New Timmins museum exhibit offers virtual reality tours of the past

After more than a decade, the Timmins museum is launching a permanent exhibit. It's a multi-media display that pays homage to 5,000 years of human relationships with the land.

Timmins museum celebrates opening of new permanent exhibit this weekend

The museum in Timmins has officially launched its permanent gallery, called “Where We Stand: Stories of the Land”. The exhibit reflects the history of the region and will feature an ever-changing display of artifacts and activities. (Karen Bachmann/Timmins Museum)

Many folks in Timmins are getting ready to celebrate this weekend.

That's because — after more than a decade — the city's museum is launching a permanent exhibit. It's a multi-media display that pays homage to 5,000 years of human relationships with the land.

Museum director and curator Karen Bachmann says the display, called "Where We Stand: Stories of the Land", has been about two-and-a-half years in the making.

"We're just thrilled to actually be able to open up the doors to our our community ... finally this week."

Bachmann says they consulted a number of stakeholders within the community, including museum visitors, museum members, and people who haven't been to the museum yet.

"[We asked them] about what they wanted to see reflected within the gallery space in terms of their local history," Bachmann said.

"So we unearthed a whole pile of different things. Our area has had habitation here since about 5,000 years ago. So we started with that in mind. We started looking at what are the different elements — why are we here and what are we doing here?"

The responses they received had one thing in common: the land.

"Everything was part of the land and we are here because of what the land gave us. So, 5,000 years ago, we had [people] present in this area. We have a beautiful archeological collection that we thought we needed to put out that talks a lot about those 'Shield-Archaic' people. We have our rivers and streams. The Indigenous population were using those. We had fur-trade posts in the area. We had to talk about those kinds of things."

Digging deep into land and culture

Bachmann notes that gold mining was a part of these early cultures.

"So there's a lovely connection there," she said. "[Timmins has been] very multicultural, right from the start, and it's still reflected in our community."

Along with scores of artifacts and memorabilia, the exhibition incorporates interactive digital storytelling components.

Visitors to the new permanent gallery at the Timmins Museum will be able to use virtual reality technology to experience what it was like to mine in the early 1900s. (Karen Bachmann/Timmins Museum)

"We have a [virtual reality] experience ... [where] you go down into the mine in 1912," Bachmann said.

"So you are a miner [and] you have the opportunity to do some blasting, some mucking, some scaling. You work with the horses to bring ore out of the mines. So it's a very immersive experience and and we're just having a hoot watching people try to do all of these great things ."

The exhibit also gives people the opportunity to learn some of the language and culture in the area.

"We worked with the Indigenous community here — the Ojibwe Cree Cultural Centre — who developed a wonderful app that allows you to learn Cree," Bachmann said.

"So we've set up a station where you can you can use that app and learn Cree words for different things. You can also download that app onto your phone so you can continue your lessons when you leave the museum."

The new permanent gallery at the Timmins museum was officially opened this week and included a traditional smudging ceremony. This weekend the museum will have more celebrations to mark the gallery's launch. (Karen Bachmann/Timmins Museum)

Party plans

The museum will have a community party this weekend to officially launch the permanent exhibition. It will be held during the operating hours, 12-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. 

"[People] can explore the gallery with the curator ... try the VR experience, go through some of the learning programs we have with our iPad sections, [and take part in] a scavenger hunt for families, with prizes at the end," Bachmann continued.

"There is going to be a birthday cake and all those good things ... just to celebrate and to get people into our gallery space."

It's been more than 10 years since the Timmins museum has had a permanent gallery. 

"It's the first time we've been able to do this since we left our site in South Porcupine ... and became a travelling road show," Bachmann said.

"In 2017 we received funding from the federal government and the City of Timmins to do major expansion work for this site. We doubled our size to 16,000 square feet. Our collection is now accessible and properly stored ... and that allowed us to start that process of doing the research and finally putting together a permanent exhibit. So it took a long time, but we're here, we're done, and I'm really pleased with it."

A photo of Chippewa woman Maggie LeClair, from the “Where We Stand: Stories of the Land” gallery. This is part of the Timmins museum's first permanent exhibition in more than a decade. (Cameron Grant/Twitter/@cameronggrant)


Wendy Bird

CBC Sudbury

Wendy Bird is a journalist based in Sudbury who specializes in topics of concern to northern Ontario. Reach her at, and on Twitter and Instagram @bendyword.