Fundraising campaign being initiated to get Lester Pearson collection to Kagawong museum

Former Canadian Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson on a visit to Manitoulin.

KAGAWONG—The Old Mill Heritage Centre in Billings has received permission, on loan, to display Lester B. Pearson artifacts in the museum this summer as part of the community’s Canada 150th anniversary celebrations. However, in order to host this large artifact display here,  a fundraising campaign has been undertaken to get the artifacts shipped to Kagawong.

“Yes, the National Archives has agreed to loan us many items from the Lester B. Pearson collection, and now it is a matter of getting the collection-artifacts up here,” said Rick Nelson, curator of the Old Mill Heritage Centre. “Now  we are undertaking a major fundraising campaign. The costs could be as high as $10,000 for specially packing and transporting the items shipped to Kagawong and back to Ottawa.”

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“As part of Canada’s 150th anniversary the Billings Museum Board is excited and delighted to be putting together an exhibit for one of Canada’s former prime ministers-the right honourable Lester B. Pearson,” stated Dianne Fraser, chair of the museum board. “Ms. Pearson’s family has been very supportive of the artifacts that will be on loan from Ottawa to be displayed at the Old Mill Heritage Centre in Kagawong from May-October.”

Ms. Fraser explained, “because we are a small museum and this is quite a large undertaking, the Old Mill Heritage Centre will be starting a fundraising campaign to help cover the expenses to make this seasonable exhibit and history day happen.”

At a Billings Township council meeting last week, Councillor Nora Bath-Haring reported on the latest museum board meeting. “The National Archives of Canada are providing 159 artifacts for the display. These artifacts will include (Lester B. Pearson’s) Nobel Peace Prize. And his grand-daughter Patricia Pearson has confirmed she  will be in attendance at the annual History Day in Kagawong event, as a guest speaker.”

This is a photo of the Lester B. Pearson artifacts collection in the Laurier House in Ottawa. The Old Mill Heritage Centre in Kagawong has received permission, on loan, to display Lester B. Pearson artifacts in the museum this summer, and work is being carried out in the museum to have the display be similar to the one in the Laurier House.

Mr. Nelson explained some of the items from Mr. Pearson’s collection to be loaned to the museum includes, “his Noble Peace prize, his desk, personal items like the Order of Canada, books, a lot of photographs and pictures of him with world leaders like John Kennedy and Dwight Eisenhower,” said Mr. Nelson. “And there will be other items such as the key to Espanola that was presented to Mr. Pearson.”

“We are working with Manitoulin Transport, the National Archives and the museum on how to get all the artifacts up  here; and insurance is another thing we are working on,” said Mr. Nelson. “We have permission to display the items from the long weekend in May until the Thanksgiving long weekend.”

Mr. Nelson said the museum is under renovations right now to display the Pearson collection. “The collection is going to be displayed where the ship wrecks exhibit is usually displayed. And there will be a secondary room where items like books and other things like posters and photos of Senator Thomas Farquhar, who had given up his seat in this riding for Mr. Pearson to run in Algoma, will be displayed.”

“We’re still working out all the logistics about getting the artifacts-items to the Island,” said Mr. Nelson. “And the museum is being renovated as we speak to accommodate the arrival of all these items.” He noted the shipwreck display at the museum will be put in storage for a year.

Mr. Nelson noted as well the museum has sent out an invite to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to be on hand for the History in Kagawong day celebrations. “We heard from a contact in his office who said he hasn’t finalized his summer schedule as of yet. Obviously his father (Pierre Trudeau) succeeded Prime Minister Pearson, and we’d like the prime minister to be part of the celebrations, but I’d settle on a letter from him that we can read out on history night.”

Mr. Nelson said the heritage centre board is going to establish a GoFundMe fundraising account online as part of its fundraising. “We are looking for any financial help, and donations to help out, and we’ve already had a few people come forward offering donations.” Donators can receive a tax receipt for their contribution.

“We are really hoping people can help out,” said Mr. Nelson. We have contacted Carol Hughes (federal MP for Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing) and Paul Lefebvre Sudbury MP as to areas we can look for funding.

The display in the heritage centre for the Pearson collection is being constructed to look as it did in the Laurier House in Ottawa, said Mr. Nelson. “It is being used as a prototype of how we are developing everything for the display in the museum.”

Mr. Nelson said the heritage centre had applied for $5,000 through a Canada 150 grant program, but had only received $2,700 which has made it more difficult to reach the monetary amount it needs to bring the Pearson display here.

“We were disappointed we didn’t get the full amount but regardless we have to roll up our sleeves and make this a reality,” said Mr. Nelson. He noted as well as the Pearson exhibit of items, “we are also celebrating the life of our own Mayor Austin Hunt, who will be properly acknowledged in the exhibit and on history day. For instance, we have rare footage field trip where  that Aussie took local students to Ottawa to visit the prime minister (Pearson). Film is being digitized, and will be 20 minutes in length, to be featured on History Day.”

“It is phenomenal footage of Aus and Prime Minister Pearson,” said Mr. Nelson. He also stressed the $10,000 being looked at for fundraising will also go towards other events taking place at the museum including the military display Remembrance Day display.

Mr. Nelson added, “the museum board is really excited about getting permission to display Mr. Pearson’s collection, and it is going to happen one way or the other. We’ll get the display here and pay the amount later, we will do whatever it takes to get it here. But we sure hope members of the community will help as well.”