Beverly Cochrane blending history with reconciliation

Merna Emara
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

When Beverley Cochrane was hired as the assistant curator in June 2019, she did not know she would lead the museum out of the biggest modern public health crisis. Cochrane was hired as part of a succession plan when Sherry George, former curator, announced her retirement plan.

“[Assistant curator] was a position that was developed by the town of Fort Frances,” Cochrane said. “It is about being immersed in learning about the museum, the collections and the way things are run. I have previously had not had any museum experience.”

Cochrane is an Anishinaabe from Mitaanjigamiing First Nation, born and raised in Fort Frances. Cochrane studied human resources, Indigenous studies, political science, and she has experience working in community health, child welfare and economic development.

Although she said she does not have museum experience, the amalgam of her previous jobs and formal education qualifies her to hold this position.

“It was mainly the cumulative of my previous experiences,” Cochrane said. “Being Anishinaabe, I know that the town is wanting to do some of the reconciliations from the past grievances and kind of repair that relationship with the Anishinaabe community in the area.”

Cochrane is currently the only employee at the museum after a casual employee and a student were laid off because of COVID-19. “Right now with me being the only employee at the museum, the question is what doesn’t a curator do,” Cochrane chuckled.

Even though Cochrane said she misses having the museum doors open, she now has a lot of time to do the things she put on the back burner.

“There are a lot of collections that we haven’t been able to look at so it does give me that opportunity to go down into our collections area and examine what we got in store,” Cochrane said. “I do have a digital database that I can look things up on, but it is not fully up to date. I have had the opportunity to go in and physically have a look. Pull things off the shelf if I needed to, learn about what they are for.”

However, when the museum reopens, Cochrane will work on arranging the artifacts for exhibits.

Cochrane said the museum does not have a huge budget, so sometimes she would arrange for grants to bring exhibits in. Other times she would curate them herself and develop the exhibits and also manage the collection.

Another integral part of a curator’s job is to decide which artifacts and donations to accept depending on the mandate of collecting and preserving artifacts within the Rainy River District.

Cochrane said sometimes residents want to give old items that do not relate to the district or the museum’s mandate.

“There is a few times when we have to decline some of the donations,” Cochrane said. “Not that we don’t find it valuable, it is just that we have to be selective with our collection.”

Cochrane said she recently accepted a donation from a woman from Atikokan. Cochrane said the woman had contacted her and asked if she would accept a donation of what she called a mending machine that came from the Indian residential school out on Agency One land.

“Being Anishinaabe myself, that kind of history is important to acknowledge so even though one of my parents went to that school, my grandmother went to that school,” Cochrane said. “Sometimes seeing things like that are triggering to people. I still thought that was an important item to accept as one of the artifacts preserving our history.”

Cochrane said she is looking forward to when she can invite people back in because she is eager to share some of the Anishinaabe culture within the museum environment.

“Some of the database, the artifacts, some of the terminology that is used in there is not what we would use,” Cochrane said. “I think a big part of reconciliation is sharing cultures and learning about each others’ cultures so that inclusion could happen and being sensitive to other people’s cultures. The more you learn about it, the more you become accepting. But I miss not being able to have the doors open.”