Our new City Hall Foyer mini-exhibit, installed this week, shows off the Fort Heritage Precinct’s recent acquisitions from 2017 to 2019. Since museums only display around 2 – 5% of their collections at any given time, recent acquisition exhibits are a common way to share new donations with the public without the context of a themed exhibit. They are usually quick and easy to put together and can provide a convenient stopgap in the exhibit schedule for curators to work on more complex exhibits. They are also a nice way to thank donors for their generosity.
Recent acquisition exhibits are also an opportunity to communicate the museum’s mission and collecting policies. A common lament held by curators, registrars, and collections managers is that the public often thinks of museums as “repositories for old things.” Museums, however, do not, and cannot, collect any old object. We strive to create and maintain active collections. Active collections support the museum’s mission statement.
Our new exhibit outlines the Fort Heritage Precinct’s mission and explains how we determine what belongs in our permanent collection of nearly 30,000 objects, documents, and photographs.
The Fort Heritage Precinct Mission Statement
“Through the collection, research, preservation, and interpretation of local history, we create an environment of inspiration for our regional community to discover the development of Fort Saskatchewan and surrounding areas and its relevance to Western Canadian and Canadian history.”
The mission statement is the guiding principle that museums use to organize their policies and activities. This includes a collections plan. A collections plan outlines the scope of a museum’s collections, its strengths and weaknesses, what objects should be deaccessioned (removed from the collection), and what types of objects the museum should focus on collecting.
As an active collecting museum and historic site, the Fort Heritage Precinct receives many donation offers every year. We greatly appreciate every offer and carefully take into account how each potential donation may contribute to supporting our mission. Unfortunately, many donations do not fit our mission or collections plan. They frequently lack information about their history (provenance), or the donor purchased the item(s) at garage sales or antique stores. Sometimes, when it fits our needs, we take these objects into our programming collection. The programming collection consists of props used for décor in our historical village and replica North-West Mounted Police Fort, and a working collection for educational purposes.
Another reason for declining a donation offer is that we might not have the capacity to care for a particular object. Aside from money, storage issues are the most common problem across the museum sector. Almost every museum is bursting at the seams. Large items require lots of storage space and most museums are struggling to find room for what they already have. Donors expect their gifts will receive the best possible care to preserve them for future generations, and museums ensure this by limiting acquisitions to donations that create and sustain active collections. Each object, document, and photograph we accept at the Fort Heritage Precinct should support our mission and help tell the varied and unique stories that comprise Fort Saskatchewan’s history. That is how we will best preserve our community’s past for the future.
If you have an object, photograph, or document that you think would be a great addition to the Fort Heritage Precinct’s collection, please contact the curator at [email protected]