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Canmore Museum changes name, sets new vision for the future

"This [re-imagining] process is allowing us to build a new museum that may potentially go into a new facility. We do not know where, we do not know how and that is something we will be exploring in the next several years," said Canmore Museum executive officer Ron Ulrich.

CANMORE – The Canmore Museum is moving forward into the future focused on providing a sense of community and preserving the history and stories of the local area. 

Executive officer Ron Ulrich provided an update on the museum's new strategic plan earlier this month, with a focus on re-imagining the museum as a focal point that builds the community of the future.  

Ulrich pointed out the new and improved focus includes focusing on being a museum that provides gallery space for exhibits; partners with school programs; preserves the past through its archives; while also running a gift shop and providing a visitor experience in Canmore's busy downtown core.

"It has been nine months, and this is the birth of a new museum," he said. "It is all centred around how we connect more authentically with our community and how we can be more effective partners to those who are working in the Bow Valley and Canmore.

"We are putting more of an emphasis on placemaking and understanding the geology of this place; how we interact and engage with one another in this place and experience our understanding of this place to be more than just our natural environment, but also our built and cultural environment." 

There were six major community-driven changes included in the new strategic plan, which provide greater focus to the museum's work to bring people in the community around local art, culture, heritage and places. 

The first change was removing the geoscience centre from the museum's name. The second is to change the focus on the museum from geoscience to placemaking; and third is to work on building meaningful relationships within the community. Ulrich said in order to become relevant for diverse communities, the museum needs to be representative of them and co-created by them. 

"We are looking at how we approach things and going from being transactional to being relational," he said. "For us to be able to be effective in how we do our work, it is through active community partnerships." 

That includes Indigenous communities. He said the museum is developing a learning plan, as well as ensuring the principles of equity, inclusion and diversity are upheld. That includes establishing a formal agreement with the Stoney Nakoda First Nation.

"This is one of the many changes and new direction the Canmore Museum is taking," Ulrich said. 

Stoney Nakoda Elder John Snow opened the online event with an acknowledgement the museum is on Treaty 7 lands and a prayer. He said over the next few months and years, the work the museum is undertaking to do with respect to Truth and Reconciliation will be a priority. 

He cited Section 67 of the Calls to Action, which calls on the federal government "to provide funding to the Canadian Museums Association to undertake, in collaboration with Aboriginal peoples, a national review of museum policies and best practices to determine the level of compliance with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and to make recommendations."

"There is a lot to unpack there, just from that one call," Snow said. "I hope you will be open to the discussions and I look forward to the leadership of the board and the work of the director Ron Ulrich."

The Canmore Museum operates two facilities: the gift shop and gallery in the Civic Centre and the North West Mountain Police Barracks, which welcomes 25,000 visitors a year between them. It also owns a commercial unit in town for storing archives. 

The lease for the space at the Civic Centre expires in 2024, Ulrich said, and there are spatial pressures within the overall facility with an expanding municipal workforce since it was originally built in 2004. 

"We just made an informal presentation to council to talk about what our options may be and explore what happens with this space and where we may move to," he said. "This [re-imagining] process is allowing us to build a new museum that may potentially go into a new facility. We do not know where, we do not know how and that is something we will be exploring in the next several years." 

It is a vision that is reflected in board president Andrew Nickerson's remarks in the new strategic plan document. 

"Looking to the future, the Canmore Museum re-imagined strategy establishes the foundations for a new purpose-built museum facility," Nickerson wrote. "It defines why a new facility is needed – to provide dynamic spaces where our community gathers to engage with one another, where meaningful exploration of Canmore past and present informs our shared future, and where innovative smart-museum technologies create exciting, everchanging visitor experiences." 

Ulrich said by 2024, he expects the museum to be a space where diverse voices are found, connections with others and the landscape are formed and sustainability is always top of mind. 

He added that providing a space for visitors to engage with locals for a better understanding of Canmore's heritage and place is critical as well. 

"Our position is that if we can be the best local museum that we can be, locals will bring friends and family to the museum because we are doing a really good job," Ulrich said. 

That looks like new programs and ideas being launched, which includes a human library event in June, school programming, hosting local knowledge holders once a month to share stories with guests, launching a new book club and hosting speaker events. There is also a new website, podcast and blog to check out. 

The museum will also embrace digital innovation into the future. Members, for example, will receive a digital membership card. Ulrich said a new innovation fund has been started thanks to several donations from supporters and the estate of Gerry Stephenson. 

The gallery space has also been re-imagined. Ulrich said rotating exhibits will be featured in rotation, which could include partnerships with other organizations in the community.

"So much of the work we have announced here today is due to the generosity of our community," he said. 

Tanya Foubert

About the Author: Tanya Foubert

Tanya Foubert started as a news reporter at the Rocky Mountain Outlook in 2006. She won the Canadian Community Newspaper Award for best news story for her coverage of the 2013 flood. In December 2018, she became editor of the Outlook.
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