Recapping The 2017 OMA Conference, GOEMP Style



Kingston City Hall. Image Credit: Madeline Smolarz

The 2017 Ontario Museum Association (OMA) Conference took place in Kingston, Ontario from October 11 – October 13. Five out of the ten members of the GOEMP Committee were able to attend the 2017 OMA Conference, and because we know that these events are not always accessible to emerging museum professionals in our province, we wanted to provice a recap of what happened in Kingston last week in our own words. Read on to find out each member’s thoughts on the following points:

1) Their favourite session
2) Their favourite non-session moment
3) Their best networking tip that they put into action
4) Their thoughts on the 2017 OMA Conference theme – “Renewal”
5) Their hopes for the 2018 OMA Conference in Toronto

William Hollingshead, Vice Chair

thumb_will-bio-pic_10241) For me the best session was “A Fresh Approach To Meeting Conservation Standards” by Fiona Graham. This session was a great breather from the collections conservation stress we all face in smaller community museums.
2) Trivia Night! It was a blast connecting with all our fellow EMP’s from across the large province and finally getting to spend some time in person with our committee.
3) Don’t be afraid to step up. Ontario EMPs and professionals are all a welcoming and inviting community. Step up, shake someone’s hand, and make the conversation you want to happen or the difference you want to see.
4) Renewal is such a strong topic that we are all currently facing in various ways within the sector. As EMPs I believe that it is our time to shine and take on the challenge of helping encourage and drive our museums and the sector down this road to renewal.
5) For the 2018 Conference I hope to connect again with the great EMPs from across the province as Toronto is a little bit more accessible for more to attend. I also hope to work together with the OMA and our GOEMP Committee to really make our presence as EMPs stronger and more diverse at this coming conference.

Diane Pellicone, Conference and Programs Co-Chair


1) My favourite keynote speaker was Elizabeth Merritt, Vice President of Strategic Foresight and Founding Director of Center for the Future of Museums at the American Alliance of Museums. Her presentation about trends forecasting in the museum industry was not only fascinating, but fun! She was very natural on stage and was inspiring to watch. My favourite sessions were “Case Studies in Working Through Non-Traditional Exhibits” and “Re-Think! A Workshop Exploring New Ways of Looking at Your Collections and Turning Them Into Exhibits.” Incidentally, both sessions were led by staff members from Heritage Services, Regional Municipality of Halton (I think that team is onto something!). They each introduced unique points of interest that I believe museums at every level could appreciate and adopt when creating an exhibition experience.
2) I enjoyed meeting new people! I connected with GOEMP committee members I have never had the pleasure of meeting in person (hi Alison, Will, and Madeline!), watched Lisa win a well-deserved award for Emerging Museum Professionals, and met a ton of EMPs through my colleague and friend at the Royal Ontario Museum. It was great to just listen to everyone’s “origin story” and share our common struggles and successes with each other.
3) Don’t be afraid to approach strangers at conferences. I was very impressed with how students from University of Toronto, Fleming College, and elsewhere presented themselves. Armed with business cards and questions, they sought out EMPs and established professionals, and weren’t afraid to ask them what they could do to improve their career prospects. They were prepared and ready to engage!
4) Being Canada 150, it is important to recognize that our road to renewal remains a long, difficult journey that won’t be resolved at just one conference. We can all do better. And as long as we continue to fight for change and commit to reconciling with our past, museums in Ontario and across Canada, have a future.
5) While Toronto is still much too far for many northern museums to visit, I hope that its centrality within the museum community helps encourage more institutions to send their employees to the conference and take advantage of these professional development opportunities.

