NHS closes Eva Brook Donly Museum
Last updated: 17 Jul 2017
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[Webmaster's Comment: I wrote the following article (which has been revised more than once) after reading the Simcoe Reformer's article, but before finding and reading the NHS' statement.]

The Norfolk Historical Society has reportedly closed the Museum's doors
by webmaster John Cardiff.

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.
See the NHS' press release
See the Reformer article.

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 fronts.

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 scale. 

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 not explored.

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 tell.

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.

Our July 2017 update
by webmaster John Cardiff.

There have been several developments since the foregoing article was posted in January... 

The Norfolk Historical Society's Archives and Gift shop 
at the Museum reopened in March with limited hours: Tuesday to Thursday, 10 am to 4 pm.

In June the former president of OGS/Norfolk Branch reported that a representative of the Ontario Genealogy Society had removed OGS/Norfolk Branch holdings from the Simcoe Public Library, taking what the OGS wanted and shredding the rest. About the same time, Norfolk Branch web pages disappeared from the OGS web site.

The 13 Jul 2017 Simcoe Reformer reported discussions between Norfolk County Council and the Norfolk Historical Society concerning the fate of the Museum continue. A report is due to Council "this fall."

Copyright 2017 John Cardiff