On Saturday (May 18), the Agassiz-Harrison Museum opened its doors to the public for the first time this season. But what people saw when they stepped inside might have been a little different from what they were used to.
“This year, we wanted to have a different feel and more open approach to the museum and information centre,” museum curator and manager Lindsay Foreman said.
Over the winter, Foreman and others with the Agassiz-Harrison Historical Society had been working to update some of the museum’s offerings, including the visitor information centre, the exhibits and even the building itself.
“Some people are coming for the museum. Some people are coming for visitor info. Some people are just coming for the gift shop,” Foreman said. “So even walking right in the door in the visitor information centre, we have streamlined that so people can easily figure out the services that they need.”
The largest changes to the front entrance of the museum include moving the pamphlets to a new shelving unit in the hallway by the washrooms, putting up topographical maps so people can orient Agassiz to the rest of the Fraser Valley and “refreshing” the washrooms with a new coat of paint and gender-neutral door signs. The pamphlets have also been pared down to only those with information about communities between Vancouver and Kelowna.
“People will likely be stopping along their way if they’re going to the Island or they’re going to the North Peace region,” Foreman explained. “We wouldn’t definitely be their last stop before that.”
Inside the museum galleries themselves, Foreman has been working to create a more open and uncluttered space that allows people to use the space more effectively.
In the station master’s office, for example, many of the artifacts have been moved to allow visitors to have better use of the space and move freely from the front entrance to the main gallery.
The same de-cluttering concept has been brought into the main gallery as well.
“We wanted to open up the main space for programming, as well as interactive activities,” Foreman explained, standing next to the museum’s Reminisce Kits and a table full of family history information.
These tables, as well as an interactive “categorize that historical object” table, will remain out during the summer for visitors to look at and use. Foreman said she’s hoping to bring more programming and activities to the museum over the year.
Currently, the main gallery is home to several exhibits including one on Agassiz-Harrison Military History, which is set to remain up for another year, and others on transportation, tourism and the 1948 flood.
Also new to the main gallery, although not to the heritage train station, are two large windows. These windows were markers in many historic photos of the building, but had been boarded up from the inside to protect the artifacts in the museum.
“The way the environment is today, and the more knowledge we have about the collections, it’s okay to have some of that light,” Foreman explained, adding that the museum will be putting up blinds for when it gets too sunny for the collection.
Opening up the windows is also an opportunity for the museum to add interpretive signage to the building itself, something Foreman plans to do in the near future.
“The building itself, it’s gone through a lot in its time, since 1893,” she said. “Two moves, the flood, and ice storms and wind storms. So it would be great to make sure we honour and protect this wonderful piece of our community.”
The exhibits in the museum’s side gallery have remained more or less consistent, with the Agassiz businesses, recreation, farming and Norman Morrow’s ploughing gear keeping priority spots in the gallery. However, the end of the gallery hosts a new exhibit on the local doctors in the Agassiz, Harrison area. Dr. McCaffrey’s velocipede, which he used to travel on the railways from community to community, was moved from the station master’s office to the centre of this exhibit.
Although a lot of change has come into the museum for the 2019 season, Foreman is hoping more will be on the way. For one thing, she wants to expand the Norman Morrow exhibit to include more archival documents from his championship ploughing history and even bring in a new 360-degree case to showcase his ploughing equipment.
“They do need some conservation attention,” Foreman said about the harnesses, which are currently located in a wood box on an external wall in the museum. “There’s a bit of mold and mildew starting to grow on them, so we need to take a bit more care of them right now.”
A new Plexiglas case, which could be coming to the museum sometime next year, would maintain the integrity of the harnesses and allow visitors to see them in a new way.
But Norman Morrow’s exhibit isn’t the only one Foreman is hoping the museum will take a deeper look at in the coming years.
“I want to tell stories of different people within our community, so that’s different community organizations, different community businesses,” Foreman said. “Some of those voices haven’t been told here previously, so I have some ideas” including a focus on local First Nations and the nearby prisons.
But, she added, “I would obviously love feedback from the community, because this is a community museum.”
In the future, exhibits would be rotated in and out of the museum, although whether they would be on display for one- or two-years is still undecided.
We’re “hopefully planning a longer term schedule of what will be coming, so we can do really excellent research and oral history interviews with people in the community that have been involved in whatever we’re doing,” Foreman said.
The Agassiz-Harrison Museum is now open seven days a week, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. until the Thanksgiving long weekend. Admission is by donation.