Museums, like many others, will take major COVID-19 hit: curator

Kagawong’s Old Mill curator Rick Nelson among three guests featured on TVO’s The Agenda

Kagawong’s Old Mill curator Rick Nelson among three guests featured on TVO’s The Agenda

KAGAWONG – The Old Mill Heritage Centre Museum will survive COVID-19, but will take a big hit in its operations in terms of its visitors and events, Rick Nelson, Old Mill curator told host Steve Paikin during an episode of TVO’s The Agenda last Friday evening. Mr. Nelson was one of three guests including Sasha Suda of the National Gallery of Canada and Shelly Falconer of the Art Gallery of Hamilton.

“We are going to take a big hit,” Mr. Nelson told the panel. “We are almost completely dependent on tourism. We are very remote, so it’s hard to get here. It’s not a day trip for most people. Right now, the provincial government is asking tourists not to come to Manitoulin. Until the (COVID-19) threat changes we are dead in the water.”
Mr. Nelson pointed out the M.S. Chi-Cheemaun is not running until June, and even then it will be for “commercial traffic and essential traffic only. No tourists allowed. No cruise ships, and the travel buses have been cancelled. This means there will be no Europeans, no Americans visiting, and no revenues.”

“We don’t know when we can open up, so we don’t know about our summer staff yet,” said Mr. Nelson.

Mr. Nelson told the Recorder from his father’s home in Wellington, Ontario before the airing of the show last Friday, “I was told I was representing the museums of Ontario. And in the course of the interview I was asked what are some of the things on hold or cancelled at the museum.” 

“We have a number of exhibits and events on hold,” he told The Agenda. “We had plans to celebrate the 95th anniversary of the Old Mill, where the museum is, but this is in limbo. Bus tours and school field trips have been cancelled and barbecue fundraisers are likely gone.

The annual Mudge Bay Mystery Tour, which include a dinner cruise, has also been cancelled. Also cancelled is History Day in Kagawong. “This is an annual event in August where we pack them into the community hall and do PowerPoint presentations about our heritage.” 

Mr. Nelson told the show, “our biggest exhibition this year was coming from the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Quebec, featuring artifacts from the Empress of the Ireland (ship).” This event has been postponed until 2021. 

However, Mr. Nelson did outline what the museum is planning this year. “We intend on focusing on virtual tours (this year). We already have a website and a Facebook page where we have a lot of video footage. We intend to upgrade that. We partnered with the Virtual Museum of Canada to feature two famous stories. The story of Harbour Island, a famous yachting and fishing resort for the rich and famous that is now a ghost town. Marilyn Monroe, John Wayne and Gene Autry were out there. Marlon Brando learned his lines for ‘On the Waterfront’ out there. Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson was out there as well.”

“And the story of Daniel Dodge, the heir to the Dodge Motor Company,” continued Mr. Nelson. “In 1938 he blew himself up in a dynamite explosion at his hunting lodge (in Kagawong), then fell out of a boat on the way to the hospital and drowned. And all while he was on his honeymoon! That’s already on video and uploaded to our website. Also online we have Steve Paikin narrating a document on this story.” 

Mr. Nelson added while the museum can’t host the History Day in Kagawong this year, they might be able to do it as a virtual presentation. “Other conversations about virtual viewings are in the works,” he said. 

Mr. Nelson said that when the provincial government releases COVID-19 restrictions to let museums open up, the local museum will be working with public health officials “make sure we, and visitors are safe.” 

“We are asking everyone to support museums during this time,” Mr. Nelson told the audience, noting that Manitoulin has many, “wonderful museums to visit.”

Mr. Nelson told the Recorder Tuesday, “I was satisfied how the interview went.” He quipped however, “it is painfully obvious by looking at a tape of the show that when this pandemic is all over and everything is opened up again that I am in desperate need of a haircut.”

Anyone who wants to support the Old Mill Heritage Museum during this perilous time in its operations can made a donation online at its website,