Madeline Smolarz, Communications Chair

thumb_madeline-bio-pic_10241) My favourite session was “Not-for-Profit Martyrs: Avoiding the Workaholic Trap” presented by Jenny Mitchell (CVO of Chavender) as a “lunch & learn” session on Thursday, October 12. Workaholic attitudes in the non-profit workplace are rather prevalent and can unfortunately be rather damaging to professionals at all stages in their careers. The environment in this session was so supportive, from Jenny’s attitude to the audience’s feedback. I felt well-armed with advice and more than ready to advocate for myself and others after this session.
2) How am I supposed to pick 1 moment?! Trivia Night was a blast, of course, especially as I was able to play Trivia Master for a round, and seeing the GOEMP Committee’s Chair Lisa win the OMA’s Promising Leadership Award of Excellence was a huge (and wonderful) surprise at the Awards of Excellence Reception. However, meeting my Conference Connections Mentor Cheryl Blackman from the Royal Ontario Museum was possibly my biggest highlight. I’ve looked up to her and admired her work on diversity and inclusion for years, so to meet and talk museum careers in person was astounding.
3) At one point, the Conference hashtag #OMAConf2017 was trending as many museum professionals shared great snippets of their experiences. I used my Twitter account and this hashtag as a way to reach out not only to people and organizations in attendance, but also those who were not present. At one point, I met up with someone who I’d been trading tweet likes with for ages, and we both had a laugh over how wonderful it was to make an in-person connection, as awesome as Twitter is.
4) To me, renewal is a never-ending process in response to a world that never stops changing, so my first impression was that the OMA had chosen a daunting Conference topic. However, the ways renewal can be achieved were presented through such a wide array of sessions and activities that I think any museum professional in attendance was able to take away valuable tools, case studies, tips, and advice that they could apply to their own practice and workplace. Well done to the Conference Programs Committee who shaped the selection of sessions!
5) I hope EMPs achieve an even greater representation at the 2018 OMA Conference in Toronto through attendance, session topics, session presenters, the Conference Connections program, and GOEMP Committee activities. I know the Committee is going to work hard to do our best to make these things happen, but we’d love to hear comments and suggestions from the community too as the next Conference approaches. Everyone is welcome to email at any time.

Lisa Terech, Chair

thumb_lisa-bio-pic_10241) I only have the perspectives of Thursday’s line up to offer, but I thoroughly enjoyed what they day brought.  The morning’s keynote by Library & Archives Canada‘s Guy Berthiaume touched on different ways to engage with audiences through new methods.  His overall theme to the importance of GLAMs (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums) in today’s time of ‘Fake News’ was particularly important.
2) I have two moments.  The first would be seeing GOEMP’s Trivia Night successfully delivered! The committee worked together to create the questions and donate the prize to the winning team. Now in its third year, Trivia Night has quickly become a conference favourite.  My other favourite moment was the honour of receiving the Ontario Museum Association’s Promising Leadership Award of Excellence. I’m so fortunate to have teams standing with me, advocating and supporting EMPs in Ontario, and promoting heritage and culture in my hometown of Oshawa.
3) I didn’t put this tip into action for OMA 2017, and as silly as this tip may seem, I often recommend wearing something that will make you stand out (while still being professional, of course). I once wore black and white checked shoes to a conference, and people came up to me and said ‘I remembered you from those shoes!’ Conversation was made and business cards were exchanged. Wearing something that makes you stand out is always something that I’ll recommend.
4) I believe the OMA chose a rather timely topic for this year’s conference.  Museums are constantly seeking new ways to demonstrate their relevance, importance, and vitality, and the term renewal nicely captures this.  It is always inspiring to learn from our colleagues from all over the province.
5) I’m looking forward to the conference in 2018 and hope the GOEMP Committee can continue its relationship with the OMA, making their annual conference a welcoming, engaging, and inspiring experience for EMPs. I hope we can continue with programs like Conference Connections and Trivia Night, and perhaps work the the OMA to create even more opportunities for EMPs.

