By Jessica Lovell
Guelph Museums is getting ready for a milestone anniversary next year, and as part of the preparation, there are plans to close McCrae House for several months to make some changes.
“Two-thousand-fifteen marks the centenary of the writing of ‘In Flanders Fields,’ so we’re planning a big year to commemorate that,” said Guelph Museums manager Tammy Adkin.With that milestone anniversary coming up, “we’re really looking to upgrade the visitor experience to McCrae House,” she said.
The house, which is the birthplace of John McCrae, soldier, doctor and author of the famed poem, is open to the public as a museum space.
Redevelopment of its exhibitions will be at the heart of the city’s commemoration activities for the 100th anniversary of the poem, said a July report to the Community and Social Services Committee.
The main purpose of the report was to ask for approval to spend an additional $129,000 from the McCrae House Development Reserve Fund on the project.
That money is in addition to the $30,000 already approved. The committee approved the extra expenditure. Council also gave its approval, without debate, late last month.
But the overall project is expected to cost even more than the $159,000 that is available from the reserve fund, said Adkin. She expects the project, in its entirety to cost in the $300,000 range, she said.
“Museum staff is seeking matching grants from foundations and from the provincial and federal governments to support this initiative,” the report said.
McCrae House is expected to close its doors beginning Dec. 1 in order to get the work done for a May 2 reopening, Adkin said.
The reopening will coincide with the anniversary of the writing of “In Flanders Fields.”
But right now, it is not known what work will be done while the doors to the museum are closed.
“We have hired a museum designer,” said Adkin, noting that the museum only just met with the company for the first time in the last couple of weeks.
The company, BaAM Productions, is an exhibit design firm based out of Toronto with extensive experience in this kind of work. It is a company the museum is “really excited” to be working with, Adkin said.
The museum designer will help to come up with a plan for how the exhibits will be updated, taking into account the museum’s audience and the expectations of the people who visit.
McCrae “was born in the house, but only lived there until he was two years old,” said Adkin.
And in spite of the fact that the building is a heritage designated property, “it’s certainly a different house from what the McCrae family lived in,” she said.
It raises the question of whether the site should be all about John McCrae, and what parts of his life should it highlight – his military significance, his medical career, his writings, said Adkin.
The changes to the museum may include changes to the content of the exhibits, as well as how they are presented.
“Since the current exhibits were put in place, there’s been a lot of advances” in the way exhibits are displayed when it comes to technology, Adkin said.
There will also be consideration paid to the international visitors, as McCrae house “is a site that has great appeal to people around the world,” she said.
Planning for the changes is in the beginning stages, she said.
But Adkin assured that nothing would be done without public consultation.
“We expect that the work that will be done at McCrae House will be part of a collaborative process,” she said.
The museum is currently “in the information gathering stage,” and expects to begin public consultation in early fall, she said.
The exhibit designer is expected “to make recommendations about when best to engage the public,” but no public consultation sessions have been scheduled yet, she said.
By Jessica Lovell