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The Museum Makers

The Museum Makers: The Story of the Royal Ontario Museum

Lovat Dickson
Copyright Date: 1986
Pages: 214
  • Book Info
    The Museum Makers
    Book Description:

    Mummies, dinosaurs, Persian textiles, exotic fishes, European bronzes, fossils, early Canadian furniture, artifacts of the Native peoples of Canada, rare Chinese ceramics, and a Ming tomb with its guardian figures - all these and much more are to be found in the galleries of the Royal Ontario Museum. In The Museum Makers, Lovat Dickson gives a vivid account of the origins and growth of this impressive institution, which each year touches the lives of hundreds of thousands, from researchers to school classes thronging the galleries, to senior citizens involved in special programs.

    Over the decades the Royal Ontario Museum has gained world renown for its collections and its research. Today it is counted among the three largest museums in North America.

    Biography was always Lovat Dickson's chief interest. In The Museum Makers, he used a biographical framework for the story of an exciting institution. First on the scene are the founders, such memorable figures as Sir Edmund Walker and Charles Trick Currelly. Then comes the early directors, curators, and technicians, whose research and discoveries in every branch of the natural sciences, art, and archaeology contributed to the Royal Ontario Museum's growing international reputation. In the aftermath of World War II a new generation of museum men and women took up the challenge of keeping the Royal Ontario Museum one of the last combined science, art, and archaeology museums of first rank in the world. The unfolding story, with accomplishments, stresses, and strains interwoven, is captivating.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8175-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-x)
  3. 1 The Beginnings
    (pp. 1-7)

    On the west side of Queen’s Park in Toronto, just south of Bloor Street, stands the great building that houses the Royal Ontario Museum. The long façade, built in 1931/1933 in a style loosely described as Romanesque, conceals both an older nucleus, now the west wing of the Museum, and two recent additions completed in 1982. One of these, on the south, is the new curatorial centre; the other, on the north, is a tier of gracefully receding, glass-fronted terrace galleries overlooking Bloor Street.

    Bloor Street is one of Toronto’s busiest thoroughfares both by day and by night. After dark,...

  4. 2 The Founders
    (pp. 8-18)

    Byron Edmund Walker was appointed to the board of trustees of the University of Toronto in 1892. As general manager of Canada’s largest bank, he held a prominent place in the professional life of the growing city. His appointment as a trustee was recognition of him as a public figure, and his appointment to the senate of the University in the following year indicated an active interest in University affairs. The board of trustees managed the University’s property, but the senate made academic policy.

    The University of Toronto was passing through a critical time. It had originally been a group...

  5. 3 Laying the Foundations
    (pp. 19-32)

    In the autumn of 1905 Currelly had sailed for home to see his family. Chancellor Burwash had given a reception for him in Toronto, at which Currelly had aroused the interest of some of the professors present. One of them encouraged him to call on Edmund Walker, who was leaving soon to visit England. The account of Currelly’s meeting with Walker given inI Brought the Ages Homemakes it plain that he worked on Walker to good advantage. Walker was excited by Currelly’s description of the treasures that were still available to a keen buyer with a knowledge of...

  6. 4 The Opening
    (pp. 33-39)

    Sequestering himself with his numerous cases in the still damp basement, with the temporary roof covered by tar-paper and the cold modified by five old furnaces with exhaust pipes sticking through the windows, Currelly set about unpacking his treasures. In this task he had the help of a young Scot, Alexander Gillan, who had come to Canada to visit his brother and had found work as a carpenter at University College. Gillan soon became so interested in the Museum, and so attached to Currelly, that he sent to Scotland for his fiancée and settled down to work with Currelly for...

  7. 5 The Age of Innocence
    (pp. 40-54)

    What saved the Museum in its early days of financial stringency was the benefactors. Sir Edmund Walker had led the way, not only in backing Charles Currelly but also in the gifts he continually contributed to all the museums, though chiefly to the Royal Ontario Museum of Archaeology where his own special interests as a collector lay. He had carried with him several other members of the board of governors of the University, notably Edmund Osler, Joseph Flavelle, and Z. A. Lash, wealthier men than him, who could well afford the guarantees which together had provided Currelly with an acquisition...