Alison Ward, Member At Large

alisonward (1)1) I won’t be unique in saying that Elizabeth Merritt’s keynote presentation was both delightfully engaging and incredibly perceptive. The future of museums is currently a common topic, but she brought new and important ideas to the discussion. The runner up goes to the session “Case Studies in Working Through Non-Traditional Exhibits” by the team at Heritage Services, Regional Municipality of Halton. The presentation was well-structured, informative, honest, and interesting.
2) It was fantastic to see the GOEMP’s Committee leader, Lisa, being recognized for all her hard work. Lisa deservedly accepted the OMA Award for Promising Leadership. Additionally, when accepting her “moose trophy’, she shone a little of her light on the committee and it was a great moment of exposure for the group’s efforts. Congratulations, Lisa!
3) Definitely talk to people in the food lines. Delegates were hungry and the lines were long, and it was a great occasion to break the ice.
4) The tone of the conference was optimistic, which was refreshing and inspiring! It is sometimes easy to focus on the challenges and struggles of our field, but sessions were uplifting and ambitious.
5) I think Toronto will be a great host for 2018’s conference. The GOEMP Committee has plans to increase its level of participation in the conference and is excited with the possibilities. I also hope there will be more cake.

We hope you enjoyed everyone’s perspective on the Conference. This was the blog’s longest post yet, so we appreciate you sticking it out to the end! See you in Toronto in 2018!

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The beautiful Toronto sign at Nathan Phillips Square. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons



Tips For Landing A Museum Job


Job searching and interviews have been a lot on my mind lately. From one EMP to another, here are a few tips that may help you in your pursuit:

Be more than keen. My co-worker once pointed out to me that it’s not remotely interesting to hear a candidate say that they should ultimately be hired because of their passion for museums. I’ve definitely used that line before, but come to think of it, she was right. The truth is we’re all passionate (we’re certainly not in it for the money!). Instead of emphasizing eagerness, it’s important in a competition to say what experiences have prepared you and you alone to take on the position. Of course, this is more easily conceived with relevant experience on your resume, and we all know that museum work is hard to come by… So! In the meantime, consider opportunities that are “museum-adjacent”. Try searching for positions in supporting associations, cultural programs, festivals, libraries, or education. It’s surprising how much overlap there is and, at the end of the day, adding to your skills and experience will be your salvation.

Blog Picture 1

Keep it fresh. My partner, a computer programmer, has said to me that if a programmer thinks their code is top-notch six months after they wrote it, then that’s probably a bad sign. I think the same can be said for resume and cover letter writing. We all know that it’s important to cater our resumes and cover letters to each job application. That being said, it’s still possible for an application to get stale. Every once in awhile, take a look at the aspects that always stay the same – maybe the introduction or the formatting – and consider changing it up. Chances are your writing and presentation skills have improved and your application deserves to benefit.

Remember to save the job posting. I learned this the hard way. Don’t get caught off-guard when you are offered an interview. If you save the job posting, you can refer back to it during your interview preparation and use it to make note of the experiences and skills that you’ll definitely want to discuss in the interview. Reviewing job postings can also help indicate common factors in solicited qualifications.

Overall, try to stay cool. You landed an interview. The best thing you can do now is stay relaxed. One: keep in mind, your interviewer could very well be a bit nervous too! Just because someone sits across the table from you doesn’t mean they have all the answers. I conducted my first interviews when I was still a fresh graduate and I was probably as anxious as the interviewees. Two: remember that you’re interviewing them too. If you’re able to place yourself (mentally or actually) in a position where you can be a little picky, you may find yourself more calm and relaxed. We’ve all been advised to ask questions in interviews, but consider genuinely asking. Take advantage of the opportunity to try to figure out what a typical day is like on the job and whether it’s a good fit for you.

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Get experience, do your prep, create some confidence, and go for it!


So You Want To Host A GOEMP Meet Up?


So, you want to host a GOEMP Meet Up? First off, that’s awesome! Meet-ups are an informal networking event, a chance to connect with other EMPs in your area.

Secondly, we want to make sure you know that you don’t have to be a member of the GOEMP Committee to initiate one of these events, but you can always email the Committee at for support and advice. We are here for you!

Happenings by Lisa and Madeline Photo 1

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Here are some helpful steps for planning and executing a meet up at every stage.

