COLUMN: Sarnia needs its own museum

Ottawa gave the City of Windsor $2 million toward a $6.2-million community museum last week.

Expected to open next year on the ground floor of the Art Gallery of Windsor, the new museum’s exhibitions and galleries will tell the story of the Rose City, from its francophone heritage to its auto industry.

Why do we care? Because a community museum is the one important cultural institution Sarnia does not have, but needs, badly.

We’re supposedly celebrating a Centennial this year, a milestone marked by the arrival of the Duke of Connaught and his daughter to the new city of 10,000 citizens in 1914.

But what remains from that day to commemorate exactly, other than a few grainy photos?

The duke planted a tree, the princess sipped tea, and, as the Sarnia Observer reported recently, the manager of Imperial Oil hired the Industrial Motion Picture Company to film the celebrations and make it available to all Canadians.

A museum is a permanent institution that serves its community by acquiring and exhibiting its heritage, tangible and otherwise. If Sarnia did have its own museum, that royal shovel, teacup and newsreel would be on display today for all to see, making something as abstract as a date feel real.

To be fair, Sarnia does have Stones ‘N Bones, an excellent private museum devoted to fossils and gems. And the 403 Wing did mount a comprehensive military history exhibit.

But what’s lacking is a comprehensive space to care for the community’s entire cultural and historical story. And what a story it is.

The land that became Sarnia was the nexus of aboriginal trade routes and fishing camps for thousands of years, archeology has shown.  And where are those artifacts? In London, in storage, at Western University.

Countless innovations in agriculture, shipping and manufacturing began right here in Sarnia, and the products of its petrochemical facilities continue to be shipped around the globe.

And where can one learn about that? The Lambton County archives in Wyoming, the Oil Museum of Canada in Oil Springs, and the Lambton Heritage Museum near Grand Bend.

In fact, the Heritage Museum has so much Sarnia stuff piled up that most of it is gathering dust in storage.

Sarnia doesn’t need a Louvre or Prado. But for the enjoyment of citizens today and the education of generations to come, Sarnia deserves to have its own museum.

– George Mathewson