FORT FRANCES—With renovations having wrapped up at the Fort Frances Museum, the public was invited to a sneak peek on Tuesday at the $900,000 makeover the building received over the past eight months.
Residents turned out in droves to take a look—and the verdict seemed positive.
“It looks good so far,” said Willy Anderson, a former museum board member who noted the renovations have been a long time coming.
“It looks very good. I’m quite impressed with the floor upstairs,” he added, referring to the refurbished original hardwood floor.
“I really can’t find anything wrong with it. It’s got a good layout. It’s certainly money well spent.”
“It’s beautiful,” echoed his wife, Judy.
“It’s pretty nice,” agreed local resident Jim Ryan.
“They have done a tremendous job,” remarked Bruce Caldwell.
“It’s quite an impressive structure. The only thing to suggest it was ever an old building is the squeak in the floor,” laughed Merv Ahrens.
The open house also marked the launch of Ahrens’ book, “Fort Lac La Pluie of the North West Company,” which details the history of the old fort here.
This book is available at the museum for $7.50, with proceeds going to the museum’s renovation fund.
The $900,000 renovations included everything from new flooring and walls to new plumbing and lighting fixtures.
New heating, ventilation, air conditioning, safety, security, and electrical systems also have been installed, and different parts of the museum will be “zoned” to specific temperatures and levels of humidity depending on what that part is being used for (i.e., artifacts, papers and books, artwork, etc.)
This will help ensure exhibits and artifacts avoid damage due to environmental factors such as dampness, heat, or cold, and allow for the museum to house exhibits it previously may not have met the criteria to do so.
A new receiving and shipping area also has been built on the south side of the building, along with a second entrance for the public. This area will be especially convenient and alleviate receiving, crating, and shipping problems.
The basement of the museum will be used for storage while the main floor will be used for travelling exhibits, art shows, administrative purposes, and other programming.
On the other hand, the top floor is going to be the museum’s permanent exhibition area.
Interpretive development intern Emily Carr has been hard at work putting together a new exhibit, with June set as a target date for completion (this will coincide with the museum’s grand opening).
Since last summer, Carr has been combing resources ranging from museum files to a survey of local residents she conducted last year to plan out her exhibit.
But she noted Tuesday the “real work” is about to start now that she can unpack artifacts that have been stored away because of the renovations.
“When it’s finished, the exhibit will represent the history of Fort Frances to the present,” Carr noted.
Her job now entails grouping images and artifacts, arranging them in a certain order and laying out where they’ll be on a floor plan, and then devising text panels to go along with them.
Museum curator Pam Hawley noted Tuesday’s open house was just a “sneak peek.” But while the museum won’t be open again until June, staff will be keeping busy in the meantime, offering outreach programs in the schools as well as research services.
Work on the museum, the primary contractor for which has been Ed Kaun & Sons, started in late July. The majority of the work was completed by the end of January.
Museum staff started moving back at that time, and are continuing to move more and more inventory in as they wait for new shelving and storage units to arrive.
The renovations have been funded through the town and local businesses, as well as federal and provincial partners.
< *c>Heritage tourism
Tuesday’s open house also was a chance for the public to get a look at plans for Phase Two of the Fort Frances Museum Heritage Tourism, which is poised to get underway this spring.
Representatives of the architectural firm Hilderman, Thomas, Frank and Cram were on hand to talk to the public and explain diagrams of the ambitious enhancement project.
While the museum renovations were considered Phase One of the heritage tourism project, Phase Two involves developing a pathway from the “gateway” (border crossing) leading visitors to both the downtown area and the waterfront, as well as providing things for tourists to see and do in those parts of town.
Work on Phase Two of the project will include:
•development of the courtyard in front of the museum, including a wildflower garden, seating areas, a large seal of the Town of Fort Frances sandblasted in concrete, donor recognition walls, and an advertising kiosk, where tourists can stop and check out what community events are going on (even if they arrive after the museum’s closed);
•development of the area to the south side of the museum, which will be a second entrance to the building (this will include landscaping and a seating area);
•a mural along the pathway between the museum and Nirvana;
•new street signs (possibly featuring Lady Frances Simpson on them, just as the La Verendrye Parkway signs depict that same explorer on them);
•decorative banners and light standards;
•the moving of the Hallett and the Lookout Tower to the riverfront; and
•interpretative kiosks along Front Street, explaining the history of historical forts and the fur trade.
The latter will be accompanied with structures for children to play on that will double as suitable spots for tourist photo opportunities (such as a voyageur canoe, a campfire pit, and a small “tower” and “fort”).
“It’s wonderful,” said Dr. Bruce Lidkea as he looked over some of the diagrams on display on the upper level of the museum.
“There’s been a lot of changes to the town over the past 10 years. I’m glad we’re continually moving forward,” he added.
“They are some great ideas,” agreed Bruce Caldwell. “I like the idea of the Hallett and the tower down on the waterfront.
“This plan will be a big addition to the town. It should get people to stop and look,” Caldwell added, noting he’s travelled extensively in the U.S. and every little town seems to have a tourist attraction.
For example, a small town in Nebraska he’s visited had a museum dedicated strictly to barbed wire.
“It’s most impressive,” said Jim Ryan of Phase Two of the heritage tourism plan.
“This project will really enhance the beauty of what’s already here,” said Lindsay Lagman, a landscape architect with Hilderman, Thomas, Frank and Cram, who was very busy answering questions Tuesday.
“It’s building on the history and culture of Fort Frances,” she added, noting the people she talked to about Phase Two of the heritage tourism plan were “generally enthusiastic and positive.”