Initial Planning:
  • Find a date that works: Dates towards the end of the week, such as Thursdays or Fridays, have been successful in the past. A good idea would be to create a poll in the GOEMP Facebook group, where other EMPs in and around the area where you’re holding the meet up can provide feedback on which day is best for their schedules. For example, a meet up in Hamilton happened earlier in the week in June 2017 because that worked best for the majority of EMPs in the area, as indicated by a GOEMP Facebook group poll.
  • Contact a restaurant and make a reservation: Let them know what kind of event you are planning on hosting and make a reservation for 15-20 people (this has been the average attendance at meet-ups in the past). Tell them that you will confirm the number closer to the actual date. When selecting a restaurant, a nice gesture for folks with food sensitivities or diet restrictions would be to check whether there are gluten-free, dairy-free, vegetarian, and/or vegan options on the menu. Ensuring that the restaurant building is accessible is also an important point to remember.
  • Once the date is chosen, create a Facebook Event: This is where you can post event updates, keep an eye on expected attendance, and attendees can chat in advance of the meet up, perhaps to arrange carpooling. Giving general directions to nearby parking if the restaurant doesn’t have it’s own, or nearby transit options for those without cars, is always helpful.
  • Promote the meet up: post the event in the GOEMP page, tweet the Facebook Event link using the #GOEMP hashtag, contact the Ontario Museum Association to ask to have it included in their weekly newsletter, and reach out to local institutions to get the invite out to EMPs who volunteer or work there. As well, you can send an email to the GOEMP committee (, and the event can be added to our Events Calendar page on the GOEMP website.
The Week of the Event:
  • Do a final push for promoting the event and get an idea of expected attendance.
  • Call the restaurant to confirm the reservation.
  • If you have some at hand, gather some name tags and markers to help attendees break the ice when they meet for the first time.
Hello My Name Is

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

At the Meet Up:
  • Hand out nametags!
  • Have some food/drinks!
  • Meet new people!
  • Reconnect with colleagues and friends!
  • Bring business cards to share! Swap them with each other!
  • Take pictures and share on Social Media (#GOEMP)!
After the Meet Up:
  • Thank attendees on social media, such as the Facebook Event and Twitter.
  • Let the GOEMP Committee know what the attendance was like by emailing us at
  • Relax. You did a great job!

On the Job With… Kate Seally, Program Officer


A few months after graduation from the Master of Museum Studies program at the University of Toronto, I was lucky enough to find a job as a Program Officer at the Canadian Museums Association (CMA). Now, I hear you say “Wait, that’s not a museum job!” and you are right in that I don’t work in a museum per se. However, I do work in the museum sphere as the CMA works towards the recognition, growth, and stability of our sector. Plus, many museum professionals will be involved with the CMA as members or because they receive Young Canada Works (YCW) funding via the CMA.


The CMA is based in Ottawa, the capital of Canada. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

That leads us right to my role at the CMA: YCW Program Officer. We distribute funding from Canadian Heritage to qualified institutions across Canada, thus enabling them to hire summer students. While the money comes from Canadian Heritage, Delivery Organisations like the CMA are the ones who distribute the money. That means that we screen applications, send out funding decisions, receive and approve (or reject) forms, send out contracts and payments, and reconcile employers’ payroll accounts at the end of the summer. Program Officers are also the main points-of-contact for employers receiving YCW funding; we are there to answer their questions and help them with any issues.

So, what’s a “day in the life” of a YCW Program Officer look like? Keep reading for the answer!

8:50 am: Arrive at the office, settle in, and grab a coffee from the kitchen.

9 am: Be brave, and open my email and check my voicemail. Deal with any really urgent questions or issues, forward emails as needed, and create a to-do list for the non-urgent emails (I will then answer and deal with these throughout the day). Often, if someone’s question is complicated, I’ll simply pick up the phone and give them a call – this can save everyone time in the end.


Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

9:30 am: Every morning, forms submitted the day before are printed and distributed to each Program Officer. We then process these, dealing with any inconsistencies or issues as they arise. Depending on how big your stack of forms are, or how gnarly the problems arise, this could take all morning.

12 pm: Lunch time! We’re in the process of having a lunch room built, but in the meantime, most of the staff gather in the lunchroom to have lunch together. If it’s a nice day, we head to the park to eat al fresco!

1 pm: Fight off the post-lunch fatigue by diving back into work. Usually, I’ll check my email and voicemail and deal with any issues that arose over lunch. I’m always happy to come back from lunch and not have any voicemails waiting for me!

