Preserving history and its home
Making my way through a thicket of brambles, I can see the old stone walls and metal roof tiles of the former British military depot through the trees. Walking under the arched entranceway, I am greeted by the sight of a large grassy courtyard. The wide open space contrasts with the rooms inside the Museum, whose impressive interior features massive vaulted ceilings and stone walls.
Though old, the building is full of life and presented many challenges when it was turned into a museum in the 1960s. The preservation of artefacts requires controlling both humidity and temperature, which must be maintained at very specific, constant levels. However, since this old building is far from stable, such efforts can be daunting, explains David Dupéré, the Stewart Museum’s Technical Services Team Leader.
For example, it recently took over a year to redo the roof so it was identical to the original. Each one of the thousands of metal roof tiles covering the Museum had to be handmade by an artisan.
The staff must remain attentive at all times, endlessly adjusting for all sorts of variables.
There is always something to do. Things that are complicated in a modern building are a thousand times more so, here. With all these thick walls, it was quite an undertaking to install WiFi. We had to drill holes through multiple feet of stone in the walls and ceilings to pass the wires.
Taking care of the Museum is like piloting a sailboat in a storm: one has to constantly adjust the tiller, and then a sail. However, the storm in question is the passage of time.
We walk briskly through the labyrinth of the Museum in the dimly lit exhibition halls.
I used to have a desk job, working as a manager. I enjoy administration and planning, but I’m also interested in manual work. Working here, I can load harquebuses with gunpowder, manage a team, co-ordinate the facilities, etc. We have a small team here at the Stewart, so everyone does a little bit of everything. It’s stimulating.
We continue walking through the maze of stone corridors and rooms until we finally emerge outside. As David goes back to work, I am greeted by Daniel Dupéré, Head of Operations. Together, we head over to another building. Clearly, the Dupéré brothers never stop moving!
I used to be the Executive Director of the Société historique de Montréal. I’m trained as an historian and archaeologist. In fact, I worked as an archaeologist for several years on Montreal sites like the Old Port, Pointe-à-Callières, Champs-de-Mars, and Place Jacques Cartier.
Daniel tells me about some of the Stewart Museum’s idiosyncrasies, the joys of working in such a beautiful location, surrounded by trees, and a few of the Museum’s past and future challenges. We come to another old building, this one long and narrow.
This was the soldiers’ barracks. It is said to be the fifth most haunted place in Canada. It’s also a popular site for film shoots because it’s so unique. For example, the X-Men movie series has shot scenes here. The thing I like about my job in operations is that there are always surprises and challenges, which I handle with the help of an incredible team of technicians and wonderful colleagues.
To close my friendly but whirlwind visit, Daniel walks me back to the Museum entrance. I now know that behind the Museum’s apparent tranquillity is a veritable hive of activity, carried out by people passionate about preserving and safeguarding the building and its contents.
Alexis Curodeau-Codère, Factry intern
Alexis roams the Museum meeting people who, each in their own way, shape the institution and bring it to life.
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