Direstor & Curator
Published, EAC Communiqué, October 1986
n 1975, the old stone building on the hill between Elora and Fergus seemed the perfect home for a county museum and an opportunity for historian Ellen Langlands. Ten years later, and now Director/Curator, Ms. Langlands vividly remembers that first year as only one small moment in the Wellington County Museum’s never-ending, ever-challenging history.
In the early 1900s, the historical branch of the Women’s Institute began collecting cultural artifacts and storing them in a barn near Guelph. Tragically, everything was lost in a fire. However, dedication to the idea of establishing a museum did not disappear and by 1952 the first museum was able to open its doors to the public. The growing collection was cared for by the Wellington County Historical Society. In the first year of operation, it was honoured as the best regional museum in Ontario.
Over the next 20 years the museum flourished. When it became dangerously overcrowded in its building by the Elora bridge, at the corner of Metcalfe and Mill Streets, the Society lobbied to have the premises of the former Home For the Aged, built in 1877 as a county house of refuge, made available for museum use. Wellington County agreed to this proposal, and in 1975 assumed responsibility for the Museum’s future operation and transfer of artifacts began. Ellen Langlands was initially hired as Museum Researcher with added responsibility to transfer the Museum contents from the “old” to the “new residence”.
Born and raised in Toronto, Langlands turned a general interest in history and culture into an honours B.A. and a Master of Arts degree from the University of Toronto. While at university she studied under many of Canada’s foremost historians, and eventually, did her masters work on modern day China under John Saywell.
On graduation she was hired on a three month grant by the Department of Lands and Forests (now the Ministry of Natural Resources), working as an historian at a turn of the century farm in Bronte Creek Provincial Park. Her time at Bronte was extended to three years of active historical research.
During her first year at the Museum’s new quarters, Ellen was faced with recataloguing the Museum collection. With financial help from federal and provincial grants and relying heavily on volunteers, the Wellington County Museum was able to open its doors to the public in July 1975.
“There is always a danger that an historical museum could itself become an artefact storing artefacts” Langlands notes and insists that the Wellington County Museum must work to reflect our modern culture as well as our cultural history from the distant past. Langlands personally feels an obligation to contemporary artists, especially local artists and artisans. With the Museum’s renovations and additions she is hoping that she will be better able to serve the community in this regard.
Two years ago the Province of Ontario passed a new fire code requiring public buildings to be brought up to code. The Community Facilities Improvement Program was set up to fund those institutions in need of renovation. The Wellington County Museum, when completed, will boast an extensive “facelift” and the addition of an exhibition wing.
If all goes as planned, Ellen Langlands will continue as Director/Curator in the “new”
Museum as of January 1987. Langlands wants the Museum to be not only educational but inspirational by providing a glimpse into our cultural past and present. She has seen the Wellington County Museum grow and mature in the past ten years and hopes to be an integral part of its historical/cultural future.
by Beverley Cairns, October, 1986
…the Wellington County Museum must work to reflect our modern culture as well as our cultural history from the distant past.
UPDATE – 1995
The 1986/7 renovation restored the full beauty of the 1877 historic stone structure. To the beauty of the old was added a spectacular new Exhibition Hall. Amongst other functions, the Exhibition Hall now houses the Elora Arts Council grand piano and a series of afternoon concerts and the EAC’s Spring Youth Concert. Music has come to the Museum.
The Exhibition Hall also provides a spectacular home for the EAC’s INSIGHTS exhibition of juried art now in its 17th year. The Museum also hosts joint and individual shows of area artists. Now into its third year, the annual “IN LOVE WITH ELORA” exhibition brings together contemporary views of the area with the historic landscapes of Canada’s A.J. Casson. Art flourishes in the Exhibition Hall and spills out beyond its confines with a successful children’s art program (now in its fourth summer) and an adult Summer Art Workshops program for 1995.
The Exhibition Hall also features exhibits of the diverse cultures found in Wellington County. The Museum has ventured to Pakistan, Turkey, Mexico, China, and Aboriginal Canada.
Museologically, the eight years have also marked significant changes. Lexicons of terms have arrived along with structured fields of entry and a computerized database. Computers have vastly altered the museum field, freeing hours of time from manual entry of records, to provide more time for public programs.
Finally, but not least, the years have brought the adoption of its dual identity, the Wellington County Museum & Archives.
Ellen Langlands is now Director and continues to enjoy the challenges and vitality of this richly historical and artistic community.
Langlands wants the museum to be not only educational but inspirational by providing a glimpse into our cultural past and present.
IN MEMORIAM - Autumn 1997
Three lighted windows in the tower of the darkened Wellington County Museum shone out the night of Ellen’s farewell service in 1997, a fitting symbol and acknowledgement of her vision.
The Elora Arts Council will sadly miss one of its most stalwart and inspired friends. County artists owe a great deal to Ellen’s idea of a museum as a place of support for contemporary art, reflecting society not only historically but as it exists today. Ellen herself personally had the mandate of the Museum extended to include a concept which has made the Museum a hub of artistic activity.
The annual Ellen Langlands Award of the INSIGHTS Juried Art Show is sponsored by the Elora Arts Council in her memory.