1:30 pm: Continue dealing with calls and emails as they come in, and keep tackling my to-do list from the morning. We are in the midst of issuing contracts and first payments to employers who have all their forms in order, so I usually try to do as many of these each day as possible.

5 pm: End of the day! Time to lock everything up, shut my computer off, and head home for the day.

Thank you for tagging along with me during a sample day in my work life. In reality, every day is different, and I think that’s what I love most about this job!

Cultivating Community Partners


Reaching out within your museum’s community can be a challenging and daunting task to take up. It often doesn’t matter if you’ve found work in your hometown, a place you’re probably very familiar with, or somewhere across the province that you’ve moved to for work that you’re just getting to know. Municipalities take on many shapes and forms, so it can be difficult to pinpoint community groups to collaborate with. By putting in the hard work to find groups who share a similar belief or values as your museum and reaching out to them, some fantastic opportunities can arise. I wanted to share a case study example of a project I am currently involved with in my current position to provide an example of what successful partnership can look like.

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The Ermatinger Old Stone House. Photo Credit: Quinn Green

This year marks the second year that Ermatinger Clergue National Historic Site (ECNHS) in Sault Ste Marie has offered its diverse and exciting winter workshop series Fridays By The Fire. I am currently working as the site’s Heritage Programmer, so I’m quite involved in this project. Fridays By The Fire are a series of two-hour workshops that provide visitors with a historic talk and demonstration while enjoying a warm, homemade lunch. This year, the program has been pushed even further due to partnerships with various community groups, each hosting a themed workshop. Through working with these groups within the community such as Oral History Sault Ste Marie, the Sault Ste Marie Public Library and Archives, and various local artisans, the needs of the program were not only met, but awareness was created towards the talents and opportunities each individual or organization provides as well.

These partnerships have led to both recurring and new exciting connections within the community that cross generational and organizational lines. Groups like Theatre in Motion are going on their second year performing a Group of Seven performance in the ECNHS’s theatre. Arts and Culture Major students from White Pines Collegiate take various workshops on curatorial techniques and then return to assist in Fall Rendezvous, the largest education programming festival at ECNHS. The Art Gallery of Algoma and Digital Creator North have also partnered with the site for new and exciting programming combining the arts and digital media with cultural heritage in our summer camps as well as newly developed workshops.

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Photo Credit: Will Hollingshead

As an emerging museum professional, you are an asset when it comes to partnerships. You have an advantage because your “fresh eyes” can help you see partnership possibilities that your museum may not have considered tapping into before. Do some research and don’t be afraid to let your creativity fly; you’ll be all the more confident bringing your ideas to the meeting table. By developing and growing community partnerships for a museum, you help create, diversify, and expand upon the opportunities your site currently offers to your visitors and the community. This process is important because addressing the needs of your community leads to more vital museums, and you and your colleagues have the added benefit of becoming a more effective workforce. All great partnerships start with an idea – maybe the next one will be yours!

Call for Applications: Join the GOEMP Committee!

Are you an emerging museum professional (EMP) within the first 10 years of your career? Are you passionate about the future of museums in Ontario?  Would you like to be a voice for emerging museum professionals, network with your peers and have an opportunity to develop your own leadership skills?

If so, then the Group of Ontario Emerging Museum Professionals (GOEMP) Committee is looking for you! We are in search of 2 new Members-At-Large.    

What is the Group of Ontario Emerging Museum Professionals (GOEMP) Committee?

The Committee is a voice and a resource for the GOEMP community which provides  programming, communications, and resources both digitally and in-person, and fosters  a supportive, professional network among Ontario’s EMPs. In addition, we execute networking and advocacy events in partnership with the Ontario Museum Association (OMA) and other cultural organizations, including initiatives at the annual OMA Conference such as Conference Connections and Trivia Night.

What will you do?

