Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
An Indigenous-curated exhibit is part of a new multi-million-dollar gallery that has been added to the Muskoka Discovery Centre.
For the past five years the centre, located in Gravenhurst, Ont., has been undergoing a massive 12,000-square foot addition.
The expansion project, which is costing a total of $9 million, consists of three parts.
The entire project is dubbed “The Muskoka Story: A Microcosm of Canada.” One of the new exhibits is titled “Misko-Aki: Confluence of Cultures.” The exhibit was curated by a circle of Elders, as well as Indigenous scholars and linguists representing Huron-Wendat, Anishinaabek, Métis and Haudenosaunee people.
Misko-Aki, which totals about 3,000-square foot, provides a look at the Indigenous people who have lived in the Muskoka area for more than 10,000 years.
Exhibit attendees are taken on a seven-stop journey throughout the exhibit, starting with the arrival of Indigenous people to the area at the end of the last ice age.
The Misko-Aki: Confluence of Cultures exhibit started welcoming members of the public in early July.
“The response so far from the public has been outstanding,” said John Miller, the president of the Muskoka Discovery Centre.
A private opening reception for many of the Indigenous partners who assisted during the exhibit’s formation will be held on Aug. 12.
This will be followed by the centre’s grand opening for its expanded space, which will be open to members of the public, on Aug. 24.
The Misko-Aki: Confluence of Cultures exhibit follows Indigenous peoples in the Muskoka area after their arrival and then continues all the way up to the present. The exhibit also explores the journeys of Indigenous people when they were primarily hunters and then the changes they encountered, including introducing farming practices and then colonial engagement.
The new Indigenous exhibit was led by Tim Johnson, who is also the associate director for museum programs at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian.
This museum has facilities in both Washington and New York.
Johnson, who is Mohawk, is a member of the Six Nations of the Grand River in Ontario.
“He came to us with an amazing background in this type of thing,” Miller said.
For more than 20 years Johnson has also served as the artistic director of The Great Niagara Escarpment: Indigenous Cultural Map, which is a web platform featuring major Indigenous historic and cultural locations.
Johnson is pleased with the makeup of the exhibit.
“(It) represents an assemblage of knowledge and information determined predominantly by Indigenous Elders whose peoples traversed and inhabited the Muskoka region throughout history and up to the present day,” he said.
“It therefore emerges in this era of truth and reconciliation as an important marker of Indigenous primacy upon the land, replete with values and teachings of benefit to our communities.”
Since its opening last month, Miller said both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people have been flocking to the facility to check on the new exhibit.
“It’s definitely a mix,” Miller said of those visiting. “Our regular customers have a high variety of ethnicity.”
Miller said expansion plans at the centre have been in the works since 2019 when it received a $950,000 grant from Heritage Canada.
“That’s what set off the project,” he said.
The original expansion had been pegged at $5 million, but that figure eventually grew to $9 million.
“As the project went on, we expanded it because it was such a great story,” Miller said.
Miller said the federal government has provided additional funding over the years. And some provincial money has also been received.
Individuals and businesses have also stepped up to assist with fundraising efforts. To date, more than $7.3 million of the desired tally has been raised.
Expansion projects at the Muskoka Discovery Centre include two other exhibits.
One of those, which is now open, is titled “Evolving Muskoka: Life on the Edge of the Shield”.
This exhibit explores the changes of the area during the past 250 years via three main themes.
Those themes are the advent of technologies, the arrival of new people and subsequent growth of communities, and the development of new industries.
The centre’s third new exhibit, which has yet to be completed, is called “Wanda III: Steam to Green.”
The exhibit details how the centre’s 108-year-old yacht is being refurbished with electric motors and rechargeable lithium-ion batteries.
This will allow the yacht to be sailed more efficiently and without greenhouse gas emissions or any detrimental environmental impacts.
“I fully expect it to be sailing next year,” Miller said. “And the odds of it sailing later this year are 50-50.”
Visitors to the centre also get an up-close view of the yacht’s original motor, which has been preserved, and will be on display.
More information on the Muskoka Discovery Centre is available at www.realmuskoka.com
Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.