June 28, 2014 – Guelph Mercury – article by Vik Kirsch
GUELPH — Efforts are in the works to revitalize the municipality’s McCrae House museum in time for next year’s 100th anniversary of native son John McCrae’s famous First World War poem, In Flanders Fields.
“We’re right at the beginning,” Guelph Museums manager Tammy Adkin said Friday, noting the broad strokes have been decided: installing new exhibits and improving public spaces like the grounds of the birthplace of the lieutenant colonel and medical corps physician, John McCrae. But the details are yet to be worked out, giving creativity a chance to flow, Adkin said. “We’re trying to keep a really open mind.”
City council’s community and social services committee will consider a proposal July 9 for redevelopment of McCrae House on Water Street. City staff recommend earmarking $129,000 from an existing McCrae House development reserve fund, adding this to $30,000 already approved. The city’s also seeking matching dollars from foundations and other levels of government.
Planning, design and fabrication work is to begin this year so the museum makeover can be completed in time for the grand reopening next May 2, the poem’s 100th anniversary.
“It’s an important site for the people of Guelph. It’s also an important site for international visitors. We have a number of visitors who come from the U.S. and from Europe,” Adkin said. She anticipates some will offer suggestions on improvements through various means, including focus groups and surveys.
In addition to the revitalization, Guelph Museums is working with volunteers on events next year commemorating McCrae’s achievements and impact as a poet, soldier and physician.
In Flanders Fields commemoration task group chair Linda Kearns cautioned it’s early in the process, with requests for proposals from firms to do the renovations only recently released. But she said improvements need to be done. “I think it’s definitely overdue,” Kearns said, adding existing exhibit space is limited and showing its age. “It’s time to do a makeover.”
McCrae House receives about 15,000 visitors a year, though Adkin said she wants to see that grow.
McCrae was born in the limestone cottage in 1872. Today, it houses an exhibit of his life, space for rotating exhibitions, two 1870s period rooms (when the McCrae family owned the residence) and programming space for events like school projects and lectures. The former residence is surrounded by heritage gardens looked after by volunteers.
If the redevelopment gets the official nod, it’ll be the first makeover in years. “It’s been quite a while … over a decade,” Adkin said.
To facilitate the work, McCrae House, which is typically open during winter, will close its doors Dec. 1 and reopen on the May date.