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Automotive museum looks to a bright future

Canadian Automotive Museum executive director and curator Alexander Gates stands by the newly unveiled donor recognition wall (Photo by Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express)

By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express

It’s been a flourishing few years for Oshawa’s Canadian Automotive Museum and officials are eagerly looking to the future.

The museum held its first annual Curator’s Reception to highlight some of its recent improvements and even more coming in the future.

Museum executive director and curator Alexander Gates noted nearly $300,000 in capital improvements were made in 2017 and 2018.

Funding for these projects came through venues such as FedDev Ontario, Canada150, the Ontario Trillium Foundation, The City of Oshawa and donations from organizations and individuals.

Some of these enhancements included HVAC upgrades, new front signage, and an accessible entrance.

Recently, volunteers removed wood panelling to reveal the original windows from when the museum was an auto dealership in the 1920s.

To Gates, this gives a glimpse of what it was like to have the building naturally lit.

The original glass has been maintained with another pane placed over it.

These windows will display the names of financial supporters of the museum.

“It has a number of names and organizations that have really helped us get through the last couple years, and get to where we are today,” museum board president Denis Bigioni said.

Gates jokingly told attendees of the reception they could take some of the removed panelling with them as a keepsake.

“It’s brown, and it matches your basement likely, or at least the basement you grew up with in the 1970s,” he quipped.

Electrical upgrades have also been made, allowing for more outlets.

“Back in 1963 [when the museum opened], they weren’t thinking about people having to plug in all their devices,” Gates noted.

Overall, Gates is very pleased with the transformation of the building.

“I think it’s looking great and we plan on keeping it looking great,” he said.

Interactive displays are now available in English and French, and the stories promoted by the museum are “more inclusive than ever,” Gates said.

The upgrades paid off, as attendance has jumped by 10,000 visitors annually in the past five years.

In 2018 alone, 14,000 people visited the museum, with Gates noting their fastest growing demographic is children five years and younger.

But museum officials are also looking at transformation from an organizational standpoint.

“We are revisiting our mission and what makes us unique as a motor vehicle museum,” Gates said. “There is no other museum in the world with a mandate strictly to preserve and talk about Canadian automotive history. None of them tell the story and collect the type of vehicles we do right here in this room.”