In many of our public history classes earlier this year we examined some of the pros and cons of working at small and big museums. The point most often brought up was that small museums often lack funding to hire many (or any) full-time employees. Conversely, the bureaucratic structure of many large museums does not appeal to all public historians or museum professionals.
Spending the summer in Ottawa has made me look at this issue from another perspective. Ottawa has numerous national museums and the city of Ottawa is also home to many community based museums. How many tourists to Ottawa visit the smaller local heritage sites and museums over the national museums? Most school or bus trips focus on visiting the large museums. These museums are representing the entire nations history, and are one of the main tourist attractions in Ottawa.
So who do the smaller museums cater to? Many of these smaller museums focus on the unique heritage of various smaller communities within Ottawa. For example the Bytown Museum preserves the history of the original city of Bytown and the early years of the city of Ottawa. Similarly, the Nepean Museum is dedicated to preserving the heritage of Nepean and the former township of Nepean. Most of the community museums in Ottawa strive to interact with visitors and the community at large. Many offer a variety of weekend and summer activities. Until moving to Ottawa the unique combination of national museums and community museums available in the city had not occurred to me. This unique combination is ideal for anyone looking to expore a combination of national history and local history.