Is One Museum Like Another?
Six staff members from Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) traveled to Morden, Manitoba, this week to visit the Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre (CFDC). It is one of Manitoba’s seven Signature Museums and one of over 200 museums spread across our province. This museum focuses on the discovery, preservation and interpretation of marine reptile fossils found in the Morden/Miami area and throughout the province. They are not a dinosaur museum, although they do have dinosaur fossils. Dinosaurs lived on land, whereas the mosasaurs in this collection inhabited the sea which at one time covered much of central and eastern Manitoba from the Arctic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico. There is much more information about the interesting work of the CFDC on their website at www.discoverfossils.com.
These fossils, the artifacts which the CFDC preserves and works with, were first discovered in the twentieth century and continue to be excavated to this day. The geological structure in that area consists of layers of bentonite interspersed with layers of shale. Bentonite is a clay that has been mined there for decades. As layers of bentonite were mined and cleared out, layers of shale were broken up to access the next strata of bentonite. In breaking up the shale, fossils were discovered but initially viewed only as a curiosity. In about 1970 it was realized that these might be rather significant geological artifacts, so at that point serious collection and study were initiated.
The artifacts at Mennonite Heritage Village are largely everyday domestic items which go back 100 years and more. So by comparison, they are very “new” artifacts but they have been collected and preserved for a long time. And none would likely be classified as a “significant” discovery in the broader world.
The artifacts (fossils) at the CFDC have stories within them, as do the artifacts at MHV. And it’s those stories that make collecting and exhibiting them so interesting. Being so old, the fossils don’t yield their stories easily. Much study and research needs to happen in order to understand what life may have been like in this great prehistoric sea millions of years ago. In contrast, at MHV we find it relatively easy to collect the stories about our artifacts. In many cases, the donors who bring them to us can sit down and tell us where they come from, why they are here, and what their significance was to our forebears 100 or more years ago.
While there are pronounced differences in the way CFDC and MHV operate their respective museums, there are also significant similarities. Both museums run a variety of robust programs, and our education programs appear to be quite similar. Staff and volunteers in both locations create curriculum geared to provide education about their artifacts to people of all ages. Most notably, we both focus on school children. Museums are popular places for teachers to take their students on field trips and for parents and grandparents to take their children and grandchildren for a family outing. Both museums also offer guided programs, day camps, and general availability to the public.
Both CFDC and MHV are significantly dependent on volunteers. Very few, if any, museums in Manitoba are able to operate without the support of volunteers. These generous people assist with delivering the education programs, preparing artifacts, maintaining facilities, and much more.
Museums such as ours also depend on their communities to support them financially, through cash or in-kind donations or through sponsorships. Governments, businesses, and individuals regularly step up to the plate with support for these entities that do so much to improve the quality of life in their communities.
As unique as each of Manitoba’s 200 museums is, all work hard to preserve valuable historical artifacts and records, and all are eager to host guests from across the province and beyond. This summer, when so many museums will be open, why not consider a day trip, or several, to visit some of these treasures in our province.
Calendar of Events
April 19 – 7:00 PM, Auxiliary Film Night: Seven Points on Earth
April 26 – 7:00 PM, Volunteer Orientation
May 1 - Opening day for the Livery Barn Restaurant and the Outdoor Village