Preserving and Promoting local history for the former Rideau Township
Log Fence

In other instances whole collections are absorbed when a particular company either goes out of business or doesn't want to  run their own specialty museum anymore. These days key considerations include: what's important to preserve and what's missing in the present collection? Speaking to those essential questions Hilborn mused: “I used to know, I don't know anymore.” (This is not to say he has given up, he's simply realized there may not be one simple answer.)

The work is made more challenging by requirements to downsize staff. Hilborn's comment on that shift was: “We're like everyone else. We're behind. We're trying to find better ways to do it.” Speaking of the goal to work smarter, the Canadian Heritage Information Network does help list which museums have what, and if items can be borrowed by other institutions. But Hilborn points out it's still a challenge to make sure data bases are complete and standardized, able to cover the breadth of items in collections. Key-word searches can still miss things because of such inconsistencies or gaps.

Lights from old Ottawa Station

Maureen McPhee and Pat Hilborn admire lamp posts from Ottawa's Union Station. They arrived in pieces with some assembly required.  

And what might Hilborn wish more people knew about the facility and the cause it serves? The gist of it comes down to this: Canadians can be very creative. The Science and Technology Museum is just one of many institutions storing an array of important treasures. Safely handling and storing so many diverse items is a big responsibility that can seem overwhelming at times. Still, getting to know more about unique and fascinating artifacts is pretty darned fun.  

Hilborn generously offered to conduct more tours on request for other interested persons or groups. Speaking as a Canadian taxpayer – and as a fan of “stuff” - was really nice to feel so welcome and learn more about collections meant to represent our country's ingenuity.  

Owen Cooke and Pat Hilborn discussing

Owen Cooke and Pat Hilborn discuss the ins and outs of dealing with so much stuff!  

April's meeting was a new type of field trip: small behind-the-scenes group tours of part of the storage facilities of the Canadian Museum of Science and Technology. We owe that splendid opportunity to Artifact Handler Pat Hilborn, who takes genuine pleasure in sharing more about the collection with members of the public. Because close to 90% of museum inventory is in storage at any given time, some things may seldom be seen except for tours like ours.

And? What was that like? It was like your several warehouses of your grandparent's attic, and then some. Fascinating and somewhat overwhelming. Many items called to my inner pack rat. (Yes! That's lovely! I want it! ) Some I would have thrown out, frankly. Which only re-proves that one person's junk is another person's treasure. A fair number of artifacts were mysteries that required explanation.

Eleven of us gathered for the 10 am tour. Ten more took an evening tour the next day. This particular collection was only begun in 1967. It is currently spread across different buildings and is constantly outgrowing available space. I hasten to add, for all that room is a perpetual issue, everything we saw was clean and accessible. Tightly packed, but still accessible. (In that respect it was not like most attics!)

Organization is always a challenge, because how does one store a steady flow of completely different items? Indeed, considering that all the shelves were full, it's mystifying that anything new can get squeezed in. I am still wondering how the ridiculously long automated milking bay was moved and inserted into the stacks..

Hilborn grew up in Manotick and studied museum trade at Algonquin College. In this case, though,  on-the-job training never ends. For example, as part of getting items where they need to be, he's learned how to drive  all sorts of cars, planes and things that move. The work offers carte blanche to explore whole worlds. As Hilborn said: “That's one thing I love about my job. I get to meet everyone and learn about the stuff!” (In the small world department, Hilborn remembers having  RTHS's Stu Rogers as a teacher at South Carleton High.)

Besides the eternal struggle for sufficient space, staff and budget another big problem comes in knowing what to accept and what to decline. The truth is, one cannot (should not) keep everything. But in some cases there is no time to be discerning either: a call comes in saying this factory - this something or other - will be taken to the dump unless it is collected right away.

movie reels

Any guesses? Think movie theatre. These massive film platters were in use  up until the day they were added to the museum archive.  

The April Excursion to the Science Museum  

Article and Pictures by Lucy Martin