Committee Members are champions for EMPs in Ontario. You will collaborate with other GOEMP Committee members to bring forward new ideas and develop methods and resources to benefit the EMP community. You will assist in carrying out program and communication plans to foster the growing  network of emerging museum professionals across the province . You will develop and help coordinate plans to increase EMP  participation and visibility at  the annual OMA Conference and other professional development events by the OMA and other organizations. You will communicate with Ontario EMPs through a variety of mediums, and you will be an ambassador for the GOEMP by representing the group externally at meetings and events as necessary.

We are looking for 2 Committee Members

We are looking for two (2) committee members to participate in this volunteer committee for a term of three years.  The committee is comprised of a Chair, Vice-Chair, Secretary, Communications Chair, 2 Conference & Programs Co-Chairs, and Members-at-Large. We are currently seeking to fill two (2) Members-at-Large positions.

Please note that membership appointments will take into account the need to have balanced representation across the following criteria: number of years in the field, regional representation, size and type of museum workplace, and professional specialisations.  We are currently striving for greater geographical representation to better reflect the diversity of the province. Therefore, priority will be given to EMPs living/working in Northern Ontario and Western Ontario.

We are looking for people with the following qualities. You are:

  • Within 10 years of the beginning of your professional career.
  • A museum lover who cares about the future of the profession and your fellow professionals.
  • A quick thinker, full of ideas, with problem solving and planning capabilities.
  • An excellent communicator interested in, and good with, social media who is curious about new technologies, a confident public speaker, and has  a good phone manner.
  • Willing to listen and learn. You have a can-do attitude.
  • Someone with museum experience (volunteer or paid).

Member-at-Large Responsibilities:

  • Offer support to the Committee, bringing fresh ideas, perspectives, opportunities, and enthusiasm to the EMP community in Ontario.
  • Regularly attend meetings and stay current with GOEMP Committee communications.
  • Support their local area and EMPs.
  • Support the communications chair with social media and ensuring the Facebook group is regularly updated with quality content of interest to the GOEMP community.

If this sounds like you, then please send a resume and cover letter outlining why you’re the right person to sit on this committee and how you demonstrate the qualities above to

The deadline for applications is 5pm on Friday, August 11, 2017.

UPDATE AUGUST 12, 2017: The deadline for applications is 5pm on Friday, August 18, 2017.

We thank all applicants for their interest; however only those selected for interview will be contacted. Interviews may be in person or by teleconference. Appointments will be made by a panel made up of members of the GOEMP Committee.

For more information on the GOEMP, please look at our website or visit our Facebook Page.

Terms for members will be until January 2019.

Biding Time: Making the Best of It


The Group of Ontario Emerging Museum Professionals has some pretty impressive members who are doing all sorts of interesting things at museums across the province. But what about those of us who have the background, who have the education, but aren’t actually working in a museum right now? That’s the position I’m in, and from experience, I know that sometimes it can be difficult to remember that yes, those of us in this stage of our museum careers are, in fact, still emerging museum professionals.

Personally, I’ve volunteered and worked in museums for years, and after taking a break from this to get a Master’s degree, I’m back in the civilian world. Now, though, I’m waiting for my partner to finish her Master’s before making any big decisions about relocating for work. So I’m biding my time, in a town where the local museum just isn’t hiring.


I’m sure there are a lot of us in similar situations. I’m choosing not to move for personal reasons, though there are many other reasons to choose not to move or to be unable to move. Plus, it seems like there just aren’t quite enough museum jobs to go around these days. Some of us are lucky enough to land the coveted full-time jobs, while others make things work with a mix of a part-time museum job, and other part-time work elsewhere. Some of us are between museum contracts. And some of us are still waiting to break into (or break back into) the museum world.

So what’s a determined EMP to do when not actually working in a museum? There are so many good options. With every part-time or temporary job you apply for, think about whether or not the skills you will gain could be applied to museum work. Working in customer service? Approach this as if you’re there to develop your engagement and presentation skills. Can you find a job in a similar field, such as a library or a gallery? Go for it; this could be a valuable step in the right direction. Are there volunteer opportunities in local museums or other institutions with public programming? If you have the time, this is obviously a great way to get experience and make connections.


