Located in The Ann Baillie Building National Historic Site on Queen’s Campus, The Museum of Health Care has been providing insight into the history of Canadian health and medicine since 1991. In that time, the museum has collected over 35,000 artefacts which are on display to connect visitors with the experiences of people in past times and to provide context and perspective for current health issues. The Museum of Health Care offers exhibitions, guided tours, education programs, family programs and special events throughout the year.
For our second interview in our series on hidden gems in Kingston, we had the opportunity to speak with Curator, Dr. Pamela Peacock to learn more about how the Museum is run, what kinds of exhibits we can expect to see there and what exciting new events are in the works.
1. Tell us about yourself, your background, your education and how and when you came to be the Curator of The Museum of Health Care.
After completing an undergraduate degree in History from the University of Western Ontario, I took a year off to travel before entering the Master of Museum Studies Program at the University of Toronto. I had worked at Fort Henry as an interpreter each summer during my undergrad and really enjoyed engaging with history and visitors in the museum / historic site setting, so a future in museums seemed a good fit. During my Master’s I focused on interpretation and education at living history sites, and completed an internship at Black Creak Pioneer Village. Then, I came to Queen’s to complete my PhD in History, which investigated how women’s history and gender history are being represented at historic sites in Ontario and the factors that affect this interpretation. I was hired as Curator at the Museum of Health Care in the fall of 2011.
2. Who is The Museum of Health Care’s primary clientele – Kingstonians, tourists, schools? How has this changed over the years? In terms of numbers, how did the museum do this year? Better or worse than expected? How do you plan on building on that?
The Museum of Health Care serves a diverse audience that includes Kingstonians and their guests, tourists, and school groups. Depending on the time of year, the primary group that we are serving is likely to shift. Typically, school groups comprise the bulk of our visitors throughout the fall and winter months, while tourists and summer camps are the primary visitors in the summer. We offer a range of programs to appeal to varying age groups, from speakers aimed at an adult audience, to family programs, to specialized tours for university classes.
Thus far, compared to 2012 numbers, visitorship has been down by about 1% this year. We always hope to see our numbers grow, of course, but like many other institutions our school bookings were down this past year as teacher’s negotiated with the government. Access to our online programs has increased, though, and we continue to reach people through our blog and Twitter.
As always, we will continue to develop programming that connects to the curriculum and that provides historical context for contemporary issues that affect Canadians on a personal level. Our biggest challenge is making people aware that we exist and that we are an interesting and educational leisure time option. With no promotional budget to speak of, we rely heavily on word of mouth to get people through the doors.
3. How is your museum funded? Is government funding enough to keep the facility alive and well or are grants, donations and endowments a major factor?
The Museum of Health Care is a not-for-profit organization that relies on the goodwill and support of members, patrons and program sponsors, as well as on project and operational grants from municipal, provincial and federal governments and charitable organizations. No branch of government has responsibility for us – in that way we are independent; however, we have been able to remain open in part because of government grants to the cultural sector. If any one of these funding sources were to disappear the Museum would find itself in very trying financial conditions.
4. If money were no object, how would you use it to make your facility stand out as a premiere tourist destination in Kingston?
What a lovely thought.
I think several large projects would need to be undertaken:
1) The Ann Baillie Building National Historic Site, in which we are located, is in need of significant renovations inside and out to both better preserve the building and improve facilities for our guests (climate controlled galleries, for example).
2) Marketing and Promotional campaigns are necessary to make more people aware of the great programs and exhibits we have to offer.
3) Our displays and interactive elements could be updated to increase visual appeal and accessibility. The Museum has invested quite a bit of time in our online and social media presence, but has not yet been able to integrate more interactive technologies into our gallery spaces.
5. Some museums are static in that they display artifacts and other historical objects that don’t necessarily change over time – what steps are taken to keep things fresh and keep patrons coming?
The Museum has invested significantly in recent years to upgrading our exhibits. In 2010 we opened two exhibits in renovated spaces on the Kingston General Hospital School of Nursing and dentistry, respectively, while in 2012 we opened our Children’s Gallery featuring “The Skin You’re In” and a short-term art exhibit “Friendly Fire Cabinet” developed in partnership with the Agnes Etherington Art Centre.
This fall we will be opening a new gallery on vaccinations and immunization, highlighting the role of Connaught laboratories in Canadian vaccine innovation, and we plan to install an exhibit on health in the First World War in June of 2014.
In addition to updating our physical exhibits, we have also launched several digital initiatives in the past couple of years. From the Collection lets visitors explore the interconnections between a selection of our artefacts, while Fighting For Breath engages visitors with the history of tuberculosis and the efforts to prevent and treat the disease both in the past and today. We also recently launched a free App, available for Apple and Android, that takes visitors on a walking tour of Kingston General Hospital History and enables the exploration of hospital development in Ontario more broadly.
Furthermore, each year the Museum develops and offers new programming for youth and families, new curriculum-linked education programs, and hosts fabulous speakers presenting research on the history of health care.
There is always something new in the works at the Museum of Health Care!
6. What’s the most popular exhibit or event that The Museum of Health Care offers? Why do you think that’s the case? Are there any new initiatives, changes or upcoming exhibits that you are particularly looking forward to?
Our most popular education programs include “Snot & Whatnot” (ages 6-12) and “Construct-a-Skeleton” (ages 6-10). These hands-on, interactive programs teach children about the spread of germs or about joints and body movement. Our March Break Family Programs have also been very popular.
In terms of events, our Family Day “Teddy Bear Hospital” has been a big hit for the past three years, while our Halloween “Healthy Dose of Horror” event has also proven very popular.
All of these programs engage visitors with fascinating stories and facts while allowing them the opportunity to play and be actively involved in learning.
As noted above, the Museum plans to install two new exhibits on site within the next year, and will also launch a second App on the history of nursing in Canada – with a local focus – in the winter. We look forward to putting new artifacts and stories on display for our visitors to explore, in the museum and online.
The Museum of Health Care’s summer hours are Tuesday-Sunday, 10am-4pm.
Other local exhibits can also be found at Kingston General Hospital on Fraser Armstrong 5 daily from 8am-8pm; and Providence Care (752 King St. W.) on weekdays from 1:30pm-4:30pm and 6:30pm-9pm and on weekends and holidays from 10am-noon, 1:30pm-4:30pm and 6:30pm-9pm.