Billings museum set to open major Prime Minister Pearson exhibit

    REMEMBERING MIKE—Billings Mayor Austin Hunt is not only Canada’s longest serving municipal official, he is the last man standing of an Island power triumvirate that consisted of himself, former Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson and Senator Thomas Farquhar. Mr. Hunt is standing in front of a mini-replica of Mr. Pearson’s desk as part of the Pearson Exhibit at the Old Mill Heritage Centre in Kagawong. The exhibit also includes the life and times of Mr. Hunt.

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    KAGAWONG—“We got the stuff!” exclaimed a jubilant Rick Nelson, curator of the Old Mill Heritage Centre. Mr. Nelson was referring to the newly arrived artifacts for the Pearson Exhibit that will form the centrepiece of this year’s museum exhibit. That exhibit focusses on the late Canadian Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson whose tenure in the 1960s saw the introduction of the red and white maple leaf flag that now defines our nation both at home and on the global stage and the national Medicare program that Canadians identify as one of our proudest national achievements.

    Mr. Pearson is Canada’s only Nobel Peace Prize recipient and one of the key architects of United Nations peacekeeping, another source of national pride for Canadians. He was also Manitoulin Island’s federal MP from 1948-1968. Pierre Trudeau, the father of the current prime minister, Justin Trudeau, was the prime minister who followed Mr. Pearson.

    The exhibit is slated to open this Saturday, May 20 at 10 am and admission is free. “Of course we are open to donations,” said Mr. Nelson, who noted that the GoFundMe campaign has reached almost half of the $10,000 that was needed to bring the artifacts from the National Archives to Kagawong.

    The exhibit was unloaded and set up by Susannah Kendall of the National Archives and ArtZone’s technician (the company contracted to move the artifacts) Josh Bates. “They had me running pretty hot for a while there getting them things they needed,” laughed Mr. Nelson. “I hardly had time to take any photos.”

    The keystone of the exhibit is a “mini replica” of Mr. Pearson’s Rockcliffe office, containing many items that would have adorned that office, including his desk, but there are many other interesting facets to the exhibit. “There is a video presentation of a trip by a group of Manitoulin Island students to visit Mike Pearson, one of whom is the well-known local writer Margo Little,” he said. Mr. Nelson also recorded his pilgrimage to the resting place of Mr. Pearson in Wakefield, Quebec. “It’s a really good video.”

    Mr. Nelson noted that this year’s exhibit, while focussed on Mr. Pearson, is also about the Manitoulin power triumvirate that dominated local politics back in the 1960s. Senator Thomas Farquhar, who gave up his seat so Mr. Pearson could sit in Parliament, was one leg of that triumvirate, as was Canada’s longest serving municipal politician Austin Hunt. “We have a biography of the life and times of Austin Hunt,” said Mr. Pearson, “all kinds of medals, plaques and photographs.”

    It couldn’t be an exhibit about Lester B. Pearson without flags. “Oh we have flags,” laughed Mr. Nelson. “Lots and lots of flags.

    While he may have been a driving force behind making the Pearson Exhibit a reality, Mr. Nelson said that the exhibit could not have been possible without the tremendous contribution of the museum board. “While I was working with the National Archives, they were doing the nitty gritty work of putting the exhibit together,” he said. “They have been hammering and nailing, sawing and painting just about non-stop to make this happen.”

    As for the mini-office, Mr. Nelson was effusive in his praise of Brad Mackay. “He did just a phenomenal job, an incredible job in putting together a similar-looking office,” he said. “Space constraints make it impossible for the office to be an exact replica, but it is pretty close given the space we have. It will do the job.”

    The museum will also feature a number of new and fresh exhibits garnered from its permanent collection, augmented by items provided by the community.

    The multimedia exhibit will be open at 10 am, Saturday, May 20 and will run through the summer into the fall. This year’s History Day in Kagawong will feature a talk by Pearson’s granddaughter Patricia Pearson, a well-regarded journalist in her own right.

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