Sarah Robinson

ORANGEVILLE

CURATOR, DUFFERIN COUNTY MUSEUM AND ARCHIVES

CURATOR, STORY KEEPER, STEPDANCER

 

 

There’s an authentic heritage house smack in the middle of the museum. They cut a church in half and reassembled it on the grounds. And the curator paid for her education with her step-dancing shoes. Dufferin County’s barn high atop the hill is no ordinary museum, and its high-energy curator and her drive to involve and reflect the community in interactive, untraditional ways are a big part of that.

 

You’re a local historian with a local history.

I live in Orangeville, born here, raised in Caledon and recently moved back. I was Wayne Townsend’s assistant (the founder of the Museum).

 

I hear Wayne gives, how can I say… unique tours.

The Wayne tour is the best food, the best views and fantastic stories. Since his retirement a few things have changed, we put in the main exhibit which is called ‘If walls could talk”. It’s all about the buildings of Dufferin County, and looks into the history and architecture of the buildings, but also the stories of the people who live in them.

 

Is there one big theme or overall story that you tell in the museum?

We’re a social history museum first and foremost, so we’re telling the story of Dufferin County, the stories of the people who have come and gone, how the county has changed and what we see for the future as well.

 

Does oral history make its way in?

We’ve already delved into that a bit. We’ve captured stories, and when an artefact comes in, for example, we’ll capture the story of the people who owned or used it, the anecdotes that come with it. “Oh, I used this in grade five when I was on the baseball team…”

 

You keep the real story. Forever.

This area is genuinely “real”. One minute, I’m speaking to a farmer who’s farmed here for 50 plus years, then I’m speaking to a really well-known artist who has come up from Toronto and made Dufferin County their own. We have a fantastic mix from one end of the spectrum of “real” to the other. I don’t think I’ve met anyone as genuine as Dufferin County-ites.

 

I saw tons of young people in here…

What’s really fantastic is the digital historian project we’re doing right now. A group of high school students are doing things like veteran research. They basically “adopt a veteran” from Dufferin County and create a profile on them, where they were born, who they married…. so at the end there’s a connection, some have even been able to meet the veterans, and those real connections are very important to the museum. It helps people realize these artefacts belong to real people.

 

You’re very much out in the community, I’ve noticed.

Sometimes there’s a perception that we museum people all work away in our offices with the door closed and there’s a dark archive… but we really like to get involved. It’s very interactive, which is essential. If we don’t keep new generations interested we’ll lose it.

We appeal to all kinds of groups. There’s the spiritual pilgrims who want to go through the museum quietly and uninterruptedly in a beautiful space. There’s the explorers who want to read every fact, gain something from it. There’s the ones who already know the information but are looking for validation that they’re right. And there’s those who come for entertainment.

 

The museum is anything but stuffy.

When people pass by, the number one thing they say is, “Whoa, I didn’t think it was gonna be like this!” A lot of people are surprised because they think it’ll be more like a barn, not realizing it was purpose-built to be a museum. And the full-size house and lodge right in the middle of it are big draws. How could you not be drawn to a house inside a house?

 

The Shelburne FiddleFest. That’s a big piece of history that’s kept alive out here.

You’re tapping into where my worlds collide! I grew up going to these competitions because my grandfather played the fiddle, then my mother decided to sign me up for stepdancing lessons because I saw a dancer at the fest and was really interested. It took over my life, I got to travel and pay for my university tuition with my winnings.

 

The dancing curator.

You may have just given me a new title!

 

I bring up the FiddleFest because someone’s got to capture that vanishing music, that community…

Yes. It connects back to the museum. We preserve artifacts but also preserve traditions, cultural heritage… and for us that’s things like the fiddle contest. We have different recordings in our archives and different related artifacts, and anytime we have the time and resources we do anything we can to help out community events like this. Two years ago we had a float, and we had Ashley McIsaac playing on it and I may or may not have stepdanced! (laughs)

 

Read more about Sarah in this article–>