Curator Catherine Reilly leaves a very different Atikokan Centennial Museum than the one she started at six years ago.
During her tenure, Reilly put together a range of federal and provincial programs to fund a series of major renovations to the Museum’s buildings. She then coordinated the redevelopment of both the main space, the original town office and fire hall, and the log cabin. All told, several hundreds of thousands of dollars of work was completed.
The upgrades include barrier-free access, expanded gallery space, the refurbishment of both interior and exterior exhibits, replacement of old brick exterior with metal siding, and this fall’s upgrades to the Historical Park log cabin (new washrooms and lighting).
Outdoor artefact restoration as been an ongoing project for Reilly and museum staff and in recent years the goal has been to refurbish two of the mining exhibits per year and install accompanying interpretive signage.
Working with Town staff and Spirit of Atikokan committee, Reilly also secured Creative Communities Prosperity Funding for the development of Atikokan’s municipal cultural plan, recently completed by consultant Gord Hume.
Reilly leaves her position here June 1, to join husband Robin, former Quetico Park superintendent (now superintendent at Sandbanks Provincial Park), in Prince Edward County, near Picton, Ontario. Her successor at the Centennial Museum, Derek Kowalchuk, starts June 4.
Reilly has served as curator of the Atikokan Centennial Museum since 2006. A designer for Thunder Bay architectural firm Kuch Stevenson Gibson Malo prior to that, she assumed the museum role when curator Kim Watson left for Peterborough’s Canoe Museum.
Catherine, Robin and children Morgan and Leith moved here in 2001 from Yellowknife, NWT. There Catherine worked in interior exhibit design for the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Museum, and with the NWT department of tourism and economic development.
For Reilly, the ongoing challenge for a small town curator is engaging the community, and encouraging residents of all ages to recognize and value the museum’s role in preserving their own unique heritage.
“Museums are places where we hold the past, but they are also really about holding the future,” she said. “History does tend to repeat itself and we can learn a lot from our past. It really helps you understand how far you’ve come, and where you’re going…”
Past outreach efforts have included community partnership projects, such as the 2010 Spring into Summer Heritage Festival which saw all three schools work on arts projects with arts educator Lila Cano, the Community Memories project (with the Arts Centre) which recorded memories of the town’s early days as told by local seniors, Homesteader’s Fair, and weekly Tuesday’s Watch & Work artefact restoration and evening slide show presentations. The museum has also taken mobile exhibits into the schools and the Voyageur Mall to spark an interest in local history and what the museum has to offer.
For the new curator “programming and working with schools [will] continue to be a challenge”, as will efforts to attract museum visitors and recruit volunteers.
Other ongoing tasks for Museum staff include refurbishing the outdoor mining exhibits and downtown murals which have fallen into disrepair.
During her time here, Reilly has also served with numerous local and regional committees and organizations, including the Spirit of Atikokan committee (the Town eventually hired her to pursue some of those key initiatives, including through accessing funding to hire consultant Gord Hume to create a municipal cultural plan), Path of the Voyageur, the Friends of Quetico, and was an active volunteer at the former Arts Centre.
While Reilly is excited about the move and the opportunity to focus on her painting (as an artist, she works as Catherine Timberg) within Prince Edward’s richly artistic community, “there is always some regret of what you’re leaving behind.” She said she will miss the vast wilderness here, and the recreation it affords, and the diversity and challenges of being a curator of a small community museum.
“You get to do a little bit of everything. It’s an opportunity to engage in all aspects of a museum. It’s never, ever boring.”