Cape Breton museums need to be supported

I was saddened to read on the Cape Breton Post website of the dire financial situation that the Glace Bay Heritage Museum finds itself in.

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to partake in a tour of the museum, presented by museum curator Elke Ibrahim, and was thoroughly impressed by the work of those who have put the museum and its exhibitions together. It provides a thorough history of the former Town of Glace Bay, as well as an understanding of Industrial Cape Breton throughout the 20th century.

It is certainly a treasure and, if lost, will not be replaceable. The history contained within those walls is certainly not going to be found through a Google search.

I grew up in Sydney and being interested in our local history I have attempted to seek out information on the various municipalities that existed in Cape Breton County prior to 1995. That said, I must tell you that aside from the wonderful collection housed by the Glace Bay Heritage Museum, as well as the other local historical museums in each community, there is very little information available. That is a tragedy.

Prior to 1995 there were eight municipalities making up what is now the Cape Breton Regional Municipality (CBRM), most having existed for 100 years or more. Yet there is very little information about these institutions and their history.

For example, if you were born after 1985, you probably don’t know about the great storm which battered Sydney out of the blue in the 1970s which made national headlines (I learnt that during a conversation with a former City of Sydney alderman). Actually, you probably wouldn’t even know that councillors in the former City of Sydney were called alderman. How about the Sydney courthouse fire of 1966? Haven’t heard of it? That’s a shame as it was a big part of our local history.

These are just a few examples of events which are vanishing from our collective memory. Think of all the people and their stories which deserve to be remembered but are being forgotten because we aren’t properly funding our local museums and historical institutions. It’s very sad and future generations will be short-changed on a full and adequate understanding of our community and its story, especially if the institutions that are working so hard to preserve our local history are deprived of funding such that they are forced to wind up and close.

I hope that the CBRM and the province can find funds to sustain the volunteer-driven institutions which are working extremely hard to preserve as much of our local history as they possibly can. Ibrahim and her counterparts at the local historical institutions across the municipality deserve a standing ovation and their institutions deserve adequate operational funding ($40,000 is a very, very small price to pay for the enormous service that these institutions provide to our community). They certainly do not deserve to be begging for basic funding in order to keep the lights burning and the water pipes unfrozen.

It is volunteers who make Cape Breton the great place it is – ordinary, hard-working people who give their free time to make the community a better place,. Yet the local and provincial governments seem only to let these hard-working volunteers down.

Shame on the politicians for letting it come to this. I would say that they will be judged harshly by history but it would seem that there will not be any local historical institutions left to ensure anyone remembers them – the irony!

This piece was originally published in the Cape Breton Post on 23 March 2018.