County Eyes Simcoe Facility as County Archive – By Monte Sonnenberg, SIMCOE REFORMER, Wed July 5 2017
Norfolk County has declined a request to assume control of the Eva Brook Donly Museum in Simcoe.
Instead, the museum on Norfolk Street South is on course to become the central archive for all of Norfolk’s important documents. Under this model, the artifacts housed in Simcoe would be parceled out to county museums in Waterford, Delhi and Port Dover.
Tuesday at Governor Simcoe Square, Norfolk council considered four options for re-opening the Simcoe museum under new management.
“Option 4” would have seen Norfolk’s annual contribution to the museum’s operations rise from $36,500 to $242,000. This option would involve the hiring of 2.5 full-time equivalents. As well, Norfolk’s culture & heritage division proposed a one-time capital cost in the range of $100,000. This money would have been used to outfit the Eva Brook building as the central repository for Norfolk’s archival material.
The proposal was defeated in a 5-4 vote. The decisive factor was the increased cost to take over the museum’s management from the Norfolk Historical Society.
“We’re disappointed,” said NHS president Andy Blackwood, of Simcoe. “Option 4 was in the best interests of the county. “This was an opportunity to re-open and revitalize the county’s original museum. Now the county’s main town doesn’t have a museum.”
The Norfolk Historical Society was organized in 1900.
In 1941, artist Eva Brook Donly bequeathed her home at 109 Norfolk Street South to the former Town of Simcoe for use as a museum or art gallery. The town accepted her offer and invited NHS to house and display its extensive collection of Norfolk County artifacts in this facility. The arrangement worked well for decades. The historical society’s membership and financing was so strong that it turned down an opportunity at the formation of the new Norfolk in 2000 to fold its operations in with municipal museums in Delhi, Port Dover and Waterford.
NHS has since encountered financial problems. Norfolk provided $35,000 in emergency funding in 2016 but that was not enough to right the ship. The museum closed in January while the NHS pursued a restructuring arrangement with the county.
“This is a tough pill to swallow,” Norfolk Mayor Charlie Luke said following Tuesday’s vote. “But we knew it was coming. “The concern around the table is the increased cost. This is not something I want to see the county cut loose. It’s too important. This is a tough one.”
Port Rowan Coun. Noel Haydt said Simcoe is well served from a cultural standpoint by the Norfolk Arts Centre – another public facility located in a heritage home. Haydt asked why Norfolk taxpayers should pick up the slack when the people of Simcoe and the Norfolk Historical Society itself have lost interest in their museum and its collection. “I don’t think there’s enough people interested,” Haydt said. “Why would I want to burden the taxpayer with something people aren’t interested in?”
Simcoe Coun. Doug Brunton said it’s ironic that the Simcoe museum has come to this, given the invitation the historical society had in 2000 to hand over the museum and its artifacts to the new Norfolk. “We wouldn’t be having this discussion if the historical society threw up its hands and said ‘Here – you run it,’” Brunton said.
The future of the Eva Brook Donly Museum will be clearer after the July 11 meeting of council. The July 11 meeting is council’s final meeting before the summer recess. Tuesday’s decision is a recommendation made at the council-in-committee level. There will be an opportunity at next week’s meeting to pull Tuesday’s recommendation and hold a final, confirming vote.
Some on council voted to convert the museum into an archive because they were disappointed with the lack of volunteer support under Option 4. Expressions of interest in this direction between now and July 11 might convince a majority on council to re-think their position.