At the moment, I’m doing a mix of all of the above. Will this lead to the fantastical world of permanent, full-time employment? I don’t know. But I’m making the most of the work opportunities I have. One of the key principles I’m operating under is that everything can be made relevant to the field you want to work in. So if you’re stuck toiling away in a job which seems to be leading nowhere, think about these questions:

How might the tasks/duties I have right now help me when I finally land a museum job?

What additional responsibilities can I take on right now that could give me useful, relevant experience?

How can I present my current experience to a future employer, and demonstrate its relevance?


Review of Kingston Penitentiary Tour


James Donnelly, Grace Marks, Norman “Red” Ryan. These are just some of the inmates who were imprisoned at Canada’s oldest maximum security prison, Kingston Penitentiary (figure 1). The Kingston Penitentiary, also known as the KP or Kingston Pen, was the first museum I visited in Kingston, Ontario as a new resident of the “museum capital of Canada” and as an aspiring museum aficionado.


Figure 1 The Kingston Penitentiary acted as a maximum security prison for 178 years. Following its closing in September 2013, tours of the penitentiary began to be offered, with its former workers helping lead the tours and providing interpretations of the many spaces encapsulated within the KP. Photographer: C Kish

I visited the KP during the first weekend it was opened for the 2017 season, on a dark, gloomy, rainy, and overall wet Saturday. In other words, it would have been one of those “pathetic fallacy” moments if I had actually been attending the prison as a prisoner. Given that the tour was 90 minutes and there were approximately 16 different stops along the tour, I thought it would be best to provide the top two tour highlights.

1) Past Prison Workers

At the start of the tour, the group and I met in the visiting room while encountering our first person who had worked at the prison. She identified herself and the other former prison workers as being human “artifacts” on the tour. Although having human interpreters isn’t a new concept in the museum world, being able to engage with people who actually worked at the site being visited is truly a unique experience that most museums are unable to provide. Along the tour we met with 3 or 4 more people who worked there in places like the main dome and dissociation unit. I found the KP tour’s usage of past prison workers to be smartly done and, as a result, not much text was needed for the actual tour.

2) Architecture

In 1990, the KP was categorized as a National Historic Site of Canada. It is what many of my past art history professors would have deemed a 19th-century, limestone-based “architectural marvel.” As a result, the KP is a series of buildings situated on the waterfront of Lake Ontario that juxtapose the Brutalist-style jails that we are accustomed to seeing in movies. The exterior of the prison has columns at the front, while the interior of the prison features the “main dome” (figure 2), where prisoners could be held with a lookout area below. Additionally, there was a Workshop (figure 3) for prisoners that had vaulted ceilings.


Figure 2 Here is the main dome area, where prison workers could keep an eye on prisoners. In some parts of the prison there would be 5 tiers of cells, but here you can see there are 4 tiers. Photographer: C Kish


Figure 3 Here is an image of the KP’s shop wing, which had beams of the outside shining through its vaulted ceilings. The staircases lead to rooms such as the school, where prisoners could obtain high school and college credits. Photographer C Kish

The most controversial voice element missing from the tour is that of the prisoner. Although the graffiti (figure 4) somewhat speaks acts for the people who were imprisoned at the KP, it could be argued that the tour emphasizes the perspective of the prison worker. Thus, perhaps, it would be good for the future to have more of an equal balance of perspectives. Also, keep in mind that the KP is a penitentiary, meaning one should come prepared for the weather. When I was on the tour, the penitentiary was freezing, as it was a rainy day. That being said, the Kingston Pen tour is definitely worth the $35 ticket. The idea of having past workers as interpreters and the opportunity to see a wide scope of rooms at the KP made the tour one of the top ones I have been on in the last few years.


Figure 4 Throughout the penitentiary there is graffiti left on the walls from past prisoners. Some of the graffiti provides simple instructions, such as “Do not use when hot water is plugged in,” with an arrow drawn towards an outlet. In contrast, there is also graffiti that has a high usage of exclamation marks, capital letters, expletives, and perhaps even imagined extensions to song lyrics. Here, a prisoner wrote “Hell’s going with you write it on your back, all this will fade to black,” which could be interpreted as someone adding to Metallica’s song “Fade to Black.” Photographer C Kish


“They Are All Individual”: Community Museums and the National Narrative


On November 7, 1957, a group of people passionate about local history came together for the first meeting of the Oshawa and District Historical Society. In less than three years’ time, this group would achieve one of their primary tasks when the Henry House Museum opened to the public on May 21, 1960.

