Conversations with Our New Neighbours

By Heather Wilson

Since the Fall I have been working on a very special project, one that has me reflecting on the many hats of an archivist, and our role as stewards of living history. Some days you can find me where you might expect, hidden in the vault amongst shelves full of massive bound volumes, and boxes upon boxes of photographs, maps, letters, diaries and a myriad of other documents. This project has me stepping out from behind the stacks into a very different role, and has given me the opportunity to meet a number of wonderful people from our community. We feel very fortunate that they have chosen to trust us with their stories, and we can’t wait to share them with you!

Maged Hosni, a Syrian Refugee, migrated to Napanee with his wife and four kids in 2016

A little bit of backstory. As we looked forward to the arrival of Refuge Canada which tells the larger story of Canada’s role in immigration around the world, we wanted to find a way to share the stories of recent newcomers to our own community. Knowing these stories were missing from our current collections, we reached out to our community seeking individuals who would be willing to share their own immigration stories, or that of their parents or grandparents. Our intention was to highlight and celebrate our local diversity. But we didn’t want to create something temporary, we wanted these stories to preserved as part of our community’s history. We are aware of the gaps in our collections, and we are seeking change, working to ensure that our holdings truly represent our communities as a whole.

Valente Family Kingston Portugese Society

And so the door was opened for me to take the lead on launching our oral history program. While this is not my first foray into oral history, it has truly been an eye opening experience. The stories I’ve had the pleasure of recording are touching, at times heartbreaking, full of wisdom, and always thought provoking. Everyone has a different perspective to offer, and they have truly changed my own. There is something so special and powerful about hearing these stories told by those who lived them. The tone of their voice, the pauses… these reveal so much that would otherwise be lost.    

Susi Reinink on her farm in Desmond

Recording these stories has not come without challenges. Finding a quiet, private place to carry out these interviews where our participants can feel comfortable and safe. Dealing with technical glitches on the fly. Coordinating schedules and cancellations through wintery weather. And while not all have come to us as refugees, these interviews have nonetheless brought up some very sensitive topics, and navigating these has been both personally challenging and rewarding. My goal has been to create a safe space for individuals to share their stories, and I have found it very important to take the time to build a relationship and lay the foundations of trust with all of our participants before diving in. While we have been working on a short timeline to get our first stories in so we can share them in our exhibit this spring, my personal mantra has been “don’t rush this. It will all come together.” And I couldn’t be more thrilled with what we have been able to achieve in such a short time. We’ve cast our net wide to our neighboring communities of Kingston and Belleville to get the ball rolling, but I feel confident the relationships we have built over the past few months will help this project take on a life of its own in the months to come. I can’t wait to see where we go.

George (Lee Mon Pon) and Charley (Lee Mon Yew) Lee, West Ward School Napanee 1915, shortly after their arrival in Canada aged 12 and 10

This new oral history project has given us the opportunity to expand our collections through new relationships we are building in our community. We are delighted with the response we have had so far. It is our living history project; there is no end date in sight. Instead we have set goals for ourselves to expand further this year, and have high hopes that it will continue to change and grow with us for years to come. The first stories that have come to us are highlighted in our new exhibit, Welcome Home: Conversations With our New Neighbours, which is launching this week. You can get a sneak peak of that here, and we hope you will come join us in person to hear these stories. This is only the start. If you have your own immigration story to share, or you know someone else in our community who does, we would love to hear from you anytime!

Hardik Patel (fourth from left) hosting Diwali in Belleville

Busy Behind the Scenes

By Liz Watkins-McLean

Happy New Year! Although I was only at the Museum for five months in 2022, it certainly feels like we completed a year’s worth of activity in that time alone!

Team photo before we broke for a short holiday break at the end of December. From L-R, Heather, Liz, Alannah, JoAnne

The month of December felt like a grand finale of sorts at the Museum. “A Winter’s Eve Light” that took place on December 13th brought in about 1500 (!) people to the Museum, the biggest crowd it has seen in a long time. After that event, we were all able to catch our breath for a moment, but January is proving to be a very busy month, too. Not in a “1500-people-at-the-museum” sense, but a hub of activity behind the scenes.

A full crowd waiting to see NorthFIRE Circus!

The team is working on four brand new exhibit installations, developing a suite of programs and events for the Winter (including March Break!), processing artifact and archival donations…AND we are workshopping a brand new mission and vision for the Museum that will guide our work for the next five years, to boot!

January has always felt like a good planning time for me. Not because it’s a new calendar year – in fact, it always felt funny to me that we start a New Year in the middle of Winter – but because Winter in this part of the world feels quiet everywhere…it feels more natural to do work that is more inward than outward. At the time of writing this, we only have about ten hours of daylight, but by the time all these new exhibits are launched and programs taking place, we will have gained another hour of daylight for a grand total of eleven hours! It may not sound like much, but that consistent increase in daylight helps energize us, and may make it easier for you to leave the house and come to the Museum 😉 

See? We're getting there!

If you’ve been watching our social media channels (and if you haven’t, please do! We’re on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube), you may know some of the exhibits that will be in place by the end of this month, but here is a quick summary…you can click on each title and it will take you to the webpage with more information about it:

Refuge Canada – A travelling exhibit from the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21. Refuge Canada provides context for Canada’s place in the global refugee crisis and brings to light the challenges faced by people who came to Canada as refugees.

Helping Hands – Features some hidden gems from both the museum and archival collections. Stories of home front help during the World Wars, overseas assistance, and glimpses of help in the aftermath of the Vietnam War.  

Letters Home – an archival display featuring The “Marshall” letters came to us as part of a Tamworth Red Cross collection donated to the Museum this past summer. These letters were written by soldiers from the village of Tamworth, who were serving overseas during the Second World War.

Welcome Home – Conversations with New Neighbours*webpage in development… come back soon! – While hosting Refuge Canada, we wanted to share some local perspectives. This exhibit features stories from recent newcomers or children of newcomers from L & A County. Their conversations reveal a journey that forever changed their world.

Refuge Canada

Like I said… there’s a lot happening! What I love about my role is that I am always learning. With our frequently rotating exhibits, I get to learn about new topics and come up with creative ways to tell you all about them online! That alone gives me a bit of an energy boost during this otherwise sluggish time of year.

To brighter days ahead!

Museum hours

Monday – Saturday: 10am–5pm

Macpherson House & Park hours

Closed for the season – stay tuned for 2023 updates

Archives Hours

Monday – Friday: 10am – 12pm*, 1pm –4pm

*closed from 12pm –  1pm 

Museum and Archives daily rate

Adults (ages 13+): $3
Children (ages 12 and under): free

Museum & Archives location

97 Thomas St E, Napanee, ON K7R 4B9

Macpherson House & Park location

180 Elizabeth Street, Napanee, ON K7R 1B5