  8. 6 The End of the Beginning
    (pp. 55-59)

    Although he was almost seventy-one at the time of the armistice in 1918, Sir Edmund Walker seemed still as vigorous as he had been some thirty years earlier when he became general manager of the Canadian Bank of Commerce. As soon as the end of the war was in sight, he had pressed the Ontario government to add the long-promised second wing to the Royal Ontario Museum. The existing building had become so unbearably crowded that there was scarcely room to pass in the aisles, and new acquisitions and gifts were piling up in storerooms elsewhere in the city. The...

  9. 7 Education in the Museum
    (pp. 60-65)

    The committee of directors of the Royal Ontario Museum had only grudgingly given way in 1919 to Margaret MacLean’s importunings to be appointed a guide to the collections. While eventually expressing their approval of the general principle of having a common guide for all five component museums, they informed the trustees that she must first satisfy each director of her competence to act as a guide to his collection; the director’s approval had then to be sent to the board of trustees before her appointment was confirmed. Through this very narrow aperture, education came to the Museum.

    It is amusing...

  10. 8 Gaining Ground
    (pp. 66-72)

    Sir Edmund Walker’s pleas, during the last years of his life, for the alleviation of conditions in the Royal Ontario Museum that he described in a letter to Premier Ernest Charles Drury in 1921 as “distressing and really impossible of continuance” had been met by the Ontario government with nothing but promises and postponements. After Walker’s death the government continued to turn a deaf ear to the complaints of the directors, in their annual reports, of the crowding and congestion that impeded their work.

    Then, in 1929, just before the financial crisis that was to mark the beginning of the...

  11. 9 Bishop as Archaeologist
    (pp. 73-87)

    William Charles White was sent to China as a missionary by the Church of England in Canada in 1897. In his early days there he often lived in remote districts, rarely seeing anyone of his own race, other than an occasional missionary on his way to another posting. He had been advised by the church authorities at the start of his mission “to sail to China alone”. He left behind the girl with whom he had an “understanding”, Annie Ray, a student at the Church of England Deaconess and Missionary Training House. His loneliness and sense of isolation at first...

  12. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  13. 10 In Search of an Identity
    (pp. 88-100)

    The Royal Ontario Museum, which had been closed to the public during the process of renovation and the building of the new wing, was officially reopened on 12 October 1933. The cost of the work had been $1.8 million, compared with $400 000 for the west wing twenty years before. With the addition in 1937 of two upper floors to the small extension that abutted the southern end of the original wing, the Museum became the largest museum in the British Commonwealth outside London.

    Now that the unbearable congestion from which the Museum had been suffering was relieved, it was...

  14. 11 A Time of Transition
    (pp. 101-112)

    Currelly had considered retiring in 1939. Nearly thirty years had passed since he had moved into the basement of the original wing of the Royal Ontario Museum and now, as he turned sixty-three, the prospect of country ease at his home in Welcome, while he finished writing his memoirs, almost overcame his reluctance to hand over his museum to another’s keeping.

    The approach of war postponed these hopes. The Ontario government was forced in 1939 to reduce its subsidy to the Museum, and the resulting salary cuts caused some members of the staff to resign. Others left to join the...

  15. 12 Taking Stock
    (pp. 113-119)

    The report on the condition of the Royal Ontario Museum by Clarkson, Gordon & Co., which became known as the Glassco Report after the partner responsible for it, was issued in 1954. A large part of its value lay in its historical survey of the origins and development of the Royal Ontario Museum and its orderly presentation of attendance figures, sources of funds, and expenditures over the years, which touchingly revealed the heroic endeavour to create out of limited financial resources one of the great museums of North America.

    The figures produced by J. Grant Glassco’s analysis recorded some impressive...

  16. 13 A New Era
    (pp. 120-129)

    All this time, beyond the walls of the Royal Ontario Museum as well as within them, there had been change. World War II had left the United States a superpower; and Canada, living in its shadow, emerged as the fourth industrial nation in the world, with Toronto as its financial capital. Since the Museum existed to serve the needs of the community, these changes were reflected within the institution, as the excitement of the early years of collecting and classifying gave place to a professional earnestness, with research and publication the proclaimed priorities.

