Stratford Perth Museum


  by Judi “Scoop” McWilliams, Festival Nomad Correspondent



“Exhibit for Shakespeare’s 1st Folio”

 The Stratford Perth Museum is dedicated to the preservation and celebration of the rich cultural heritage of the County of Perth and the City of Stratford.

You can explore their history through the artifacts and collections on display, bringing the history of the region to life. Today we drove up the driveway and were greeted by a storm of dust from the adjoining lot. A new massive Archival building is being constructed which will provide an invaluable venue to help with the ongoing pursuits to preserve, research and keep our “history alive”! The current Museum is limited in space and many of the agriculture equipment donations require a lot of space. It becomes an issue storing the items “off-site”.

Inside this beautiful historical site, we were met by Kayla Doug, Manager of Education & Public Programs. Kayla brings a great deal of knowledge with her Masters Degree in Museum Studies from the University of Toronto and a good network of educators and associations whom share their knowledge.

The Museum also has summer students who can use part of this experience for their internship. A great recent experience was the celebrations of “Shakespeare” and his 450th Birthday. The Stratford Perth Museum was privileged to host the “1st Folio”. The Museum is also partnering with the Stratford Festival, contributing part of the collection as a vibrant agricultural community. The Museum was excited to host such a wonderful Festival exhibit and share it with the community. General Manager, John Kastner, told with us that they had brokered an amazing relationship with the Stratford Festival.

There was an Uptown Exhibit but large rent contributed to an ongoing economic loss and perhaps a losing proposition. When consideration was given to hosting the “1st Folio”, the University of Toronto also took into consideration that this precious rare presentation would require a curate environment, that of a Museum.

This exhibit increased the box office sales by about 300% in audience. After all, this is the only time in Canada this 1630 printed Shakespeare 1st Folio” has been presented.

Kayla was keen to share some of her exciting plans for the future. One of the fun programs in place now, are artifacts that children (kids young and old), can try to guess what the artifact was used for “back in the day”. They take many of the programs to local fairs and schools to share the experiences as well.

Another fun activity for children is their “scavenger hunt”. There are clues around the Museum and a check list for the children to follow. The secret … if you pay attention to the names of the labels on items as you tour, you just might remember some “clues” to help win the hunt!

The “winners” receive a coupon for the local “Boston Pizza”. The Museum is pleased and grateful to be working with Boston Pizza.

As always, I was interested to learn just how many volunteers contributed to the strength of the Museum. About 50 volunteers contribute. While we were there, one gentleman was in the garden making wooden boxes for a fun archeological dig they were going to offer in upcoming days ahead.

An ongoing concern is the “aging population” of the volunteer base. It will be vital in the upcoming years to try to keep engaging the Youth of our society, young families who can share the experience together to ensure this important component of Stratford/Perth continues for year to come! John tells us they do have an initiative “Visa” a three year strategic plan of recruitment, retention and modules being put in place to work the plan.  

This Stratford Perth Museum is not quite like any others we have come across recently. They encourage visitors to engage in a “hands-on” type of experience.

The Museum is not full of glass cases. This is one rare experience of actually “seeing up close and personal”. While we were there John showed us costumes from the Stratford Festival on display. You could get up close and “posse” for a photo opportunity.

John said they have survived over 300 years, another few photos and being “alive” should not cause harm. “The Birds & the Beats” was fascinating to look at. A sign on a chair by a display said “Take a seat, be a part of the festival audience”.

It was truly an enjoyable and fun time! Mr. Kastner tells us that this Museum will never again be a “typical museum”, never a “typical exhibit” in the traditional manor that some people are used to. This Museum engages the audience, both the children and adults, and welcomes them to take the time and embrace the past.

Here I was able to ask John how he felt or the Museum addressed concerns from “true historians” that may not agree with the “authenticity” of what they are presenting. He responded … “it’s like golf” … if you do the things you’ve always done forever and expect change, and you keep doing the same things over and over and expect different results, they won’t. Regardless of the standards in the industry, John and the Museum feel change is needed to engage the audience and keep “History Alive”!

While spending some time with Mr. John Kastner, General Manager of the Museum, John tells us he is a recently retired writer of 33 years, previous Manager/Editor/Sports Editor for 18 years for the “Stratford Beacon Herald”,

John’s passion goes back to history, where he majored in English and History. John told us that the Museum has had about 3 major location changes and now hopes to call RR#5 Stratford home. The Museum is made up of a Board of Directors and funded by the City and County.

For history, arts and culture, the Municipality is 100% behind the Museum. John agreed to write a “grant proposal” for the Museum and was successful. He says there is a mallet of depth when grant writing and it was not an easy process. This topic has been discussed quite often by Ontario Visited where discuss some of the challenges of “Grants” and the entire process. The newly constructed historical site entrance has been a large asset for the Museum, John tells us, “is a game changer for us!”

Previously visitors did not know what door to enter at. The home is large and several options seemed possible. Now there is a clear distinction and signs welcoming the visitors. A clear site-line upon entering to the information booth is helpful. The previous kitchen was broken up and partly used for the staff offices, now it is quaint, historically designed to be of the early 1940’s ~ 50’s period and very accessible. If you look closely, this kitchen is a “functioning kitchen”.

The fridge even works allowing visitors to enjoy treats, snacks in the setting of this period setting. The Rotary Club was a gracious contributor to enhance the patron flow of this project and the “Moving of the Door” project! John told us that the Museum stands by … “Your Community. Your Museum”! It’s worth a trip to the Stratford Perth Museum. 

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