Mac Christie Flamborough Review Friday, November 20, 2020
Waterdown’s Garth Wetherall is launching a crusade to bring a permanent museum to the community.
Wetherall, a Waterdown native whose family has been in the area since 1851, is a retired Canada Post employee and former Canadian reservist. He said he thinks the time is ripe for a museum, something doubly important because of the growth in the community.
“Waterdown is growing at an astronomical pace and I thought, ‘Jeeze, before this slips away let’s get the ball rolling on this,’” said Wetherall.
A history buff who has travelled to battlefields from the First and Second World Wars close to 20 times and laid wreaths on behalf of Canada Post at both the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge and the centennial of the signing of the Armistice that brought an end to the First World War in Mons, Belgium, Wetherall said he has always been interested in Waterdown and Flamborough history — including the Carlisle, Freelton and all the surrounding communities.
“I’ve been involved with different museums before and I knew they all came from a grassroots effort,” he said,. “I always wondered at the back of my mind, why don’t we have one here?”
Wetherall has been collecting Waterdown historical artifacts for years, including a file from the early mills, a piece of narrow gauge railway track that was used to build the railway through Waterdown, wheels from the mills and a piece of the original telephone pole from the community.
To get the ball rolling, Wetherall posted in the Waterdown Memories Facebook page, receiving a great deal of support — both online and in person.
“I thought, now is the time — let’s go after this,” he said. “My idea was to get the community involved and say, ‘Is there anybody out there that really wants to move forward with this?’
“We’ve tried it before, but now is the time to do it.”
Wetherall said he has been gathering names of people who are interested.
“In opening a museum, you’ve got governance issues, fiduciary obligations and all that — but that’s when you get a roof over your head,” he said. “I think if we pull together as a group and say, ‘This is what we want,’ I’m sure some people would come out of the woodwork.”
Waterdown District High School history teacher Rob Flosman, who presides over the school’s student-run Waterdown Museum of History, has been advocating for a permanent community museum for years.
However, he said two things are necessary in order to have a permanent museum in the community — money and a venue.
Flosman said the museum at the high school, which is curated by Grade 11 students for two weeks each semester, now houses about 1,300 artifacts and is reaching the point where it needs a permanent home.
“Eventually, this is going to exceed the space allotted for our building.”
Flosman said he has previously attempted to find a permanent home for the museum, and approached the Waterdown Legion about serving as the venue.
While the proposal was to use the Legion’s upstairs as the permanent home, something Flosman said would be “perfect,” that didn’t come to fruition, as the Legion relies on the rental income from the upstairs space. He said the Legion was very kind and offered a section of the upstairs space, but as it was smaller than the current museum space, it didn’t make sense.
“We need about that big of a space,” he said of the Legion space, which is two to three times larger than the current classroom capacity.
However, he said there would also have to be a permanent staff — and it is vital to keep the student connection to the museum
“My vision would be a permanent museum that students would do co-ops in and there would be a course attached to,” he said, adding a space would also need to be within walking distance to WDHS. “It would be a shame to lose to the student connection — that’s the one thing that I’m afraid of, if it moves out of here is that it is taken over and the students are forgotten.
“The vision is to have students running, at least part of the museum.”
Wetherall said the WDHS museum is incredible and agrees it is important to maintain the student connection, adding he also sees it as a key to get youth interested and involved in the history of the community.
“It connects the community to the past,” he said of a museum, “but as it’s connecting us to the past, it is leading us into the future.”
Currently, Waterdown has the Flamborough Archives, housed in the Waterdown branch of the Hamilton Public Library. From a historical standpoint, Flosman said while the Archives are great, are not a visceral experience.
“It’s not a, ‘hands-on, artifacts, look at the history of Waterdown’ museum,” he said. “It’s more just documents.
“I think a community the size of this can go and see the wonderful history of Waterdown.”
Flamborough Archives archivist Lyn Lunsted said it would be great to have a museum in Waterdown, but stressed there are several hurdles to overcome first.
“It would really be nice to have something,” she said. “You need a space, you need money to set it up properly.
“You’re looking for something that’s fairly large and I think you’d need to staff it with at least one paid person.”
She agreed with Wetherall that it is important to highlight the history of the area with all the growth in the community.
“I think there’s a lot here and the people who are moving in have no idea about the history,” she said. “I think if you had a museum, you could let people know how the community came to be, why it came to be.”
Lunsted said she thinks the Archives would be interested in a partnership with a potential museum.
“We do have some artifacts — not a lot, because I just don’t have the space to store them,” she said.
She said occasionally they do get offered clothes or furniture from early settlers of the area, and unfortunately, she has to decline them, sometimes sending them to Westfield Heritage Village and hope that they can find a home for it.
Lunsted said she sees a museum as a great way to move forward with historical outreach to the community.
“There’s a lot more that we could do and I think a museum would bring that to the forefront,” she said. “There are so many different displays you could put out, so many artifacts and I think if we had some place to store them people would start to donate and bring out things that they’ve had in their families and didn’t know what to do with.”
She said she plans to meet with staff from the Dundas Museum to get a better idea of the steps necessary to move forward with a museum.
According to the Dundas Museum website, the idea of a community museum was suggested in a 1941 Dundas Star article, and in 1954 land was donated to build a museum by Della Pirie. The museum broke ground in 1955 and opened to the public in 1956.
It was later incorporated as a charitable non-profit in 1962. Most recently, the facility was renovated in 2012 and opened to the public in 2013. It currently has nine staff members.
Ward 15 Coun. Judi Partridge said she is very supportive of a permanent Waterdown or Flamborough museum.
“I love the idea,” she said of a museum. “I think it’s great.”
She said the WDHS students have done an amazing job with the museum.
“We need to be able to find a permanent home, not only for that museum, but potentially for a community museum,” she said.
However, she said it would be difficult for the city to fund a museum.
“There are so many pressures on the city right now,” she said. “Not to mention we have a $300-million infrastructure deficit.”
Wetherall said the community has a rich history, with deep military roots, the mills on Grindstone Creek.
“We’ve got so many themes,” he said. “A museum can get boring with one theme of one thing — but we’ve got so many things in town.
“We’re rich in history — filthy rich.”
In the immediate short term, Wetherall said he wants to bring together interested stakeholders from the community to gauge the interest and chart a path to see how they can move forward.
In fact, he has already registered the domain name www.waterdownmuseum.com.
“I’m maybe a bit of a bull in the china shop when I’m going for it, but I think that’s maybe what we need right now,” he said. “A museum is my dream — my life escapade is to get a museum in Waterdown.
“I realize it’s a huge undertaking, but I think if we don’t start now, we’re going to get outgrown to the point where we wouldn’t be able to start.”
Anyone who is interested in taking part in bringing a permanent museum to Waterdown is invited to contact Wetherall at firstname.lastname@example.org.