KIRKLAND LAKE – A Northern Ontario town is standing firm on its decision to defund its museum.

Kirkland Lake council is encouraging a group of residents hoping to save the Museum of Northern History to find alternative funding in order to help keep its doors open.

“I am a history major. I believe in the importance of history. But I also want to make sure that the Town of Kirkland Lake can prosper for generations to come. We can’t keep dipping into reserves to balance our budgets,” said Coun. Casey Owens.

“It’s not a question of, well, do we want to keep it? No, we won’t be able to keep it. Our reserves are going to run out and taxes are going to have to go up. So somewhere, we have to find that balance.”

In March, Kirkland Lake announced that it’s ending its lease agreement with the Ontario Heritage Trust (OHT) for the Sir Harry Oakes Château. The Museum of Northern History, which is located in the building, will be open to the public throughout the summer, with operations ending on Sept. 1 and the town leaving the property by the end of the year.

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At the June 4 meeting, council approved a motion to have staff arrange a meeting with The Oakes Project: Heritage, Arts and Tourism (TOPHAT), the group hoping to save the museum, and OHT.

During the discussion, Mayor Stacy Wight said there have been nearly 20 public meetings about the issue since December 2020.

“Each of those meetings consistently stated the status quo is unsustainable for the community and alternatives needed to be sought. It has been a consistent message for the last three years and three months leading up to the March 19 meeting,” Wight said.

During their delegation to council, TOPHAT mentioned that it has ties to corporate entities, but in her motion Wight said “to date, there has been no authorized communication regarding this matter with outside entities.” 

During the meeting, Wight said council isn’t budging on its decision.

“Kirkland Lake does not own the building, known as the Museum of Northern History. It is owned by an entity whose mandate is to protect and preserve Ontario’s historic buildings. The town cannot use that asset to leverage any borrowing power or other requirements. And the claims that funds may be available for operating costs of five years leaves another 12 years of the lease on the backs of our community members,” she said.

“We were elected to make decisions in the best interest of our community. And now the question is, do we have the wherewithal to stand behind our decisions, no matter how hard they are, or when we simply take it down the road for a future council.”

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About 20 years ago, the council of the day closed Culver Park, said Coun. Rick Owen.

“That is when a group of volunteers stepped forward to form the Culver Park Operating Authority. And as we all know, Culver Park is still operating today. I find the situation with the museum and the fate of Culver Park very similar,” he said.

A not-for-profit called the Toburn Operating Authority was also established to save the Toburn Mine Property at the east entrance to Kirkland Lake, Owen said.

“We own the land. They operate the facility. It costs the taxpayer nothing. And it preserved the heritage. I would like to see the same thing happen with the museum,” he said.

“I know that many of our volunteers are very passionate about keeping the museum at the château. If they put that passion into action, then just like Culver Park and Toburn Mine Property, the museum could remain at the château.”

Council often has to make unpopular decisions, Owen said.

“But I didn’t run to be popular. I ran to try and see this community thrive and move ahead. So I’m hoping that this group will call the Toburn Operating Authority and the Culver Park Operating Authority and the town will be out from underneath the $255,000 a year deficit.”

In 2002, Wight said an amendment was passed to set out the process to dispose of artifacts in case of the dissolution of the museum.

“My guess is this isn’t the first time a council has been faced with this decision. But now, 22 more years have passed since 2002,” she said.

“We’ve heard the voices that advocate for the use of this building. We want to see this group of community members succeed, but not to the detriment of other community members. I hope they are able to leverage their connections to work on a plan of action with OHT.”

By Marissa Lentz, Local Journalism Initiative

Original Published on Jun 06, 2024 at 07:18

This item reprinted with permission from   Timmins, Ontario

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