Thirty-three years of the Textile Museum

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by Michael Rikley-Lancaster
Executive Director / Curator

The idea to establish a textile museum in Almonte originated during the Town of Almonte’s Centennial in 1980. The celebrations were organized by a committee appointed by the Town Council. They published a booklet which gave information about the town’s past entitled Faces and Places, and coordinated many events celebrating the eventful past of the town. The highlight was the fact that there were so many textile mills in the 19th century that it was known as the “Manchester of Canada”.

Exterior
Photo by Brent Eades

The celebrations were so successful that later that year a Museum Committee was formed, and with financial assistance the Town and from the National Capital Commission, opened a Visitor Centre in the former Almonte Post Office. It was operated by a Textile Museum Committee consisting of: John Dunn, Chair, Herb Pragnell, Council Rep, Gerry Wheatley, Jack Collie, Stan Morton, Jack Boyce, and Carl Morgenroth. The Committee appointed Diane Duncan to manage the Visitor Centre, which was very successful. In 1981 the Centre moved to a storefront on Mill Street. Soon after, Diane retired and the position was taken over by Jo Cavellero.

In 1984 the Museum Committee commissioned a study by Commonwealth Heritage Resources to determine the feasibility of establishing a textile museum in Almonte again with the help of the Town and the National Capital Commission. The study included a tour of textile museums in the Atlantic Costal Area of the USA. Their report recommended establishing a textile museum in Almonte to be located in one of the former textile plants in the town.

The Committee accepted the findings of the study and began an investigation of the various mill buildings to determine their suitability for a museum. Soon after, the committee recommended that the museum be located in the former office/warehouse known as the Annex of the Rosamond Woolen Mill on Coleman Island. The mill had been purchased by Mr. Burkart, who has since established condominiums in the six storey mill building. With the help of financial assistance from the Province of Ontario and the Towns of Almonte, the Annex was purchased and the Museum opened in the building in 1989.

Unfortunately, the building required emergency repairs to the doors, windows and roof, so occupancy had to be delayed while fund raising events were held. A group of ladies, headed initially by Orchid Thurston and Helen Pragnell, formed the Friends of the Museum organization and started to raise funds and provide catering and other assistance at Museum functions.

A group of men volunteers formed work parties and undertook to carry out repairs and fund raising which included car raffles. With the help of the Lions Club the annual toy lamb races were introduced on the Mississippi River in the Town. These activities were also helpful in raising the image of the Museum and Town, as well as interest in the river. Fund raising continues to be an important activity which is undertaken by the Museum staff, volunteers, as well as the Friends organization which caters for Museum events.

Jo Cavellero retired in 1990 and Curator Mary Lettner was appointed interim curator in 1991 and under her inspired direction the Museum made contact with textile artists and quilting groups, including the Almonte Crazy Quilters. Many successful shows were held, which raised the image of the Museum locally and across Canada. Kelly Baatnes succeeded Mary in 2006 and Michael Rikley-Lancaster became curator in 2007. Michael was the first fully qualified curator employed by the Museum. This is now a requirement of the Province of Ontario which the Museum was able to meet because of the generous financial assistance of the Town of Almonte.

Exhibitions by textile organizations and individual artists were very well received by the public, and soon required additional floor space. Access between the former office building and the warehouse was greatly improved when a group of volunteers led by Gunnar Laatunan created a passage way through the double masonry wall between the former office building and the warehouse. Soon after a contract was let to replace a major portion of the wooden floor and at a later date the balance of the lower floor was replaced with concrete. With funding from the Rosamond family this section was developed and became known as the Norah Rosamond Hughes Gallery dedicated to her memory. It now houses special exhibitions and opening receptions for various events.

Volunteers working under the direction of the Building Committee, headed by Herb Pragnell, and funding raised by raffles and events by the Friends, improvements have continued over a 30 year period. Meanwhile, the Museum’s permanent and temporary displays have achieved an outstanding reputation for the quality and diversity of its displays. In addition, the building renovations are nearing completion with heating and central air conditioning now installed in all areas of the building thanks to the generous support of Provincial and Federal grants. Meanwhile, the quality and diversity of the displays, both temporary and permanent, are of a very high standard.

The former Rosamond Woolen Mill was declared a National Historic Site in 1990 by the Historical Sites Board of the Canadian Government in recognition of its key role in the industrial development of Canada.

Every effort is being made to publicize the programs of the Museum. With the help of volunteer writers and the computer work of Jack Falt, a newsletter was established and continues to be produced on a quarterly basis. News releases are submitted to local newspapers publicizing Museum events. A book Our Past Is Looming was published in 2010 which incorporated the work of several local authors writing about the history of the textile industry in Almonte. This publication has been well received and is available for sale in the Museum’s gift shop and local book stores.

The support of the public is essential to the continuing success of the Museum. Interested individuals and organizations are invited to make tax deductible financial donations. Special recognition plaques are available and gifts are acknowledged. Interested individuals are invited to become members which entitles them to free admission to the Museum and opening receptions.

The museum is open daily from Tuesday to Saturday at 3 Rosamond Street East, Almonte, Ontario. For information call 613-256-3754, email info@mvtm.ca or go on line at www.mvtm.ca.