A local group has launched an ambitious plan to create Canada’s first museum of water.
Spearheaded by local historian Dan Travers and former SS Keewatin curator Fred Addis, the group was formed late last year in an effort to establish the Canadian Museum of Water/Musee canadien de l'eau (CMW-MCE) that would tell the story of water from the earliest First Nations through the Industrial Age to modern times.
“We believe in the potential of the Canadian Museum of Water to become a meaningful Canadian landmark,” Travers said, noting Port McNicoll is the perfect location for the water-themed museum.
“Port McNicoll has an exciting and diverse history from its Wendat and Ojibwe caretakers to the steamships of the Great Lakes, to the maritime recreation of today. It is clear to us that we have a larger story to tell."
Launched Tuesday to coincide with World Water Day, the museum concept has already secured support from the UNESCO World Water Network — a global association of over 70 water museums. The local effort is currently the network’s only Canadian member. There are two museums in the United States; one in New York and the other in Florida.
While the physical location is still being determined, Travers said the group recently explored renting a space just off Talbot Street, which would act as a temporary exhibition space and be the gathering point for any programs or activities.
Travers said the museum team, which includes retired Simcoe North MP Bruce Stanton serving as board chairman, features a perfect combination of skill-sets across the heritage, business and tourism sectors to ensure its success.
"Fundraising for the project has already begun, and we have reached out to local and national organizations and government entities to fund the project," Travers said. "This includes for both the operation of the museum over the summer and the larger goal of having a permanent location built in Port McNicoll."
And water is definitely a talking point in Simcoe County nowadays with current Simcoe North MP Adam Chambers having presented a petition to Parliament calling for federal help to protect the "purest water in the world" with the Alliston Aquifer.
Travers said it’s hoped that the museum's role in increasing awareness and education surrounding water will result in higher levels of advocacy and stewardship both nationally and beyond.
The group is applying for charitable status and is aiming to have a summer program of walking tours and a children's day camp focusing on water: 'Its history, its cultural heritage and its future.'
“We're starting small and moving methodically," Travers added. "We'll begin with virtual projects and exhibits and then we'll see where that takes us."
First up, according to Addis, who previously worked as curator at Orillia's Leacock Museum National Historic Site, is a virtual exhibit featuring 2,022 images of water from across the country.
“We'll be asking Canadians to contribute images of water in all its forms and all its contexts," said Addis. "And by Canada Day, we'll open it at one or more pop-up or virtual locations.”
Travers said that the museum is also a logical extension in his and Addis’ work to keep the Edwardian-era steamship (the Keewatin) in Port McNicoll.
“We very much envisioned the SS Keewatin to be the crowning exhibit for this museum, as it represents an important part of Canada's story and relationship with water,” he said, adding that the museum plan isn’t dependent on the ship staying in Port McNicoll.
"Our concept, however, is not entirely dependent on the Keewatin. The CMW-MCE is here to stay."
Travers said they will also be looking for volunteers for the summer season to help with various projects.
He added: "This could include distributing information, attending to the exhibition space, leading walking tours or assisting with some of our planned activities."