Friday, March 11, 2011

The Aurora Museum with a Little Culture

Church Street School
Growing up in Aurora two of my favourite places was the Aurora Public Library and the Aurora Museum. 

The library was a favourite place for finding a terriffic book to read, being read to by Mrs. Baxter "the story lady" and a film once a week.  Of course I had to drag myself upstairs and trail my mother looking for a good book.  This last part seemed, according to my little five year old brain, to take FOREVER!  There were lots of books Mom, surely the one I hand to you from the second shelf from the bottom would be an excellent read and you don't have to keep looking.  Heck, these books stink anyway, they have no pictures!  Such is life of a five year old at the library for his weekly visit with his Mom.   The library grew and moved across the parking lot to it's current location, a nice bright airy and bigger facility. 

The Aurora Museum was located at the former Church Street School which was Aurora's first public school building.  In fact the building's claim to fame is it was the public school of Lester B. Pearson who was Canada's Nobel Peace Prize winning Prime Minister.  I still remember visiting the Aurora Museum as a both a school kid and being brought there by my parents.  As a school kid I remember climbing the long carpeted stairs to the second floor to see what "Ms. Stuart" had for us to do in terms of history, games and crafts.

A few years ago the Aurora Museum at Church Street School was packed up and moved to Hillary House for safekeeping.  The Aurora Museum and Church Street School were going under renovation for a little "TLC" and new features.  After three years of closure the results have been magnificent.  The building today looks better than it ever did before with hardwood floors throughout, the old tin ceiling restored and the old blackboards uncovered.  There was even a climate controlled artifact storage area for the history of Aurora to be stored and displayed.  This place was a work of art!

This Historical Plaque of Church Street School
 But there is one thing missing.  The Museum.  Where is it?  Well it left in boxes to Hillary House for proper storage and it has yet to fully come back.  Sure there are a few large artifacts in the basement and on display in a few display cases in the building, but the vast majority of the collection is still in boxes hidden away I presume at the new Aurora Cultural Centre (i.e. Church Street School) and Hillary House.  Some of the items may have made into the climate controlled area but these items are obviously behind glass and are hard to see if they are in fact in there.   But there really isn't any museum at the Old Church Street School to speak about.  There is no long climb up the stairs to see what Ms. Stuart, or whoever her replacement is following Ms. Stuart's retirement, had dreamt up using Aurora's artifacts.  All we have now in the old museum space is a grand piano and a wide open room mainly used for an indoor farmers market.  I have nothing against the piano or farmers market being there, a lot of people enjoy these activities, but the museum portion is missing.

Aurora Councillor Evelyn Buck shares the history of the transformation in a recent blog posting.  In the posting she describes how the original idea for a Heritage and Cultural Centre came about.  The Aurora Historical Society raised money to complete the transformation but found it didn't have enough money or the volunteers to complete the project.  So the Town of Aurora took it over.  Grants were acquired in the name that a museum would be there and the project moved forward with grand schemes of climate controlled rooms for artifacts, displays created, cultural events taken place and a full update and restoration would be undertaken.  It took about three years for the project to be completed. But somewhere the Museum component seems to have gone missing. 

Over at the AuroraCitizen Blog there is a posting with currently 40 comments about what people think should happen at the Aurora Cultural Centre in terms of a Museum component.  There is lots of opinions for and against the Cultural Centre hosting the Museum.  Arguments that the Cultural Centre is drawing lots of people as is and should be left alone.  Arguments against that the current building is being subsidized by Aurora taxpayers for the exclusive use of "Artsy Fartsy" types and their bretheren.  There is even people pointing to the "Novita Report" saying the current Cultural Centre is striving to live up to it's mandate.  Lots of debate and valid ideas.  

On another note, the Council of the Town of Aurora is currently dealing with a large property tax rate hike to the tune of close to eight percent and requests from a variety of places for even more money. Everyone from the Jazz Festival to the Historical Society is requesting funds from the Town of Aurora for various things.  The Historical Society has requested a second curator be hired to assist the first curator with putting on displays.  This request for funds and the currently projected high property tax increase has lead to a debate over where the museum in the Cultural Centre is and how to best use the money already available.

The Aurora Museum belongs at the Cultural Centre on the second floor where it had it's home before the renovation.  The Museum was packed up and stored in order to renovate the facility.  The old Victorian school room that used to be on the second floor could see a revival with the original blackboards and old tin ceiling to be available.  That would truly bring the "Heritage" of the building as a school back to life in one room.  It would also be a great resource for school children to see how old school rooms looked like and used.  Another room on that second floor could be used to provide historical displays as well as possible research space for people interested in researching the history of Aurora.  These activities were similar to what used to happen at the Aurora Museum before the renovation.  But now they could occur in a newly refurbished space.  That was the original intent, I believe, that the Aurora Historical Society had when they started fundraising for the renovations of Church Street School. 

As for the Cultural Centre component?  There is lots of space in the building for both the Museum and the Cultural Centre to be together.  Overall including the basement there are three floors that could house museum uses, programme uses, storage uses and administrative space. 

Two rooms on the second floor should be used for regular museum operations.  As well perhaps a third space would be a shared room of travelling paintings and museum displays could be created. The Grand Piano could be relocated from the second floor onto the first floor where current cultural classes are held.  This room would be a multi-purpose place for programs to be held in the arts, lectures, readings and children's activities.  The offices of the Cultural centre currently on the first floor would remain where they are as they are already installed.   The basement area is still available for some storage like the current larger artifacts of the museum (i.e. an old horsedrawn sleigh) and other uses.  Overall there is lots of space in Church Street School that both the current Cultural Centre and the Museum could be housed and coexist together.

As for budget worries, The Town of Aurora, as the Aurora Banner article states, is providing $340,000 over four years and another $143,000 in operating costs to the Cultural Centre plus a $50,000 grant to the Aurora Historical Society for a Curator.  This should be enough money for both the Cultural Centre and the Historical Society to house a museum at the Church Street School location and for a some programming at the Hillary House.  Town Council should, thus, deny the request for additional funds from the Historical Society for a second Curator and reply that perhaps the Historical Society should investigate partnering with the Cultural Centre for this purpose.

If something doesn't come about after a year of negotiation, perhaps the Town should dissolve the Cultural Centre board and take over operations of the Cultural Centre itself.   Next the town would negotiate with the Historical Society itself over an agreement that would see $50,000 for a Curator to be used by the Aurora Historical Society and a portion of the Cultural Centre funds to be used as well for an Aurora Museum Curator at the Church Street School location.  The Church Street School Curator would be responsible for utilizing the Historical Society's artifacts to present displays and provide programming to school groups at the Church Street School.  The use of the artifacts would be a condition to the Historical Society in return for rent on storage and housing of these artifacts.  Of course Historical Society and Cultural Centre volunteers would be more than welcome to take part in the operations of the buiding.

The Museum and Culture Centre should be together.  That was the original intent of the council motion put forward by then Councillor Ron Wallace and seconded by Councillor Evelyn Buck to start the process for a "Heritage & Cultural Centre" to be created at Church Street School.  Together the Museum and Cultural Centre would provide ample space for both history and culture to coexist together and yet still be a destination to draw more and more people to downtown Aurora. This partnership as well would create an interesting building again where I could point to as being a "favourite place" again.

1 comment:

  1. Congratulations on a great blog...however, just an FYI...the Centre just finished a month long exhibit of Heritage artifacts...the artifacts don't sit in boxes, they are rotated out for show. It's all fair in the agreement. I agree with you that the space can be shared.


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