The 13 Jan 2017 issue of the Simcoe
Reformer newspaper reported that the Norfolk Historical Society has
closed the doors of the Eva Brook Donly Museum.
NHS' press release
Only those not paying attention,
did not see this coming. The Norfolk Historical Society has been
struggling to keep things afloat for more than a decade, perhaps crying
poor so often that recent pleas have fallen on deaf ears.
What does this mean for
genealogists and historians interested in local lore? Just two years
ago, the Norfolk Branch of the Ontario Genealogy Society went inactive.
Now we have lost the mother ship, Norfolk's largest and best local
archive of historical records. In just 24 months Norfolk has gone from an embarrassment of riches
to not much at all. (More on what's left later.)
Who's to blame? All of us. None
of us. Rising costs. Declining interest. The Internet. The aging and
passing of volunteers who give a darn. Those who selfishly expected
perfection for free immediately, leaving others to foot the expense and
tolerate their disrespect. The list goes on.
To be sure, neither OGS/Norfolk
nor the Eva Brook Donly Museum were state-of-the-art facilities. Almost
entirely staffed and run by well-meaning but only marginally effective volunteer
retirees, who demonstrated virtually zero ability to adjust to an
increasingly digital marketplace, both organizations slowly dwindled on several
OGS/Norfolk would almost
certainly be active today if it had attracted younger members and
volunteers, even though rising costs were constantly raising the bar of
success. The NHS/Museum faced the same challenges, but on a much bigger
I met some of the nicest people
I know in both organizations, and choose not to speak ill of them. They
at least tried, and don't deserve that insult. But recent challenges required solutions they
were not able to muster. And to be fair, it is far from certain that younger
people with deeper pockets and more modern approaches would have fared
significantly better. We can only speculate on roads not taken, options
So what? Where to from here? At
the moment there are more questions than answers. The biggest and best Norfolk archives have not disappeared. They are simply, for now,
inaccessible. Perhaps new gatekeepers and resources can be found in due
course. If so, perhaps their efforts will be better supported. Or maybe
the handwriting is on the wall, maybe like blacksmiths and steam engines
of an earlier era, they will simple fade into memory. Only time will
Meanwhile many of the resources
developed by OGS/Norfolk survive and remain accessible either through the
Public Library in Simcoe, or OGS' head office in Toronto. There is still
a remote chance that someone will step forward to pull OGS/Norfolk back
from the brink.
Ditto the assets of the Eva
Brook Donly Museum. Local municipal government owns the building, while
the Society owns the contents. They kind of need each other for a number
of reasons. I assume both hope they will have a future under some
revised arrangement. But that's just speculation.
Assuming neither evolves,
Norfolk County still has a variety of other museums that may, over time, pick up
some of the slack. Waterford, Delhi and Port Dover all have
smaller Museums which preserve their more narrowly focused local
history and artifacts.
But today, Norfolk's history and
genealogy seems on life support. Those at a distance no longer have some
place to email, phone or snail mail their questions, nowhere to
access the data they seek.
This article will be updated if
and when the situation changes.