At their first meeting, when Verna Conant (wife of Ontario’s 12th Premier Gordon D. Conant) was elected as the first president, a woman from the Ontario Historical Society spoke to the newfound ODHS. As per newspaper customs of the time, the Oshawa Times-Gazette reported her name as Mrs. Paul Hughes, her actual first name unknown at this time. The Time-Gazette shared highlights from Hughes’ talk, and much of what she presented is still relevant today, almost 60 years later.

“One of the charms of visiting these museums is that they are all individual,” commented Mrs. Hughes, “Each makes a particular contribution, not only its community, but to the country as a whole.”

For the last six years, the Oshawa Museum has been my second home. With its humble beginnings as the Henry House Museum, the OM, under the management of the (now named) Oshawa Historical Society, has seen tremendous growth and today is comprised of three historic houses, all three standing on their original foundations. It is through these houses that the OM brings our community’s history to life; feature exhibitions, our growing permanent collection, and dynamic programming help us do just that.

Henry House Oshawa Museum 2013

Henry House, Oshawa. Credit: Lisa Terech

What Mrs. Hughes emphasizes above is why I love local history museums. Each museum is as unique as the community’s story they are telling. Behind the scenes there is the dedicated staff, passionate about their community, and this is evident with the details in the exhibits. I attempt to visit local history museums on every vacation I take and have yet to be disappointed. It has been especially interesting in this Canada 150 year to see each museum putting their best foot forward and celebrating how their community played its part within the larger national narrative. Perhaps Oshawa was only a village in 1867, a small stop on the way from Toronto to Kingston, but our burgeoning locality has its own contributions to the 150 celebrations. For example, within our collections is a telegram sent to local politician T.N. Gibbs by Sir John A. Macdonald during the first national election, urging him to ‘not be beaten.’ Gibbs was an Oshawa based politician (our first Reeve) and business-owner, and he would go on to serve in Macdonald’s cabinet before being appointed to the Senate. Interestingly, although it could not have been proven at the time, there are strong suspicions of voter impropriety in this Ontario South election of 1867. This telegram speaks on many different layers, of a local personality, to the first election and its connection to a Father of Confederation. It could also speak to early democracy and the importance of fair election practices. Perhaps not all municipalities have telegrams from Macdonald in their holdings, but this OM artefact is an example of what Mrs. Hughes illustrated in 1957: each community has their own stories to tell, stories on a local, provincial, and national level. Visit a community museum and see you can discover.

Spadina House Aug 2012

Spadina House, Toronto. Credit: Lisa Terech

Elisabeth Meets With OMA Conference Programs Committee


Hello everyone, just a quick up-date on the OMA Conference Programs Committee! The Committee actually had the chance to meet in Kingston at the beginning of the month of April to sort through this year’s proposals, and the Conference is now really taking shape.

The Conference has been inspired by the OMA’s “Looking Ahead: Ontario’s Museums 2025” plan and the themes have been derived from its objectives. The (summarized) themes of the conference are: community building, developing new funding models and partners, promoting Ontario’s museums, and building greater collaboration within the museum sector the culture sector and beyond. Based on feedback from previous years, we also included more workshops and have a few pop-up sessions during lunch breaks that people can also attend.

For my part as the GOEMP Committee representative, I have been doing my best to ensure that what programming offers at the conference reflects some key interests of the EMP community. While there were no proposals that dealt explicitly with EMPs in the field, I hope that the selection of workshops and topics will meet GOEMP needs and expectations.

My visit to Kingston was brief as I had a meeting back in Ottawa later in the day; however, I was struck by the immense heritage community in the city, as well as the variety of sites and models of management. I can’t wait to explore more of the city closer to the Conference date.

The 2017 Ontario Museum Association Conference will take place October 11 – 13. Learn more about it here.