Civic Museum Tells Regina’s Stories

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Who needs walls? Increasingly, not the Civic Museum of Regina. As part of its transition to a sustainable, holistic “ecomuseum,” the organization is moving exhibits and activities out into the community. “As we go through the inventory, we come across things that are really interesting that are about the history of Regina,” says Rob Deglau, community outreach coordinator. “We start putting them out as satellite displays.”

For example, the museum installed a copy of Regina’s concept plan at P3Architecture Partnership. English landscape architect Thomas Mawson’s 1914 plan envisioned a grand city on par with the great urban centres of Europe. While much of the plan did not come to fruition for various reasons, notes Deglau, Wascana Centre did. “Of course, Wascana is almost a world attraction because it is the largest urban park [per capita] in North America. It’s three times the size of New York Central Park.”

The museum intends to place various other historically-interesting items from its current 1231 Broad Street locale to appropriate venues throughout the community. A local equestrian therapy riding school will rebuild a donated replica Red River cart as part of its therapy work. The museum also donated a loom to a local crafting guild, which will teach youth to make rugs with it. Another group received an antique “buggy” wagon, which local seniors will use as a learning tool for building wagon wheels.

“You get something that is historic or has some significance, you reanimate it, and it becomes something useful again,” says Deglau of the redistribution of the museum’s collection. “And then we have that story to tell.” Also, he adds, as part of historic downtown redevelopment, developers are incorporating an old phone booth from the museum. Museum members can use that showpiece to share the building’s background.

“For us, being a new ecomuseum is a learning experience, but it’s all about community development and engaging neighbourhoods to find out what their needs are and what they need to do, and then how we can help them focus to tell a story their history.” An ecomuseum is about having a conversation with the community, suggests Deglau. Aside from relocating artifacts, the goal is to bring local heritage to where it is relevant in any way possible.

“If recycling was the topic of the day, then how do we engage the community to talk about recycling? If racism is a topic, then we go back to the community and say, ‘How do we have that conversation to break down racial barriers?’ It just happens that we are moving from a static museum, one that has a collection, to an ecomuseum. What we are trying to do is to be creative with the artifacts we have.”

For example, the museum is taking an antique popcorn cart and rebuilding it for use at any social event throughout the city — actually serving popcorn from the historic piece. “It will be a pop-up museum, and we’re going to use that to sell popcorn. However, at the same time, we’ll use it to talk about the immigrant family that started that [popcorn stand] 100 years ago, and what they needed to do to make a living. There are three generations of Romanians who used that cart to make a living.” He adds: “We hope to break even. If it makes money, then that’s perfect, as we look to be sustainable. It is quite interesting. An ecomuseum is about figuring out how to become self-sustaining.”

According to Deglau, Regina Plains Museum existed as a static museum for several years until funding proved insufficient to maintain operations. A few years ago, the organization reduced its staff and consolidated into a single location, but it could not even afford to keep that open. The ecomuseum came in response to a consultant’s feasibility study. With its new “Civic” moniker, the museum has about 19,000 artifacts, of which 17,000 books and paper memorabilia.

Other “living heritage” opportunities include such things as geocaching, helping First Nations interpret cultural activities for the broader public, as well as providing business owners with the historical context of the buildings in which they operate. The biggest hurdle to pursuing all possible opportunities is a lack of volunteers, notes Deglau. “Every city needs a museum,” he says. “It’s all about culture and history and a sense of place. That’s important, and so someone needs to be the keeper of the stories.”

For more information on the Civic Museum of Regina, visit civicmuseumofregina.com.