2017-04-19

Town won’t change mind about DesBrisay Museum, says mayor

by Keith Corcoran

  • <p>KEITH CORCORAN PHOTO</p><p>Bridgewater&#8217;s DesBrisay Museum is located off Jubilee Road.</p>

Bridgewater's mayor says there's no appetite for town council to reconsider its decision to make DesBrisay Museum a seasonal operation from a year-round one.

David Mitchell said "the numbers speak for themselves" and the correspondence released at council's April 10 meeting about the issue didn't change council's ultimate, but not unanimous, choice.

The six pieces of correspondence - an equal number in support and against council's decision - included notes from an ex-town councillor and a former curator of the museum.

Sandra Mailman, who served on council between 2012 and 2016, expressed disappointment.

"In this day and age people are searching for their ancestors, not just by using the internet, but by travelling to museums to learn everything about how they lived and worked. We have that to offer as the best museum of its kind in the province."

Mailman, who was a heritage advisory committee member and served on the museum commission, suggested council was turning it's back on staff and volunteers.

Former curator Gary Selig wrote council urging reconsideration.

"Those on council who feel the decision to reduce the level of service of your museum is a major decision, with long-lasting ramifications, are most certainly correct," Selig wrote in part. "This may well be one time that changing ones mind saved the day, and many days to come."

But other writers welcomed council's choice. Barry Whynot, for one, called it a "no-brainer."

"Winter visits are low, summer visits higher, most museums of this size are seasonal and the costs to keep it open year-round are astronomical. If you take the emotion out of it, which is how you as politicians have to do it, it was only logical to change to a seasonal operation. Taxpayers cannot continually fund money losing operations that don't have broad support."

Tim Fiendel wrote, "My background is in finance and I can tell you that it makes perfect sense to reduce the financial risk to the town while maximizing your exposure to visitors during the summer. Anyone can see that. You must look at things like this as a business would."

Town council voted 4-3 in March to reduce the Jubilee Road facility to a seasonal operation starting this fall. Mitchell was joined by Deputy Mayor Andrew Tanner and councillors Michael Graves and Bill McInnis in supporting the motion. Councillors Cheryl Fougere, Jennifer McDonald and Wayne Thorburne voted against the change.

Bridgewater predicts it will achieve $85,000 in cost savings in 2018-19. The change impacts three jobs.

Mitchell has said costs associated with the town-owned DesBrisay, such as a $160,000 town grant and $240,000 in salary and administration, have been a topic of discussion for years and visitation numbers suggest most people who check out the museum do so between May and October.

Supporters of the museum counter that the change in status greatly diminishes the museum's role in town and beyond.

The museum, established as a Canada centennial project in 1967, holds the oldest municipally-owned collection in Nova Scotia and was recently ranked top among community museums by the Association of Nova Scotia Museums.

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