Bright-coloured quilts are a welcome sight these chilly first days of spring, and the Manitoba Agricultural Museum (MAM), dedicated to all-things-Prairie, is the place to see 100 of them this weekend.
This is the second year the Austin-area museum will gives visitors a warm welcome, as part of expanding programming, and new events and attractions as a new era begins at the 320-acre home to Canada’s largest collection of vintage farm equipment.
Three years ago MAM faced an uncertain future after a status review by Culture Heritage and Tourism significantly cut back provincial funding.
Since then they’ve worked hard on a new business plan and new ways to attract visitors besides those interested in viewing vintage farm equipment, says MAM board president Gloria Sims.
“We have an abundance of it, which we’re very proud of and diligently working to restore, but there’s so much more here than just equipment,” said Sims.
“We’re trying to promote the Manitoba Agricultural Museum as a destination of choice and a Prairie lifestyle,” she said.
They’ve got plenty to offer — a 40-site campground, an arena, and nearly 30 buildings that make up a vintage Prairie village.
New sponsorships and partnerships are also helping jump-start new attractions which in turn can add new revenue streams to the museum site.
One is their Rock the Harvest music festival, a brand new event coming up at end of August with a music mix of country and classic rock to attract a multi-generational crowd.
MAM is also encouraging ongoing rentals of their facilities.
It is an excellent place for events like weddings, anniversaries and family reunions, said Sims.
A focus of their business plan is to open up the site to those who may not necessarily recognize the artifacts here.
“We’re really putting an emphasis on interpretation and storytelling,” Sims said.
That means greater use of signage and audio guides that will keep telling the stories behind MAM’s feature attractions which every summer become a touchable history during the Threshermen’s Reunion and Stampede. This year is the event’s 60th year.
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It’s important these old machines continue to speak to us, says Robert Beamish, MAM’s vice-president. Right now many recognize these artifacts and know the stories behind them, but that won’t always be so, he said.
“My generation knows a lot of this stuff but in passing it on to the children there’s always something lost,” he said. This is the same effort Canadian war veterans are making to ensure their stories are preserved, he added.
“They’ve started getting those stories told and written down. First-hand accounts are always more interesting.”
Another new feature this year is the 2014’s Threshermen’s Reunion and Stampede’s plans to mark the 100th anniversary of the First World War and the 75th anniversary of the Second World War. This year’s event July 24 to 27 will be dedicated to Manitoba’s military heritage when the museum will host what will be the first and largest public display of operating vintage military vehicles seen in decades.
That should bring out an even larger audience than the usual 12,000 volunteers and visitors at the annual show, adds Beamish. It will be a rare sight and “it should have really wide appeal to a wide audience,” he said.
Meanwhile, getting everything shipshape for visitors takes plenty of pairs of hands.
And not all of them belong to old-timers either.
They have a huge contingent of about 650 volunteers who can annually be counted on to help host Threshermen’s Reunion, plus a solid core group of about 30 who are constantly tackling the MAM’s long to-do list. Jobs that range from painting and reshingling jobs to putting a roof on the grandstand and reassembling a Port Nelson — a small steam locomotive — now located next to the museum’s Community Ties building and making upgrades to the site’s Manitoba Pool Elevator and CPR water tower which recently received municipal heritage designations.
Things get done thanks to those volunteers, and they’ll keep on getting done thanks to the mentorship they put so much effort into as well, said Sims. Today families involved with the MAM regularly include two or more generations.
“There is an intergenerational approach to everything that happens here,” she said, adding that long-serving volunteers are constantly taking younger people under their wing.
“The mentorship that goes on here is something so unique and special to this museum,” she said. “The young people take real pride in what we have here.”
Also keeping the 320-acre site shipshape is a four-member staff employed at the museum. This spring the MAM has hired two new staff, including Georgette Hutlet as chief museum officer, who brings a strong background in economic development and events planning to her role, and curator Tanya Wiegland, who has worked with small museums throughout Ontario.
Established in 1951 as the Agricultural Memorial Museum of Manitoba, the present-day site now includes machinery dating back to the 1900s, plus a pioneer village, camping and picnic grounds, and a souvenir shop.
For more information on upcoming events, visit the Manitoba Agricultural Museum website.