    While building the collections remained an important...

  17. 14 Calmer Waters
    (pp. 130-139)

    Before appointing a successor to Theodore Heinrich, the University of Toronto took time to consider. Having dismissed Heinrich, the board of governors now reflected that his appointment, made on the basis of a two-day visit to the Royal Ontario Museum, had been too hastily rushed into. Determined not to repeat this error, they announced that the chairman of the Museum board of trustees, Harold Turner, with the assistance of Lionel Massey, would temporarily assume the duties of the director, and that a committee chaired by Dr Claude Bissell, the president of the University, would be set up to consider the...

  18. 15 Stormy Petrel
    (pp. 140-149)

    On 22 September 1965, when President Claude Bissell of the University of Toronto wrote to the members of the Museum’s board of trustees conveying the news that the director of their institution was to retire at the end of June 1966, he added:

    As you will recall, the appointment of a Director of the Royal Ontario Museum is made by the University of Toronto Board of Governors on the recommendation of the President. I have appointed a small committee to advise me on this matter, and I have asked Dr Woodside, the Provost, to serve as its chairman. Sometime early...

  19. 16 Projecting the Future
    (pp. 150-158)

    The decade of the seventies, as the Royal Ontario Museum shook itself free from the heavy weight of the University of Toronto’s paternalism and set out on its own as an independent corporation, was to prove one of the most dramatic and exciting in its history. This new era coincided with what amounted to a museum explosion all over the world. Museums had multiplied in the 20th century, particularly museums of science, which were now responding to the public interest in evolution and to the appetite for knowledge stimulated by increasing familiarity with science and advancing technology.

    As the century...

  20. 17 Planning the Future
    (pp. 159-165)

    The new director, James E. Cruise, at the time of his appointment was associate dean of arts and sciences in the University of Toronto. He was a graduate of the University of Toronto, with postgraduate degrees in plant physiology and plant taxonomy, and his scholarly accomplishments, beginning with the award of the gold medal in science in his graduating year, were beyond question. He had taught at Cornell and Princeton universities, and for a number of years had provided liaison between the Museum and the University’s Department of Botany. But it was his personal qualities, which included a toughness of...

  21. 18 Expansion and Renovation
    (pp. 166-176)

    Meanwhile the architects’ design had been approved. Everything was to be fitted into the existing site, and the work was to proceed in three stages. The first stage would be the construction of the new curatorial centre to accommodate the offices and laboratories and storage areas, together with all the basic mechanical and electrical facilities. The second stage was to have been the construction of the new terrace galleries facing Bloor Street on the north side of the building. The third and final stage would then have been the complete renovation of the existing building. However, this plan was changed...

  22. 19 Mankind Discovering
    (pp. 177-189)

    When the doors of the Royal Ontario Museum were reopened in September 1982, visitors familiar with the old building, flocking in to see what changes had been made during the twenty-month closure, were hardly prepared for what they found. The view inwards from the Rotunda had always been much admired. The entrance was on an axis with the broad gallery leading to the west wing, known as the Currelly gallery and also as the Armour Court, since it was here that the Museum’s extensive collection of medieval and early Renaissance arms and armour had been displayed. The gallery had been...

  23. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  24. 20 Epilogue
    (pp. 190-194)

    Seventy years after the Duke of Connaught, great grand-uncle of Queen Elizabeth II, had opened the Royal Ontario Museum, the Queen herself officially opened the new terrace galleries of the renovated and enlarged Museum in 1984. The year was the occasion of a double celebration in Toronto. It was the bicentenary of the Province of Ontario, as well as the sesquicentenary of the City of Toronto, and the Queen and Prince Philip had arrived to participate in the celebration. In the early autumn the royal yachtBritanniasailed through the St Lawrence Seaway into the heart of the continent and...

  25. Notes and References
    (pp. 195-202)
  26. Index
    (pp. 203-214)