Thursday, 10 May 2012 10:36

Val Marie Museum moves toward eco-museum model

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In Val Marie there's an active, far-thinking museum with big ideas, in the form of Prairie Wind & Silver Sage – Friends of Grasslands.

The museum has operated successfully for a number of years but has grown excitingly in the last few. It currently offers a gift shop emphasizing Grasslands-related high quality memories, one of Saskatchewan's last independent bookstores with a focus on Prairie authors and stories, an espresso bar, and several art exhibition spaces, as well as the museum. All these services are available in the summer season from May to September, and PWSS usually sees approximately 3,500 visitors in those months each year.
However, Prairie Wind & Silver Sage is looking forward to an even bigger future. With information and ideas from Dr. Glenn Sutter, Curator of Human Ecology at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum, PWSS is planning to transform its museum into an ecomuseum, with goals of fostering a culture of sustainability and bringing people together to make informed, fair, and democratic decisions about their local cultural and natural heritage.
According to Dr. Sutter, who recently came to PWSS in Val Marie and gave a workshop on the ecomuseum model to representatives from southwest Saskatchewan museums, an ecomuseum is a different sort of museum that tries to foster a sense of place, local participation, and local, community development. Sutter added that ecomuseums "understand today, based on the past, and apply this understanding to help their communities respond to change."
When talking about PWSS's potential future as an ecomuseum, Laureen Marchand, Chair of the Prairie Wind & Silver Sage Board of Directors, said, "The PWSS board recognizes that Val Marie has a rich cultural and natural history and we look forward to contributing further to our community's future." According to board member Pamela Woodland, "My understanding, given the very broad definition of the term, PWSS could already consider itself a nascent ecomuseum. Particularly with regard to its already standing collection of local artifacts and stories. It may be a “hub” right now, but that hub is already a seed."
SaskCulture, Prairie Wind & Silver Sage's major funder, has recognized the role PWSS might play in the southwest by providing resources that will allow PWSS to hire a part-time permanent Manager beginning this summer. Marchand said, "We're looking for one smart, adaptable, and capable person who can support the board as we move forward. Living in Val Marie isn't important, though some of the work will need to be done on-site. One of the position's most important qualifications is interest and ability to learn.” More information on the job is available on the PWSS web site at
Though the idea of the ecomuseum goes back to France in the 1980s, it is relatively new in Canada. One of the best examples in Saskatchewan is the Redberry Lake Biosphere Reserve, which though it doesn't call itself an ecomuseum meets all the criteria to be one.

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