Time takes its toll and for a collection of Manitoba wildlife it appears time is a readily available commodity as the B.J. Hales collection continues to wait in a school basement for a new home. Since the pieces were shifted out of Brandon University in 2009 they have been housed in the basement of Earl Oxford School; a long standing partnership between the university and the Brandon School Division has seen the assemblage displayed at Brandon University in exchange for students of the Brandon School Division having access to the educational benefits of one of the largest collections of Manitoba wildlife.
A bit of history first, Hales a well-known naturalist and former Brandon Normal School principal compiled the bulk of the pieces in the early 20th century by merging his collection with that of another former naturalist in Manitoba. Hales would study, teach and publish textbooks on nature, plants, animals and the ecosystem on the Prairies. Hales teachings were subsequently used by students throughout the decades to aide in learning the unique structures of Prairie ecology. Upon his death in the 1940s the Brandon School Division would take control of the collection, housing it until the ’60s when they would partner with the University to move it to their facility. Sadly, as often is the case with historical relics, growth breeds the need for change and as we are all aware the collection fell out of favour and into storage.
Almost two years ago a reprieve looked close, as a Brandon Sun article from late November 2010 stated a new partnership was near between the division and the university. The agreement would see a temporary home in Earl Oxford with the school division having the ability to look for more permanent digs as part of a general museum. There were shared cost arrangements being worked out and it looked to be a good fit. The B.J. Hales collection would find a new home, starting an exciting third chapter of its existence. Conversely, the collection sits now some 20-plus months later, in the same state of limbo it did when the final box was moved. Talks to that nature stalled and as recent months showed trustees are divided in their focus on which direction the collection should take. I agree, the Earl Oxford plan may not have been the best model but it provided for a unique opportunity to have access to an amazing collection of wildlife, with an eye for future possibilities.
The question now becomes where does the collection go next? There has been discussion at the Brandon School Division board table pointing in many directions including inclusion into a general museum plan, continued storage in alternate locations, rotating collections or even most recently talk of transfering to other museums. The consideration of a transfer option seems a sad turn of events when talk at this level is so common on providing enrichment opportunities for students of the Brandon School Division. All have been on the table for some time now and I think it is time to seek some more concrete answers on the vision for the Hales collection.
It is evident we are in a time of change. The makeup of our schools have changed dramatically and opportunities for diverse and holistic learning experiences, like access to the Hales collection, provides is currently restricted. As well on a larger scale, this should be considered as another piece in a bigger puzzle working to make Brandon an attraction for others to come to our community. It may not be a giant piece but it is a recognized piece of our rich history hidden away in crates and boxes.
There are still options to consider before the plug is pulled on the collection. I like the idea of rotating artifacts through city facilities, seeking expanded museum space or trying something truly unique in an open school space, with shared, safe access opportunities, just to name a few. In any case, the current situation, however stable, does not do anyone justice and seeking to merely offload it is not the answer, however short a drive it would be.
I am not pointing fingers towards any one group, nor would I write this if I did not feel passionate about the opportunities available in our community. I’m realistic that the process of change can take time and I’m reminded of something an elementary teacher once taught me, don’t point fingers when you have a question, merely raise your hand. My hand is up.
» Shaun Cameron is a lifelong Brandon resident. He has dabbled in politics and is now chair of Renaissance Brandon, the city’s downtown development corporation.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition August 17, 2012