Saturday, January 28, 2023

Provincial budgets squeeze Sherbrooke Village

More support needed for iconic museum, says Deputy Warden Fuller

  • January 18 2023
  • By Alec Bruce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter    

ST. MARY’S – Without a fresh infusion of provincial investment, Sherbrooke’s living museum runs the risk of becoming a shadow of its former self, says the Municipality of the District of St. Mary’s Deputy Warden James Fuller.

“Yes, it’s hard times, and the money from the province is spread in so many ways, but … individual museums [in Nova Scotia] have not had a raise in budgets since 2008. Meanwhile, the cost of electricity has not stayed the same, the cost of maintenance has not stayed the same. Salaries have not stayed the same.”

Fuller made the comments at council’s committee of the whole meeting on Jan. 4, when he asked his fellow councillors to sign a letter urging the provincial government to provide more support for Nova Scotia’s network of 28 public museums, including the iconic Sherbrooke Village.

“Sherbrooke Village is an important part of our community,” he said. “It is a draw for people to come in, and now that they can get here without hitting potholes, even better. I think it would behoove us to at least support the museums, to [ask] the province to at least consider keeping up with the cost of living.”

In an interview with The Journal following the meeting, Fuller reiterated his point that “the museums are trying to keep their heads above water even with less,” adding: “They can’t rely on grants and awards all the time to fix their buildings. My suggestion [is for us at council to] pitch in on this with written support.”

Sherbrooke Village has been one of the jewels in the crown of the Nova Scotia Museum system since its opening in 1967. It has attracted thousands of tourists annually from all over the world to eastern Nova Scotia, and employed upwards of 125 people in St Mary’s during the summers when it’s open to the public.

The museum’s official website – run by the provincial department of Communities, Culture, Tourism, and Heritage (CCTH) – invokes people to “get [their] hands on history as you explore this incredible living site where costumed interpreters bring history to life in 25 original heritage buildings on 53 acres, offering plenty of room to breathe the fresh air.”

Meanwhile, CCTH’s most recent business plan calls for only a small increase to provincial spending on museums in the 2022-23 fiscal year — to an estimated $35.8 million from a forecasted $35.5 million in 2021-22.

During the committee of the whole meeting, District 1 Councillor Courtney Mailman commented that stagnant funding to Sherbrooke Village could have a damaging long-term effect on the area.

“As the spouse of someone who has worked there, [I would say] it is also really hard to draw quality employees when you are getting 12 weeks of work and your salary isn’t reflecting a living wage,” she said. “This also affects people who may want to move to our area where there aren’t jobs [for longer than] 12 or 14 weeks a year.

Added Fuller at the meeting: “The vast majority of the employees are summer employees, and if there is no money to pay them, there aren’t going to be summer employees.”

Council unanimously passed a motion to draft a letter urging additional support for museums from the provincial government.

The provincial department’s spending programs include “increasing access to Atlantic Canadian authored works in libraries; expanding digital resources and training at libraries; and “prioritizing the Bluenose II 2022 schedule to support local events.”

CCTH also intends to open “new Nova Scotia Museum online stores, support the development” of the Canadian Maritime Heritage District on the Halifax waterfront, “collaborate with Tourism Nova Scotia,” and “create opportunities for Nova Scotians” to learn about Mi’kmaw culture, language, history and heritage.