By DEVON SMITH
“We do not want that any individuals should forget the land of their origin or their ancestors. Let them look to the past, but let them also look to the future; let them look to the land of their ancestors, but let them look also to the land of their children.”
These words were spoken by Sir Wilfrid Laurier in a speech he gave in 1909.
They are also the words encoded into the colourful façade of the Waterloo Region Museum.
Hundreds, if not thousands of people flocked to the museum’s grand opening celebration on Nov. 12.
Following a ribbon-cutting ceremony, the museum opened its permanent exhibits to the public for the first time. The ribbon was cut by many members of the community and of regional council.
Regional chair Ken Seiling was among those who cut the ribbon.
Seiling has been looking forward to this day for a long time.
“It was my idea for the region to assume the historic sites and regional council agreed to do that back in the 1980s,” he said. “Since that time, we’ve worked on upgrading the sites, building the curatorial centre and now the museum.”
Despite his involvement in their development, Seiling was impressed by the exhibits.
“They exceed all my expectations. I think they’re very well run, very professional and yet very engaging for people to be able to see and enjoy and understand,” he said. “There’s a lot of interesting material, a lot of information and I think people could see it two or three times and still not see everything.”
Regional councillor Tom Galloway, who also took part in the ribbon cutting, was chair of the steering committee and oversaw the project.
Galloway was happy to see the museum open and proud of what it has to offer.
“It’s a unique museum,” he said. “It’s our history museum. I think, as far as local, municipal museums go, this sets a pretty high standard. I think the architecture is outstanding. And the exhibits are outstanding as well. We’ve had the building for over a year but now the exhibits are in and they’re really bringing life to the facility.”
Galloway was also pleased with the people’s response.
“The crowd has been just amazing,” he said. “People are really kind of amazed at how much you can get into that kind of space, all the different exhibits and artifacts, large and small, in 40,000 square feet.”
And there certainly are grounds for amazement. With a collection of 45,000 to 50,000 objects at its disposal, the museum is filled to the brim with Waterloo Region history.
The collection is made up entirely of donations from within the community, some dating back almost a century.
There are currently two main exhibits open at the museum. The long-term “What makes us who we are?” exhibit explores the human history of Waterloo Region over the past 12,000 years. And the “Unconventional Thinking: Innovation in Waterloo Region” exhibit explores innovation in the region since the 1800s and how it became such a centre of innovation in Canada.
Tom Reitz is the manager and curator of the museum. For the last five months or so, Reitz has been working hard to put together the exhibits and get the place ready for the public.
Reitz has been in the spotlight a lot recently, but insists that people’s attention should be elsewhere.
“This is not about me,” he said. “This is about this great facility and the support from the Region of Waterloo to build it. It is really an amazing space, with great collections, but great stories about this community as well.”
Reitz was also pleased with the response from the public.
“Everybody thinks it’s amazing,” he said, “and it is. It’s a beautiful space.”
Speaking of the space, Diarmuid Nash, one of the architects who designed the building, was on site and said he is very happy with the final product.
One of Nash’s more recent projects was the new building on Conestoga’s Cambridge campus.
For more information on the museum you can go to their website at waterlooregionmuseum.com.