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Stratford Perth Museum open to the public with new and exciting exhibits

The Stratford Perth Museum has been open to the public for a few weeks now, allowing visitors to explore and enjoy all the new and refreshed exhibits museum staff had been working during the pandemic.

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After 16 months of waiting for the day when they could safely reopen, staff at the Stratford Perth Museum are finally able to show off all of their new exhibits.

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Originally scheduled to return to the museum last year before the pandemic hit, the Anne Frank House’s A History for Today exhibit is back at the museum after setting a Canadian record for attendance when it was first in Stratford in 2015.

“We were really happy when they said we could have the exhibit for last year and, then, when last year was a wash, we were really happy that they said, ‘Just hang onto the exhibit and you can have it when you open in 2021,” museum general manager John Kastner said. “So we’ve got it from now until early 2022 … and this is the only place where this exhibit can be seen in Canada this year.”

The exhibit returned with new information and images displayed, along a detailed timeline of Frank’s life and additional information about Frank’s story, the Anne Frank House itself and the room where she lived during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands.

Part of the A History for Today exhibit is information about the room where Anne Frank lived while avoiding discovery by the Nazis. It can be found upstairs at the Stratford Perth Museum, where guests can imagine what it was like to stay silent and hidden away upstairs as soldiers searched the floors below. Galen Simmons/The Beacon Herald/Postmedia Network
Part of the A History for Today exhibit is information about the room where Anne Frank lived while avoiding discovery by the Nazis. It can be found upstairs at the Stratford Perth Museum, where guests can imagine what it was like to stay silent and hidden away upstairs as soldiers searched the floors below. Galen Simmons/The Beacon Herald/Postmedia Network

“The critical piece to this thing is it’s in chronological order. … Fortunately for us, we have the space and it flows in a way that fits naturally,” Kastner said.

Complementing the Frank exhibit and adding context to her story is a number of artifacts on loan from the Montreal Holocaust Museum that highlight the stories of Jewish Canadians who experienced the horrors of the Holocaust and lived or served in Europe during the Second World War.

“We’re the only museum that uses exhibits from both museums at the same time to augment the Anne Frank exhibit with actual artifacts,” Kastner said.

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On loan from the Montreal Holocaust Museum, artifacts highlighting the stories of Jewish Canadians who experienced the horrors of the Holocaust provide context to Anne Frank’s story. Galen Simmons/The Beacon Herald/Postmedia Network
On loan from the Montreal Holocaust Museum, artifacts highlighting the stories of Jewish Canadians who experienced the horrors of the Holocaust provide context to Anne Frank’s story. Galen Simmons/The Beacon Herald/Postmedia Network

Originally scheduled for 2020 to coincide with the unveiling of the Stratford Festival’s new Tom Patterson Theatre, the museum’s  Who Was Tom Patterson? exhibit chronicles the life of the Stratford journalist who spent decades convincing politicians, directors, actors, volunteers, construction companies and the business community to help him build one of the world’s greatest theatre companies, the Stratford Festival.

“Tim Patterson (Tom’s son) and the family made a huge difference in this exhibit,” Kastner said. “(Manager of collections and exhibits) Micaela (Fitzsimmons) worked with the Stratford Festival Archives, the Stratford-Perth Archives, and then we reached out to Tim Patterson. Micaela went down to visit him and she came back with the mould for the bust, came back with his bowtie, some war medals, and now … they’re friends of ours’.”

Thanks to the Patterson family, a bust of Stratford Festival founder Tom Patterson is centrally featured in the Stratford Perth Museum’s Who Was Tom Patterson? Exhibit. Galen Simmons/The Beacon Herald/Postmedia Network
Thanks to the Patterson family, a bust of Stratford Festival founder Tom Patterson is centrally featured in the Stratford Perth Museum’s Who Was Tom Patterson? Exhibit. Galen Simmons/The Beacon Herald/Postmedia Network

Though it’s not quite ready, Kastner noted staff and members of the Off the Wall Stratford Artists Alliance are preparing to install a thrust stage designed and built to be a one-third replica of the stage now in the Festival Theatre as part of the accompanying Stratford Festival exhibit.

“We’ll use the stage to display articles and items from each year’s Festival season,” Kastner said, noting the stage will be installed in about two weeks. “We’re also going to recreate a throne as well, which will be a great selfie spot where you can sit on stage and get your photo taken.”

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Kastner himself also worked over the past year and half to update and rejuvenate the Brooks Steam Car exhibit that has been on display at the museum for years. Dressed up to look like Oland J. Brooks’ original factory, once located where The Bruce Hotel sits today, the new, accompanying exhibit digs deeper into the car’s history and its connection to Stratford. The exhibit asks the question: “Did Brooks truly intend to venture into the world of automobile manufacturing, or was the factory and the car just players in a massive grift?”

Museum general manager John Kastner stands next to the museum’s refreshed Brooks Steam Car exhibit, which now includes information on what may have been one big grift perpetrated against the City of Stratford and its residents by steam-car factory owner Oland J. Brooks. Galen Simmons/The Beacon Herald/Postmedia Network
Museum general manager John Kastner stands next to the museum’s refreshed Brooks Steam Car exhibit, which now includes information on what may have been one big grift perpetrated against the City of Stratford and its residents by steam-car factory owner Oland J. Brooks. Galen Simmons/The Beacon Herald/Postmedia Network

“It wasn’t until years later that people said, ‘Holy mackerel.’ The guy who owned (the factory) made off with a lot of money (and) he made a lot of money from the city,”   said  K astner, noting that Stratford council at the time gave Brooks roughly $50,000 to get his factory off the ground during a public-relations campaign that duped politicians, the media, investors and residents alike.

Fans of Justin Bieber will also have another reason to return to Stratford now that museum staff have refreshed one of its most popular exhibits, Justin Bieber – Steps to Stardom , with new items from Bieber and American model Hailey Baldwin’s  2019 wedding.

Finally, as guests enter and exit the museum, they will notice a massive clock from the old Stratford Post Office hanging on the wall. Part original and part reproduction, the clock was created as a companion piece to the post office bell hanging just outside the museum’s front door.

For more information on the these exhibits and to keep up with new exhibits at the Stratford Perth Museum and events hosted in the museum’s new Player’s Backstage outdoor theatre, visit www.stratfordperthmuseum.ca .

gsimmons@postmedia.com

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