The first place we went was the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame. Judging by the extensive list of donors and sponsors posted both on their website and on a plaque in the museum – including a section dedicated to donors of $250 000+, this museum is fairly well funded.
The second stop was the Banting House National Historical Site. This museum not only has a $10 entrance fee on a regular day – about the price of admission to the Louvre – but also has a very expensive looking bronze statue of Banting in the garden, an eternal flame (that doesn’t pay for itself) and has undergone extensive restoration work inside, including adding a large addition for the Canadian Diabetes Association.
We enjoyed these first two museums, but it was the third that stood out the most for us
This last stop was at the Secrets of RADAR Museum on a wooded lot overlooking a small lake, just behind
Despite our initial shock by the décor, we were quickly reassured when, as we walked in, a young lady at the front desk greeted us enthusiastically and thanked us for coming. She told us a little bit about the museum, smiled and wished us an enjoyable visit.
Just next to the desk was a bristle board display introducing the museum. At the bottom was a small block of writing that declared,
Because the Secrets of RADAR Museum does not have any full-time employees, we are ineligible for government funding and rely on the support of the community to keep our doors open.
I looked around, and it definitely looked like it lacked funding. The displays in the museum were a mixture of bristle boards that had typed pages glued to them, and professional-looking 5’x4’ display boards. Clearly the museum is in the process of upgrading itself.
I had an opportunity to speak with the President of the Museum, Ryan Fraser, who was enthusiastically telling visitors all about the collection and adding a “human element” to the artifacts. I have to say, he was a fantastic guide. He is clearly passionate about what his museum has to offer and the progress his displays are making. And though he is not old enough to have ever seen the Second World War, he admits he knows more about the history of RADAR than most of the veterans that his museum works with on a regular basis. Of the three sites my girlfriend and I visited yesterday, we definitely felt the most welcome at the Secrets of RADAR Museum. The people volunteering there were excited about what they were working on, and veterans freely mixed with young volunteers. It was a wonderful place and I recommend that you all visit.
Thanks to private donations, the museum now has funding to replace the rest of the bristle board with more professional looking displays, and according to their website, an anonymous donation of $5000 has allowed them to “keep open for another year.” So if all it takes is $5000 to upgrade a wonderful little museum such as this, why does the Canadian government’s Museum Assistance Program insist that anyone applying for funding “employ the equivalent of one full-time paid professional staff”?
Even at minimum wage, that means a museum must spend $17 000 per year on staff wages to be considered legitimate enough for the government. That cost does not include all the money required to heat, light and rent the building as well as pay any insurance or miscellaneous costs.
I find it strange that a group of people willing to volunteer their time in the pursuit of providing Canadians with a site to come and learn about their heritage is somehow less valuable than a group who want to be paid to provide Canadians the same service.
Now, I understand that the government does not want to fund someone’s basement hobby and has decided to place the restriction on their funding to try and ensure the money is not used inappropriately, but could they not just be more prudent about to whom they give money? Would it not make sense that the institution applying for a grant should detail what they intend to spend the money on, and then be expected to show results? Private scholarship grants operate in this manner with great results.
Currently, it seems like a case of keepin’ the little guy down so there’s more money for the bigger museums. But, if the major museums were forced to compete with small outfits such as the Secrets of RADAR Museum, there’s no guarantee the bigger places wouldn’t continue to win all the funding. After all, they have professional, full-time staff with experience working with the government. At least let the little guys play too. Let them try to get some of the money. As it stands, the Canadian government’s funding policy of museums only stifles passion. And passion is a terrible thing to waste.