Funding boosts district culture

Ken Kellar

It’s a good time to be a fan of culture in the Rainy River District.

Thunder Bay-Rainy River MP Don Rusnak was at the Fort Frances Museum on Friday morning to make several funding announcements from the federal government to different museums and cultural centres in the area.

Through the Museum Assistance and the Community Support, Multiculturalism and Anti-Racism Initiatives Programs, five heritage and culture projects in the Rainy River District will be receiving close to $150,000 to support programming and upgrades.

Rusnak noted that even though his announcements are smaller in size than those made by his counterparts in major metropolitan areas, the impact can be just as significant.

“When I talk to my colleagues from Toronto that I’m doing a $150,000 announcement in my riding, not that they scoff at it, but it’s a small announcement in terms of their announcements, which can be in the hundreds of millions or billions of dollars,” Rusnak said.

“Announcements like this really give an opportunity to our rural and small areas to be places that have culture and experiences that, normally, we wouldn’t have.”

Through the program, the Fort Frances Museum will be receiving $14,900 to host the travelling exhibit, “Echoes in the Ice: Finding Franklin’s Ship,” on loan from the Canadian Science and Technology Museum.

Museum curator Sherry George told the assembled crowd that hosting a travelling exhibit has been something the museum has wanted to do for a while.

“It’s not simply that they’re larger and pricier,” George explained.

“It’s because they’re well-researched, expertly designed and creatively constructed, and speak to topics that capture our imaginations or engage the side of our brains that make us think and wonder.”

George said that the Franklin exhibit seemed like a perfect fit for the Fort Frances Museum not only because of how legendary the lost expedition to find the fabled Northwest Passage has become in Canada, but because of the collaboration that made finding the lost ships possible.

“Most of us know of the Franklin Expedition from our school days and since have followed the progress made by succeeding recovery crews to locate the lost ships,” George said.

“Like me, I’m sure you felt some pride in knowing that it was Inuit storytelling that finally allowed world-renowned scientists and researchers to zero in on exactly where the ships could be found.”

The Franklin Expedition has also experienced a cultural resurgence of late, as the HMS Erebus, captained by Sir John Franklin, and its companion ship the HMS Terror were rediscovered in 2014 and 2016, respectively. AMC also aired “The Terror” in 2018, a horror series based on a 2007 novel providing a fictionalized account of the doomed expedition.

George noted that having larger exhibits like “Echoes in the Ice” in smaller communities is important, as not everyone has the means to travel to larger museums where big exhibits are more common.

“Bringing in this exhibit is a great big deal for our museum,” she said.

“We heartily thank the Federal Ministry of Canadian Heritage and Multiculturalism for this wonderful opportunity.”

Funding was also given to Rainy River First Nations as part of the same announcement. More than $80,000 has been allocated in two streams for projects at Kay-Nah-Chi-Wah-Nung Historical Centre.

Kay-Nah-Chi-Wah-Nung administration manager Kayleigh Speirs said part of the funding will help to promote intergenerational learning.

“We are fortunate to have received a large portion of funding needed to implement a full year of specialized public programming workshops,” she said.

“This initiative focuses on traditional Anishinaabe technologies and features a total of 29 workshops over the course of one year. Workshops range from traditional pottery making techniques to flintknapping.”

Speirs said the funding will also allow for the centre to hire a facilitator for the program.

“We’re going to be able to provide honorariums to elders or other community members who come in to teach these workshops,” she explained.

“We’ll be able to bring in people to lead these workshops and then kind of help share that knowledge, especially with youth but with any visitors, any members of the public that want to come participate.”

Some $32,000 of the funding will be going towards updating and improving the centre’s physical storage, curation and housing areas for cultural artifacts, something Speirs explained will be appreciated.

“When I first came in our archaeological collections and ethnographic collections were sort of just stored on the floor,” she said.

“So [the money] will go all the way from buying new bags and boxes for artifacts, to buying proper shelving, as well as certain instruments to be able to measure humidity and stuff like that in the room, just to make sure that we are taking care of these collections properly.”

Speirs also hinted that the centre may be able to provide behind the scenes tours at some point in the future, allowing for the “ongoing sharing of knowledge and the protection of our past for future generations.”

Rusnak also announced the Rainy River Future Development Corporation would receive $6,700 to support the Fort Frances South Asian Festival under the federal Multiculturalism Program. RRFDC chair Gord Armstrong thanked Rusnak for supporting the event.

“The event will allow every resident to experience the diverse cultures of South Asia with folk music, with dance and food,” Armstrong said.

“The event will also increase intercultural awareness and provide an opportunity for participants to engage in free flowing conversations, which will encourage intercultural understanding, and I think that’s something that the world really needs.”

The final announcement of the day was for the Atikokan Centennial Museum, which will be receiving $44,300 to support renovations to their permanent collection storage area, as well as to install high-density storage units.