Ottawa

Museum's basketball, sculpture collections safe for now, MVCA says

A collection of memorabilia that once belonged to the man credited with inventing basketball will remain on display near an old mill in Mississippi Mills, if the conservation authority that owns the heritage property has its way.

James Naismith, McKenzie collections at Mill of Kintail in Mississippi Mills

The R. Tait McKenzie Museum at the Mill of Kintail in Mississippi Mills was the sculptor's summer home and studio (Mississippi Valley Conservation Authority)

A collection of memorabilia that once belonged to the man credited with inventing basketball will remain on display near an old mill in Mississippi Mills, if the conservation authority that owns the heritage property has its way.

The James Naismith collection is currently housed within the R. Tait McKenzie Museum on the grounds of the Mill of Kintail, about 65 kilometres west of downtown Ottawa on the Indian River.

[We] heard loud and clear that the collection from R. Tait McKenzie and Dr. James Naismith ... should stay at the museum.- Shannon Gutoskie, MVCA

The museum's future has been in question amid fears that its provincial funding could be in jeopardy because it doesn't fall under the core mandate of the Mississippi Valley Conservation Authority (MVCA), which owns and operates the property.

The museum contains artwork from the late Canadian sculptor R. Tait McKenzie, who was born in Lanark County in 1867, as well as artifacts moved there from the Naismith Museum and Hall of Fame in 2011.

Those artifacts include the very rock on which Naismith played his childhood game of Duck on a Rock, which set the foundation for the rules of basketball. McKenzie and Naismith were childhood friends. 

Museum strays from 'core mandate'

In June, the provincial government approved Bill 108, legislation that would force conservation authorities to abandon initiatives that don't strictly follow their core focus.

"We were already doing a strategic plan for [the museum] in order to get funding from the province," said the MVCA's community relations coordinator, Shannon Gutoskie. "However this Bill 108 came out basically saying we had to examine all of our programming, and unfortunately at the end of the day, the museum doesn't fit under our core mandate."

The MVCA struck a committee to come up with options for the future of the museum, which served as McKenzie's summer home and studio in the 1930s. 

"We can proudly boast having the largest collection of McKenzie's sculptures and memorabilia in Canada. Throughout the year, we host special exhibits, artisan demonstrations, events and workshops for visitors of all ages," according to the Mill of Kintail's website.

Loud and clear

Members of the public were able to speak to the committee as well, according to Gutoskie.

"The committee heard loud and clear that the collection from R. Tait McKenzie and Dr. James Naismith ... should stay at the museum," she said.

The committee has asked the MVCA's board to seek grant funding from the province that will allow it to keep the museum intact.

"We recognize that even the structure itself is a very significant piece of heritage, for not just Almonte, Mississippi Mills, but for Lanark County and eastern Ontario," she said.

Among the options, Gutoskie said, is bringing in an outside agency to take over the museum's operations.

"We were anticipating at least 18 months to two years before having to implement anything, and we just wanted it to be a transparent process and hear from the public," she said.

Looking out for municipalities

Ontario Environment Minister Jeff Yurek sent a letter on Aug. 16 informing the province's 36 conservation authorities that they need to "begin preparations and planning to wind down those activities that fall outside the scope of your core mandate."

In a statement to CBC Ottawa, ministry press secretary Andrew Buttigieg said the Bill 108 "clearly specifies" that municipalities "have the option to enter into transparent and public funding agreements with conservation authorities for non-core services, such as operating the R. Tait McKenzie museum." 

The provincial government will begin consulting with municipalities, conservation authorities, Indigenous communities anfd other and stakeholders on the matter, Buttigieg said.

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