Interview and Photo by Jason Setnyk
Cornwall, Ontario – The Cornwall Community Museum and Archives announced the appointment of Brent Whitford as its new Senior Curator and Administrator this past March 2023. Born and raised in Cornwall, Ontario, Whitford brings a wealth of academic and practical experience to his role at this historic establishment.
Brent Whitford, a Cornwall native, is no stranger to the world of anthropology. With an impressive academic background, he is currently pursuing his PhD in anthropology with a specialization in anthropological archaeology at the University at Buffalo SUNY. Whitford holds a BA in anthropology with distinction from Vancouver Island University and an MA from Trent University. Over the course of 11 years, he has actively participated in numerous excavation projects spanning across the globe. His fieldwork includes contributions to projects in Israel, Bulgaria, Ontario, and Vancouver Island, showcasing his dedication to uncovering the mysteries of the past.
In his new position as Senior Curator and Administrator of the Cornwall Community Museum and Archives, Brent Whitford has assumed the formidable task of overseeing the establishment’s daily operations. His responsibilities encompass a broad spectrum of activities, ranging from financial management to exhibit design, collections curation, facility maintenance, communications, research, event planning, public outreach, and community engagement. The role is undeniably rewarding, particularly because it affords him the opportunity to interact with the diverse array of visitors who frequent the museum and archives on a daily basis.
The Cornwall Community Museum and Archives, situated within the historic Woodhouse in Lamoureux Park at 160 Water St. West, has been a vital institution in the Cornwall community since its establishment in 2000. Operated by the Stormont, Dundas, and Glengarry Historical Society, the museum has a rich history that predates its current location. The institution’s roots can be traced back to the United Counties Museum, established in 1956, and the Inverarden Regency Cottage, established in 1979. Today, the museum’s above-ground premises feature a myriad of exhibits chronicling the history of Cornwall and the surrounding Stormont, Dundas, and Glengarry region, spanning from 1784 to the present day. Below ground, the premises house essential facilities, including offices, archives, and a dedicated research center.
As Cornwall’s beloved institution continues to evolve under Brent Whitford’s leadership, the Cornwall Community Museum and Archives is poised to play an even more integral role in preserving the rich history and heritage of the region. Whitford’s unique blend of academic expertise and hands-on experience makes him an ideal candidate to lead the museum and archives into a promising future. Visitors and residents alike are encouraged to visit the Cornwall Community Museum and Archives to explore the captivating history of Cornwall and its surroundings while getting to know the museum’s passionate new Senior Curator and Administrator, Brent Whitford.
Five Questions with The Seeker
1 – What are some unique artifacts or exhibits that visitors can expect to see at the museum?
“We host numerous exhibits at the Museum, including period-specific living spaces. However, we are most excited about our newest exhibits pertaining to important general themes, such as the history of community service, healthcare, and commerce in our community. We also launched a new temporary exhibit hall, with a theme set to change every six months, that is currently home to the Cornwall and the Crown display, which outlines the historic relationship between Cornwall and the British Royal Family.”
2 – What role does the museum play in preserving and promoting local history and heritage?
“The Museum serves as a repository for artifacts deemed to have historical and/or heritage value. An important part of our mandate is to design exhibits for public display, such that visitors can learn about Cornwall and SDG’s history in an immersive and engaging way. We are also tasked with ensuring that such artifacts remain in good condition for the future. Additionally, we host an archive and research center that contains over 50,000 historic documents and several 100 thousand photos.”
3 – How does the museum contribute to the tourism industry in Cornwall and SDG?
“We have welcomed over 2000 visitors to the Museum this year already! We also work closely with our City and Counties partners to promote the tourism industry by participating in common events. Perhaps most important, though, every single person who visits our museum leaves with a better understanding and appreciation of our community’s rich and important history. In short, we help to promote a positive image of Cornwall and SDG and suggest other venues where they might also obtain a similar experience.”
4 – Could you discuss any recent collaborations or partnerships in which the museum has been involved?
“We are pleased to share our space with the United Empire Loyalist’s Association of Canada, who recently moved their dominion office into our premises. As such, we have effectively joined our collections to better serve the research needs of the community. Also, we are proud to partner with the International Afro and Diversity Festival, who strive to celebrate the francophone, afro, and overall diversity of our community, a value and sentiment that we at the Museum also hold to heart.”
5 – What are your future plans and aspirations for the Cornwall Community Museum?
“First, I am planning to develop off-site exhibits on Cornwall and SDG history to be displayed at numerous public venues throughout the community. The goal is to cultivate a positive sense of identity and belonging for everyone vis-à-vis our rich local history. Second, I plan to develop our archive such that it may serve as the preeminent regional research center for all matters related to Cornwall and SDG history. Last, I plan to continue updating our in-house exhibits by incorporating new themes, esthetics, and technologies.”