Emo Museum at risk of closure without volunteers

Megan Walchuk

It’s housed the region’s history for nearly 60 years. But without help, the Emo Museum will become a part of local history, itself.
The Board who cares for the facility is putting out an urgent call, to keep the doors open.
“If we can’t get new volunteers, we’ll be closing,” said Museum Board member Annie van Rozen.
The Emo Museum got its start in the late 1960s when local Women Institute members decided it would be valuable to preserve local pioneer history for future generations.
There were roughly 30 W.I. branches in the Rainy River District at the time, and they all began collecting newspaper clippings, pictures and stories from their own communities, into what were known as Tweedsmuir books. The bound volumes documented life of the early settlers, agriculture and local industry, social and community events, schools, churches, and local soldiers and personalities.
The large collection of books grew into the dream of a museum. So, the W.I. branches joined forces to fundraise for a small building along the highway. Over time, the Museum’s presence and activity grew, hosting fundraising teas, lunches, bake, craft and clothing sales to keep the doors open and artifacts maintained.
“Anything we could do to make some money and keep the bills paid,” said van Rozen.
Over the next 40 years, an immense and ever-growing collection of artifacts from all over the district was assembled and displayed. So many, in fact, that the collection outgrew its location. After a brief hunt, three buildings on Tyrell Street, behind the police station in Emo, became the new location for the museum. These houses were once homes of police officers and their families in the 1960s. “The houses themselves are a piece of history,” said van Rozen.
Today, one of the buildings is used for meetings, fundraising activities, and temporary displays. Two summer students, hired through grants, organize children activities during the summer and assist visitors as a tourist information centre, and put together rotating displays.
“The students do a great job giving the areas a new look by changing things around and displaying artifacts from storage in the basement of the buildings,” said van Rozen. “All in all there are thousands of artifacts.”
The other buildings house permanent displays, with each room having its own theme, said van Rozen. There are historically furnished and decorated rooms, showing what living rooms, kitchens, dining areas, bedrooms, laundry rooms, workshops and barns would have looked like for early settlers. Other rooms are set up to replicate a church, general store, toy closet, school classroom, sports corner, military room, trophy wall, doctor’s office and a doll collection. Pictures are displayed throughout the buildings and some large equipment is on display outside, she said.
The collection is a source of pride for the Board members. With most of the WI branches fading out of existence, including Emo’s, the Board is currently made up of regular citizens, both men and women. But as members have aged and passed away, there hasn’t been a new generation of volunteers to pass the torch to, said van Rozen.
That has made fundraising a challenge. Although they do have some lottery funds from quilt raffles, able to fund programs and other community endeavours, it can’t be used to keep the lights on or pay the heating bill. Although the township of Emo does waive many of the museum’s expenses, the lack of manpower has left the museum financially strapped, said van Rozen.
She’s hoping new volunteers will step forward to fill a variety of roles. A couple of fundraisers per year would be enough to keep the bills paid, she said.
“Even ideas for new fundraisers,” she added. The Board would also like a more stable physical presence at the Museum through the summer months. Although the students can work independently, having someone available to let visitors into the permanent collections would boost the facilities’ profile and hopefully draw more visitors, said van Rozen. Individuals who can do building maintenance, keep the collection clean and rotated, and a new treasurer are also needed.
If no one comes forward, the Board will have no choice but to cancel the summer student grants and close its doors for good, said Van Rozen.
If that happens, the Board will need to work with the Township to determine the future of the buildings. There are rules governing the dissolution of museums – the Board needs to make its best effort to find new homes for the artifacts. But in their research, most museums have little space for new collections.
“It’s a real problem,” added Board member Rose Sharp. “We don’t know what we’re going to do with it all if we close.”
One option is to put the entire collection in heated storage for as long as funds allow, to delay the decision. But that’s not ideal.
“It’s meant to be looked at,” said Sharp.
Anyone who is interested in volunteering can contact van Rozen, at 482 3941, or e-mail annievanrozen1960@gmail.com.