By Kirk Winter

As promised at a Council meeting last May, the Victoria County Historical Society presented an operational update on March 19.

Margot Fawcett, President of the Victoria County Historical Society, shared with Council that the Society finished the 2018 operating year with a modest surplus on the books. This was well received by Council, as last time the Society spoke to Council they were requesting assistance with their utilities to get them through the season at the Old Gaol Museum on Victoria Street.

Fawcett shared that the current executive had learned much from the previous stewardship of John Macklem who ran the museum as recently as five years ago.

The Society President told Council the following:

  • The museum is a major tourist attraction for CKL

  • 50 percent of the visitors to the museum are from outside the City

  • The museum re-opens on May 1 with a new slate of exhibits

  • The name Victoria County Historical Society would be kept despite the pressure to change it to CKL

  • The Society is working on a new website that will improve the profile of the museum

  • Based on visitor feedback, the jail itself is as much a tourist attraction as the contents of the museum stored there and the jail must be front and center in all of their future marketing.

Fawcett nibbled around the fringes of the “elephant in the room” for both the Society and the City: the future of the Old Gaol Museum in its current location. Fawcett said that during the Macklem regime at the Museum, more than $500,000 in grant money for the Historical Society was sunk into building infrastructure. Fawcett asked the key question that has been bedevilling the Historical Society since they moved into the Old Gaol; who is responsible for building upkeep and maintenance?

Fawcett promised that the current board will do everything it can to improve attendance, increase corporate support, and operate with no paid staff for at least the next two years. The real issue for the Society, however, was a lease with the City that in Fawcett’s words “was not good for either party.”

Fawcett reminded the City that the overwhelming majority of museums in central Ontario are municipally owned and supported, and that the Victoria County Historical Society operating on its own is an anomaly in the local museum community.

Councillors Ashmore and O’Reilly wanted to know what the Society has been doing to increase corporate sponsorship and marketing. Mayor Letham agreed a new lease was necessary and that it would be presented at Council next Tuesday.

City HallDeb Crossen