By Kes Murray, Registrar
Ever since I was young, I have loved museums. All that history and knowledge within one building spurred me from gallery to gallery. Flash forward to today. Me, a recent graduate with a museum studies degree and one year of experiences working in three different museums.
As we enter into a new year, I like to reflect upon my 2021. Like everyone, 2021 was a challenging year. From online school, to trying to balance my personal and professional life, I was constantly burnt-out. Thankfully, one shining light of 2021 was all the museums I had the pleasure of working in. In total, I worked in three museums. Now, please don’t mind me as I reminisce about my 2021 museum adventures.
Royal Ontario Museum
At the start of 2021, I began my journey at the Royal Ontario Museum. The ROM is one of the largest museums in Canada, and navigating this large institution taught me many things.
At the ROM, I worked in the Registration Department. If you are unfamiliar with the role of a museum registrar, don’t worry! I was too. I learned that a registrar is mainly responsible for museum objects that enter and leave the museum. This includes travelling exhibits, loans to other museums, and objects that are leaving the museum’s collection permanently. Because of the diverse tasks a registrar must do, they have to be knowledgeable in many areas of museum work, like how to properly handle museum objects, how to write copyright agreements, and how to process objects that come into the museum.
The absolute highlight of my time here happened in January 2021. I was invited to help de-install a travelling exhibition. The registrar’s part in this is straightforward; all objects that are leaving need to be inspected to see if something has happened to them during their time on display. This process is called condition reporting. Along with some other tasks, my week went by very quickly.
As I reflect on my time there, I realize the depth of my learning. I learned here how to process objects that are coming into the museum’s collection, how to be observant that meet museum standards, how to work with other departments, and, most importantly, not to be afraid to ask questions.
Algonquin Provincial Park
I always remember that museum can be found just about anywhere. My adventure into Algonquin Park was a big reminder of this. In September 2021, I began a month-and-a-half contract in Algonquin Park as a museum technician.
I have never in my life lived outside of southern Ontario. So, moving to a provincial park in Central Ontario seemed rather intimidating. And it was quite the drive, let me tell you. But, after a six hour drive from London, Ontario, I arrived.
My experience in Algonquin was like nothing I have ever experienced in a museum setting before. I mainly worked at the Visitor Centre at the information desk. I answered questions and watched over the bookstore. The Visitor Centre was a unique building. It housed the Friends of Algonquin offices, where I worked, and also a lookout deck and a museum that took you through the natural and human history of the park. My favourite part of working at the Visitor Centre was the Visitor Animal sightings board, a simple white board where visitors can record their wildlife sightings. Everyday, visitors would record different animals they saw. It was hard not to be excited with them. From moose sightings to wolf sightings, it was an excellent way of seeing animal movement in the park, and maybe a good recommendation to another visitor where they may see a grouse or a Canada Jay.
Other times, I worked at the Logging Museum. The Logging Museum happened to be a part of one of the Park’s trails. So when I was at the Logging Museum, I got to walk the trail at least once a day to make sure all the structures on the trail undamaged.
And of course it wouldn’t be Algonquin without a fun animal story. The trail at the Logging Museum passes a creek, where a mischievous beaver would regularly dam the log shute, a structure that tells one part of the history of logging in the park. Apparently, this happens a lot, and when I told my supervisor of the clogged shute, I was met with sighs and shaking heads. The beaver had struck again.
My last museum journey of 2021 brought me here, to the Oshawa Museum. The beginning of December 2021, I started as one of two registrars working on a large backlog of donations to the museum. Now, I’m on the waterfront. From being in the urban jungle of downtown Toronto, to the forests of Algonquin Park, to Lake Ontario, I feel like I have seen all the wonderful places in Ontario where museums are situated.
As for my work here, I have sorted through brochures, photographs, and now cassettes. Myself and the other registrar, Savannah, have made a considerable and noticeable dent in the backlogged donations. Every day brings its own fascinating discovery and challenge. As we move further into the New Year, I am very eager to continue my work here, to say the least.
Every 2021 museum I worked in was, to me, an adventure. I didn’t know what to expect and came somewhat prepared. Navigating a new workplace and environment brought its own challenges. But, if I had the chance to do it all again, I would.
As the New Year is a time of reflection of the year that has past and the year to come, I am excited for what 2022 has in store for me, especially if it means more museums.