By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express
The Oshawa Museum faces serious spacing issues, and a solution must come sooner than later, according to the organization’s top official.
Museum executive director Laura Suchan spoke at a recent meeting of the development services committee.
Suchan said the museum is at capacity, and this isn’t a new revelation.
A feasibility study for expansion was first presented to Oshawa council in 1997, and plans for a new building received principle approval by city council in 2018.
The museum is proposing a new $7.8 million, 12,500 sq. ft. visitor’s centre in Lakeview Park.
The building is to stand north of the existing Henry and Gray houses, and to the south of the parking lot off Simcoe Street.
Having this new space would have many benefits, Suchan told committee members.
These include new areas for archives, collections, exhibitions, and programming.
Other spin-off benefits include better protection against fire, pests, and weather damage.
Accessibility for visitors would also improve through fewer stairs and more seating areas.
It could potentially lead to more partnerships with like-minded community organizations, Suchan added.
For instance, the Durham branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society has shown interest in sharing space within the proposed new facility.
Other possible partners include Heritage Oshawa and the Oshawa Public Library.
Suchan suggested the new building could accommodate a tourism kiosk and year-round washrooms, making Lakeview Park an “all-season tourist destination.”
“We are the frontline for a lot of people entering the park. We actually train our staff to be able to give directions to restaurants, and other sights to see,” she explains. “That is why we thought it would be a natural connection… and we could help the city out that way by having a tourism kiosk.”
The 1997 feasibility study, included in a master plan for the museum, noted the pressures felt by staff.
“The existing structure does not fully support the [Oshawa Museum’s] current curatorial, programming and administrative activities. The artifact and archival collections storage facilities (basements, attics, an unheated off-site storage locker, etc.) are totally inadequate in terms of spatial requirements, accessibility, security and environmental conditions,” the study, completed by Sears & Russell, reads on page 45.
“Both permanent and temporary exhibits are limited by space and environmental conditions. Education and other public programs are restricted by size and other demands on the program room in the Guy House. The administrative area, also in Guy House, is overcrowded. There are no curatorial work areas, and the archival area is inadequate and inappropriate,” it continues.
In 2016, the Canadian Conservation Institute (CCI) performed a facility assessment of the museum, and a number of its findings echo those in the 1996 study.
On page 11 – “A lack of space is a key constraint for all Oshawa Museum activities, putting existing collections at risk of damage and restricting future collection of Oshawa’s heritage. Oshawa museum staff have exhausted options for using historic spaces efficiently; therefore, new space is needed.”
The CCI report notes that “the key recommendation of the 1996 Sears & Russell master plan is even more pertinent today, twenty years later.”
On March 8, 2024, Oshawa will mark its centennial as a city.
Suchan suggested the museum expansion could serve as a “cornerstone” of those 100th-anniversary celebrations.
“It would show Oshawa as a place where heritage and culture are significant,” she said.
Ward 2 city councillor Jane Hurst asked if there were concerns about a lack of municipal services in the area.
Suchan says it’s something to take into account, as she believes the museum currently uses a holding tank for its sewage.
However, she adds, “There might be some options for a septic system.”
After praising the project, Ward 5 regional councillor Brian Nicholson queried about the project’s timeline
Suchan said a great deal of work would need to begin over the next year to have it ready for the 2024 Centennial celebrations.
Having it linked to such an important day in the city’s history will help fundraising efforts, she adds.
“If we have the recognition of this being a centennial project, we feel that would give us the little extra push to meet our goals,” she said.
Mayor Dan Carter asked if there were any provincial or federal grants the museum could apply for to help out.
Suchan confirmed there are possible grants from both levels of government, but they are dependent on support from the city itself.
“A lot of these grants are either matching or they’d like to know what the municipality is allotting,” she says.
Continuing with the “status quo” would pose a high amount of risk, Suchan says.
She noted there was a fire at Guy House in 2003, but fortunately, it only damaged office space.
“We’ve had a couple of floods in the meantime,” she adds.
“We really need the collections moved into a purpose-based facility. We do the best we can, but we are at the point when we need some better tools.”