Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Friday, October 30, 2015

Now you see you don't

I was at Bellevue NHS in Kingston recently - one of two stops (well three, if you include the convivial lunch at Sir John A pub) which the Friends of Glanmore made on our annual volunteer development day, organized and led by museum staff Melissa and Danielle. Each stop provided a behind the scenes visit to a museum site, with presentations by host staff.
from a previous visit; the parlour behind bars

Glanmore volunteers had been eagerly anticipating a visit to Bellevue, as we had heard about innovations at the museum. And Program and Interpretation Coordinator (hope I got that right) George Muggleton did not disappoint.

George was young, enthusiastic, well-informed, personable, thoroughly professional and passionate about the changes taking place at Bellevue. He spent ages talking with us; I wandered off on occasion to commune with the house, because my brain was full!  

dining room; an interpretive panel keeps our distance

These top four photos are from previous visits.

This visit was to be different, as we all knew.
For Bellevue has 'taken down the ropes.'

shot from deep inside the formerly off-limits parlour
It's part of Bellevue's changing visitor interface, in response to Parks Canada's plans to make their sites more relevant to today's museum goer, and thereby increase attendance. There are a number of National Historic Sites run by Parks Canada; each has interpreted this directive in a different way.

These are my personal reflections on the difference in visitor experience. I know they might not echo those of a younger audience, or a person less absorbed in history, museum culture, and heritage architecture (read 'history geek'.) But I recall the foyer of the visitor centre on previous visits, chockablock with panels interpreting social history, Sir John A and family, politics and goodness knows what else, each with artifacts on display. Instant immersion.

George relaxed on the settee while talking
Today the large open foyer is scattered with mobile seating, a few wall panels illustrating the key events of the era, and a huge blowup of the Fathers of Confederation, cut-out faces offering a photo opportunity. A quiz ,"who's your daddy?" or something similarly catchy, invites participants into an 'experience' about the makers of our nation. But not me.

Not stuffy or museum-y. Inviting and interactive.
Admittedly, the new meeting room just off the foyer contained an outstanding travelling exhibit from Library and Archives Canada of documents, letters, and the like from Macdonald's career.

The top floors are still behind ropes. For now. The kitchen area has been opened to visitors, and Bellevue's excellent staff will interpret the garden to table story.
The dining room is open to public wandering; a cut-out of Sir John A welcomes visitors, and one of our number accepted his offer of a friendly handshake. But to me, his dining room looked a bit tired, a bit dusty, not as special as before. In fairness, George explained that most of Bellevue's furniture was not connected to the historic family, and as such, was not priceless, and that only a few of the more valuable artifacts had been removed. The before and after photos prove it.

One of our Glanmore staff has reminded me that few National Historic Sites in Canada are operated by Parks Canada. Our own Glanmore, owned by the City of Belleville, is one. So we won't be looking for visitors trailing amidst the priceless Couldery pieces in the overstuffed drawing rooms, or straightening our world-famous Victorian animal paintings, or playing with the Victorian Christmas toy display from our Hastings history collection.

Glanmore's high Victorian grandness

And, for me, that's welcome news. To me, those silk ropes in front of the historic rooms are like a portal. I love the feeling of walking into a museum, standing at the barrier, and being transported into another place, another time. No, thanks, I don't want a chummy 'welcome in.'

No comments:

Post a Comment