Monday, 16 February 2015

THE MUSEUM, THE COMMUNITY, AND THE EVENT: WINTERAMA IN PENETANGUISHENE, ONTARIO

MUSEUM MONDAYS

BY CADY MOYER

Hello Musings readers, and welcome to another Museum Monday. Today is Family Day and museums across the province are putting on special programs to connect with their community. Family Day coincides with that point in February where you either have to embrace the weather and push on, or just muddle through. Taking the ‘embrace it and push on’ approach is a tradition in my hometown of Penetanguishene where each February for the past sixty years the community has celebrated the season with Winterama. Winterama is a festival that focuses on local winter sporting events and highlights our community traditions such as puddle jumping, polar plunging, arm wrestling, local artisans’ goods, and the big Winterama parade.

source: author's photo of archival material on display at the Penetanguishene Centennial Museum
Winterama Parade in 1959 going down Penetanguishene's Main Street.
During this year’s Winterama I paid a visit to the town museum, the Penetanguishene Centennial Museum and Archives which was participating in the festival as an official warming station and also hosting public programs. Advertised events at the museum were a luncheon at the museum’s replica Fire Hall put on by the museum’s Friends association, a travelling exhibit from the Ontario Archives A Lifetime – Day by Day, Five Women and their Diaries, and a display of hooked rugs organized by the Kindred Spirit Art and Antiques group.

The museum also had two other Winterama programs: one was a special exhibit of archival material about the festival, and the second was designing a Winterama badge. These activities offered ways way to connect not only with the museum, but also with the community. I heard stories of the town’s social fabric when speaking with the rug hookers about their work, I relished the smell of the town’s French Canadian heritage in the form of pea soup cooking in the Fire Hall, and I poured over years of Winterama archival binders on display.

source: Author's photo of Penetanguishene Centennial Museum exhibit
Winterama badge collection at the Penetanguishene Centennial Museum.
source: author's photo
The famous pea soup, a traditional French Canadian dish served every year at Winterama. Here it is being prepared in the replica Fire Hall at the Penetanguishene Centennial Museum by the museum's Friends association.

source: author's photo of archival material on display at the Penetanguishene Centennial Museum
Newspaper clip on display at the museum of an advertisement for the 1969 Winterama.
The Winterama I saw in those binders was both the same and different from what it is now. It is still the town’s biggest community event each year, yet in the papers there looks to be more activities, focus, and participation than there is now. The museum itself was heralded in a newspaper clip from one of the 1960s binders as the hub of activity for the festival. As Winterama changed, so too has the museum’s role, but it has clearly played one and continues to.
source: author's photo of archival material on display at the Penetanguishene Centennial Museum.
1960s newspaper clip about the museum and Winterama.
So what’s next? I think the role of the museum’s community engagement could be more than programming. The museum could act as a source for information for the town to look at Winterama’s continuity and change and plan a sustainable way forward.

There is so much more than meets the eye when it comes to the relationship between communities, museums, and social events. For any museum, that three-part relationship is vital to really look at, and that goes both ways. Museums can offer their community its resources that are the springboard for effective social analysis and community action. So if you, museum lover, are out in a museum on this fine Family Day, take a look at what’s going on and ask yourself what is the value of these activities and what is their impact? You might get answers you didn’t expect!

Happy Family Day everyone!


A special thank-you to the following people for their help in the research for this article: Laura Walters, a  recent graduate of Western's Public History degree who currently works for the Ontario Heritage Trust and is from Penetanguishene; Nicole Jackson, curator of the Penentanguishene Centennial Museum; and the Friends of the Penetanguishene Centennial Museum.

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