The Sault Ste. Marie Museum, at the corner of Queen and East Streets, is the subject of this week’s SooToday Midweek Mugging.
The museum building itself is unique, with its three floors of exhibit space (unusual for a community museum) and its landmark clock tower.
Julia Piskiewicz, the museum’s director/curator, and Ric Datson, assistant curator, currently make up the museum’s two-person staff, hoping to hire a third employee to help out with the museum’s outreach and education department (the museum employs students during summer months, with volunteers another valuable asset).
Owned by the City of Sault Ste. Marie, the museum receives funding from all three levels of government, along with revenue from visitor admission.
Ric, a Sault native, has worked at the museum since 2005, starting off by scanning historical photographs.
“I think (preserving) the history of the Sault is very important for people who live here, people who have moved here, to know what the city’s all about, how it’s progressed.”
“It’s important to me because I enjoy local history and the old buildings we have in this town,” Ric said.
Ric, a drummer in two local bands (Bone Yard and Mojo), recently put together a new permanent exhibit showcasing the Sault’s musical history on the museum’s third floor.
“I knew a lot of other musicians and I asked them if they had any photos and other memorabilia they could get for me, and a lot of them helped me out big time. It’s a tribute to local players from all genres, back to the 1920s.”
“Reaction to that has been good. If somebody’s picture is in there, they’ll bring their families and friends down to show them, and a lot of people can remember seeing a lot of these bands play, so it’s a really neat thing.”
Visitors to the museum come from all over the world, Ric said, many of them (including some locals as well) not realizing how historic the Sault is.
While many lament the Sault has stagnated, Ric said “it’s important to look back and see where we’ve come from (how the city has, in fact, grown over the years).”
“The waterfront’s changed. We’ve got a photo in the back from 1958 on the wall, showing the oil tanks, Station Mall wasn’t there yet, so it’s totally changed and important to see things like that,” adding he enjoys looking at museum photos of local restaurants which are no-longer-in existence.
“It makes you feel good, it brings back a lot of good memories of where our parents used to take us,” Ric said.
Recent changes and additions to the museum include the new Clock Tower Gift Shop with Sault Ste. Marie Museum swag, new flooring, outreach efforts consisting of pop-up exhibits in Station Mall and at Rotaryfest, and, hopefully, new exhibit cases coming soon, along with new partitions to create more modern and attractive exhibits.
“There are going to be huge changes, like a brand new place,” Ric said.
“The museum, for me, is a symbol of the history, heritage and culture of Sault Ste. Marie. It is the repository of the past,” said Julia, the museum stocked with over 50,000 artifacts and close to 300,000 digitized archival items.
“Seeing an artifact in person is different than reading about it or seeing a photograph of it, it provides our tourists, our visitors and our community with a tangible connection to the past. When we have school tours come in, it’s not enough just to talk to children about what was, you need to provide them with something they can look at and touch, for proof.”
Julia is a Toronto native, a graduate of the University of Toronto’s Art History and Medieval Studies program, with a post-graduate certificate in Museum Management and Curatorship from Sir Sandford Fleming College.
She first moved to the Sault in 2013 and worked as a research assistant at the Art Gallery of Algoma (AGA), helping the gallery prepare for its 40th anniversary year in 2015.
After a stint at the Fort Frances Museum and Cultural Centre, Julia became the Sault Ste. Marie Museum’s new director/curator in Aug. 2016.
“I love the outdoors, so the Sault is perfect,” said Julia, whose interests include music, reading, continuous learning and, of course, visiting other museums and art galleries.
The museum’s building itself is historic, construction of it beginning in 1902 and completed in 1906, having served as a Post Office and home to other government offices before the 49th Field Regiment R.C.A. and the Sault Ste. Marie and 49th Field Regiment R.C.A. Historical Society opened the building as a museum in 1983.
Hours of operation, admission fees, contact information and more can be found on the Sault Ste. Marie Museum’s website