over the coming months, visitors to the museum will notice some changes to the main gallery.

“We are really going back and focusing on the ‘Canadiana’ of the vehicles,” says Alex Gates, executive director and curator. “Looking at the Canadian connections [of the vehicles] is something that our visitors are really interested in. Some were built here, some were imported by famous Canadians.”

According to Gates, the ‘Canadian element’ of the local museum is something that stands out from hundreds of other museums south of the border.

Renovations to the gallery will include a concentrated effort to make the content more accessible to audiences, Gates explains.

“Some of the displays go back to the 1960s. Forty or 50 years ago, people were interested in the cars as an object. Nowadays, people have more knowledge about cars,” he says. “[Visitors to the museum] are more interested in who owned these cars, what type of person would ride in them and what their lives were like.”

Some of the changes that will be made include reinterpreting some of the displays in both French and English.

“We will add some personal stories, some photos and more content based on feedback,” Gates explained, adding that some of the displays will be rearranged to “tell more stories”.

A number of other upgrades can be witnessed at the museum, including a brand new sign that was unveiled recently.

“That was a big addition over the summer,” Gates says.

There will also be a new HVAC system installed and exterior work, with all these projects being funded through Canada 150 grants.

“We are also looking forward to painting the floors and the walls. We will be replacing all the lighting with new LED track lights.”

To raise the profile of the organization, museum officials dipped into their extensive collection of cars and sent its 1927 Isotta Fraschni, a very rare-Italian sports car, out on the road to Pebble Beach, Calif. for the annual Concours d’Elegance car show.

The Isotta Fraschni has been in the museum’s collection since 1995, and was donated from the estate of Bud McDougal, a wealthy financier who passed away in 1978.

“It’s in fairly original condition. It probably hasn’t been worked on since the 1950s or 60s,” Gates explained.

The car will have one more stop at the Cobble Beach Concours d’Elegance near Owen Sound, Ont. on Sept. 17.

Aside from the renovations, it was a very successful summer for the museum, with ticket sales up 20 per cent.

Gates says some of the increase can be attributed to Canada’s 150th birthday, which he says has “increased interest in Canada, in general, as foreign tourists.”

“Also we’ve offered more walking tours and special events, those prove to be very popular with visitors.”