Speirs brings passion for museums, history to Fort Frances Museum and Cultural Centre

By Allan Bradbury
Staff Writer

After four and a half years at Kay-Nah-Chi-Wah-Nung (Manitou Mounds) Kayleigh Speirs has taken over the Fort Frances Museum and Cultural Centre. Speirs has high hopes coming into the new role.

Spiers has a long history of working and volunteering in museums. She moved to Thunder Bay from her home in Winnipeg to pursue a master’s degree in Archaeological Sciences. From her time studying in Thunder Bay she took a job at Kay-Nah-Chi-Wah-Nung and has been in the region since that time.

“I’ve been working and volunteering in museums for the last decade,” Speirs said. “Most recently I had been working down at Kay-Nah-Chi-Wah-Nung, for about four and a half years and just wanted a change. I saw a job posting out here and I thought it might be a good fit. I’ve lived in Fort Frances the whole time I’ve lived out here so it just all kind of worked out in a nice way.”

Speirs said she liked the idea of staying in a smaller area as it allows for collaboration with the community.

“I like that it’s a smaller community, a smaller area, so it feels like you can do a lot at these museums,” Speirs said. “It’s nice to be able to easily collaborate with different businesses and create partnerships and work with the community. So I think that’s kind of what compelled me to stay.”

Speirs has an evident passion for museums and sees them from a different point of view than most people might.

“The way I look at museums is maybe a bit different than the traditional perspective of them,” Speirs said. “I really view them as living entities that can grow and change along with the community. So what I foresee for the museum is for it to be a hub of art, culture, language, and tourism for the district and for the region.”

In the short term, Speirs is hoping to collaborate more with local schools to help facilitate curriculum goals.

Speirs adds that she’d like to have a lot more educational programming, and to that end she is in the process of connecting with the local school boards to see how they can best be served and would like to be able to collaborate with her former workplace at Kay-Nah-Chi-Wah-Nung as well. The two museums will both be holding open houses to learn how to best serve teachers in the area and fit the museums’ capabilities into curriculums.

Speirs also wants to be able to use all of the resources around her and branch out of the museum space on Scott St.

“I’d like to take the museum outside of the main building as well,” she said. “I’d like to create programming around town, using the market square obviously as it’s nearby, but also hopefully the waterfront, Eighth St. Trails and outdoor guided tours and things like that as well. So not just solely focussed on what’s inside the museum, but also basically thinking of the whole town as another part of the museum that we can also do stuff with.”

In the long term she is working on a five-year strategic plan that could alter the direction of the museum, including a reformat of the upstairs portion of the museum, which currently displays the permanent collection.

“Right now, there’s a lot of great information up there, but it’s just in the form of display cases and posters. It’s great but it’s not necessarily the most engaging, especially for youth and kids,” Speirs said. “So what I envision for that space is something a lot more interactive. I envision replicas of some of the old town buildings and stuff like that, that you can go in and then you can use the things inside.”

Speirs added that the museum has a collection of thousands of items that have been donated over the years she hopes to put more of them on display.

Speirs also hopes to tap into the local Indigenous communities.

“I’m really hoping to work with the First Nations communities as well to see how this museum can better represent some of their history,” Speirs said. “Because of course, when you think about the history of Fort Frances, the history of Fort Frances is the history of the Indigenous peoples in this area. They’ve been here for thousands of years, so we definitely want to make sure that we’re doing everything that we can to highlight that story as well.”

Kayleigh Speirs has joined the Fort Frances Museum and Cultural Centre as its new curator. As a trained archaeologist, she hopes to create a fresh new interactive approach, to bring local history to life. – KC Oster artwork/kcpawz.com

In the new year Speirs says a new exhibit will come to the bottom floor of the museum replacing the current temporary exhibit of art by Tony Sepers.

“One of the next exhibits we’ll have in our temporary exhibit gallery will be focused on the history of businesses in Fort Frances. It’s an exhibit that’s been talked about for a few years now and was started by the previous Curator (Bev Cochrane) and our longtime volunteer Maxine Hayes,” Speirs said. “Max, along with my two student workers, Anna Gagne and Alyssa Armstrong, have been busy doing a ton of archival research for the exhibit which we hope to have up sometime in February.