The museum has partnered with Acadia First Nations in order to help the Aboriginal culture maintain a presence in the community.
Director of the Queens County Museum Linda Rafuse says they were disappointed when the decision to discontinue the centre was made earlier this year, but the partnership and expansion of the museum is exciting.
“In order to still have a place to house and exhibit their artifacts that came out of the Mersey River project, Acadia First Nations approached us,” says Rafuse. “They asked if our board would consider a partnership, and our board certainly agreed to that. Everybody got excited.”
Cultural Officer of Acadia First Nations Judy Boutilier says one of their main goals was to finally find a home for the artifacts taken from Lake Rossignol during the Mersey River project.
“That's the one thing that the First Nations in that area would really like,” says Boutilier. “To bring them back to Queens.”
Rafuse says they are thinking big in the planning of the museum expansion, in hopes of bringing many benefits to both sides of the partnership. Acadia First Nations would like to see a First Nations Gallery, but the museum itself also needs an expansion due to lack of space in both storage and exhibit areas.
“We've gone for the whole big dream that our expansion would not only include the Aboriginal expansion,” says Rafuse. “It would also include a new expanded exhibit area along with a multipurpose room, reconstruction of the washrooms, a new addition onto the front of the building that would create a big new lobby entrance, and then some reconfiguring of space that's already here, like a bigger gift shop area.”
Over the past six months, Rafuse says she, Boutilier, and Museum Board chairman George Mitchell have been meeting with potential stakeholders and funders who could become part of the project.
“We've had many meetings with major funders, right from local government to provincial government to federal government,” says Rafuse. “It's unbelievable the positive support we've been given from everyone we've met with, between all of those people and provincial officials.”
Plans for the expansion have officially been put into action recently, in the form of a grant proposal.
The proposal, a preliminary drawing of the expansion, has been submitted to the province. Rafuse says they are waiting for a grant approval, which will allow them to have a consultant develop a three-in-one document for the project.
“The document is a business plan, an architectural plan, and an interpretive plan,” says Rafuse. “It will become the voice to take to our major funders who we've already met with, then we can really get the commitment on paper.”
Boutilier adds, “Right now we just have potential funders interested,” but once they have the application, a commitment can be more than just verbal.
Rafuse says if they are approved for the grant to hire a consultant, it will be done right away because of the amount of time the plans will take.
“We're just kind of in a little lull right now while we wait for approval on the hiring of a consultant,” she says. “They usually need about six months to create that document, so we'd probably be looking at sometime next April before we would get a document.”
In addition to seeking outside support, Rafuse says they will also be starting a fundraising campaign themselves in order to contribute to the project.
“Even though we will have major funders, we will also have to contribute as a museum, a board, and a historical society,” she says.
Because of the Acadia First Nations partnership, Rafuse says they are able to go beyond the county lines when approaching people for financial support.
“The band runs between Bold River and Yarmouth, so we're able to go to several counties to look for that support,” she says.
Both Rafuse and Boutilier believe one of the reasons they have seen such great support is because potential stakeholders are so pleased with the partnership that has formed.
“To our knowledge, the Aboriginal community has not partnered with a local museum to work with what they already have instead of building new buildings,” says Boutilier. “By forming partnerships, maybe we will be an example for other people to show that it can be done.”
She adds, “We are the pioneers in the start of doing it this way.”
In addition to the expansion, the partnership has also allowed Boutilier to move permanently into the museum and become part of the educational programming.
“I'm still employed by Acadia First Nations, but I work alongside Linda with the programming,“ says Boutilier. “Now we have a Mi’kmaw person doing a Mi’kmaw program, when before there was no one to do it.”
Boutilier says the Mi’kmaw component will be added to programs at times such as the Christmas. This was done a couple of years ago when she was training at the museum, and they are planning on bringing it back.
“We didn't celebrate Christmas, but we did celebrate the changing of the seasons,” says Boutilier. “My part will be telling them about Winter Solstice and the celebration of the changing of the seasons. We'll learn a little bit of the drumming with that.”
Boutilier says right now they are just adding to the programs that are already available, but there will be new programs eventually.
“Now we can open up to adults, where as right now our educational programming focuses on school children,” she says.
Although they won’t be available until after the expansion, Rafuse says they are also working with Nova Scotia tourism to develop visitor packages.
“They would help us develop visitor experience packages to sell,” says Rafuse. “Acadian First Nations will probably be the biggest part of the new packages.”
Rafuse says if everything goes as planned, they could be starting the physical expansion as early as 2012.
Despite disappointment from the fallout of the original interpretive centre, both Rafuse and Boutilier are confident the partnership and museum expansion will be rewarding.
“Losing the centre was disappointing, because it was a dream of so many,” says Boutilier. “But we didn't lose the dream, we just changed it.”