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Jobs of the Future: Museum Director Naomi Hehn highlights the intricacies of connecting the past with the present

'You can't pursue every idea and so you need to find the right projects and work with staff and volunteers to help you make those ideas a reality'

“Jobs of the Future” is a series focusing on career paths, local job opportunities, programs, and tales of success that highlight North Bay's diverse job market.   


Walking off Main Street and into the North Bay Museum is as close to entering a time machine as we may ever come. That’s the idea behind part of the museum’s permanent exhibit, Main Street, North Bay, giving visitors an immersive walk-through of the Gateway City’s downtown core during the 1920s through to the 1940s.  

Updating the museum’s long-term displays was one of two larger-scale projects museum director and curator Naomi Hehn was hoping to accomplish when she took the job.  

“When we redid the Museum's long-term displays, we wanted to integrate as many aspects of North Bay's history as possible and bring more of a historical site feel to the museum by connecting with photos of the original train station and creating a miniature Main Street North Bay on the second floor,” she says.  

“We have just been continually trying to improve the museum over time and make sure there is lots for people to see and bring in great temporary exhibits as well.”

Hehn says they have also put together a traveling exhibit focused on the history of Nbisiing (Nipissing) guides. A preview of the exhibit is available at   

“Our Guides are Really Going Place” is going to open up at our Museum and then travel throughout northern Ontario as well. 

“Researchers from Nipissing University and from Dokis and Nipissing First Nation have played a huge role in putting this display together and making this happen. It has been almost a two-year process. We have also been working with the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh who have provided many of the materials featured in the exhibit” 

Hehn has been with the museum since 2012. She says it was a career she had an interest in, going back to high school.  

“I always liked history and I had a chance in high school to go do a course that included an archaeological dig and I just really enjoyed it and I decided to pursue it,” says Hehn who went to Wilfrid Laurier University and earned an Honours Degree in Archaeology before getting her Masters Degree at University of Toronto in Museum Studies.  

Hehn says there are many different careers you can pursue with those degrees, but she always had a desire to work at a museum.  

“I did have an interest in field research and after gaining experience through a course field school, I ended up working for Parks Canada for a summer at Fort Henry in Kingston,” says Hehn.   

“I really enjoyed the work, but wasn't sure I wanted to move around constantly and I had the impression that it could be hard to find work in the winters as an archaeologist.”  

Hehn says she took it upon herself to get as much experience as possible while earning her degree in Museum Studies. She worked at Sainte-Marie among the hurons in Midland, an historical preservation site of Canada’s first European settlement. She also worked part-time at smaller museums in Toronto.  

“I honestly thought that's probably what I would be doing for a while because it is hard to get a full-time museum job,” says Hehn.  

“Because of limited funding there's limited jobs and oftentimes there’s mostly internships or summer jobs and contracts connected to project grants. Those are the things you generally have to apply for in order to build up to the point where you have enough experience to land a long-term position. It's definitely a field where it's a little bit risky because it’s not like you're guaranteed a job after you do this program. You may also need to be flexible about where you live in order to find a job that is a good fit.” 

Hehn says she saw the job come up in North Bay and applied to it.  

“I was already very interested in local history and working out of a smaller museum,” she says.  

“Even though I worked in Toronto, those museums were similar to the North Bay Museum in some ways as they were small museums focused on local history. I also got experience working with volunteers there as well. Being from just north of Barrie, North Bay did not seem too huge of a leap for me. I had been to North Bay before and I quite enjoyed it and I liked the idea of living somewhere where you could access all the lakes and have nature around you but you could still drive and be in a bigger city in a few hours.” 

Hehn got the job and says one of the first things she did was look at organizing and cataloguing  the records and artifacts in the museum’s collection.  

“I don't take all the credit as it's been a real team effort, but just doing a lot of work to organize the collection and making it more accessible. This was necessary to allow us to do research and update temporary displays regularly. Before I started there were quite a few years where nobody stayed in the position for a long period of time and so there was a lot of work to do to catch up and that wasn't something that happened overnight,” says Hehn. “This work is still ongoing.”  

She says smaller museums such as the North Bay Museum really rely on a strong core of volunteers to put together exhibits.  

“We have a coffee and conversations group every month, most of the members are in their 70s and 80s and a lot of them grew up in North Bay and remember a lot of the things that we’re researching. If they don't know something directly they may know someone who does and be able to point us in the right direction” says Hehn. “We also have a small core group of volunteers with different specialties.” 

“You can't pursue every idea and so you need to find the right projects and work with staff and volunteers to help you make those ideas a reality.” 

Hehn says that means finding subjects that would interest the community while also having enough content to create a display. She says one recent trend has been doing more photograph exhibits and online displays.  

“Those are projects where we see an important story to tell, and we may not have artifacts in the collection connected to that story. In some cases, if we don’t have photographs in our collection we can also access other archives or reach out to groups and individuals in the community.” says Hehn.  

“We've been able to digitize many of our photos and collections and we are looking forward to being able to continue to share that with our visitors.” 

Digitizing photos and offering online content is just one way Hehn is looking to integrate newer technology into the museum's displays.  

“You know that a certain percent of the community will physically come into the museum but how do you reach that other targeted audience and can we reach them through social media and online research?” says Hehn.   

“I actually think COVID-19 highlighted that aspect as nobody was going into any museums and it showed the importance of making the museum accessible to people who aren’t able to visit physically. We organized a virtual heritage fair and created an online program last year. This year, we actually have quite a few classes booked for virtual programming. We have been able to intern who is designated to work on programming and she has been excellent at getting that message out.” 

Hehn says as restrictions ease they look forward to having more to offer out of the museum.  

“We're also hoping to be able to start offering summer camps once again which we haven't been able to do due to the pandemic, and we're also looking at doing a video game week during March break, as well as exhibits from Science North and other ideas that wouldn't be available in the community otherwise,” says Hehn.  

“Those camps are also a great way to introduce children to the museum. We often see them coming back with their parents to check out other parts of the museum as well.” 

Since Hehn has been a part of the North Bay Museum, financial stability has been a core focus.  

“A few years ago we got funding from the city of North Bay to cover our operations. Before that it was all revenue generated as well as project grants and a small operating grant from the province,” says Hehn.   

“In the past, before I was at the Museum, it was normally just one full-time employee and now there are two. Having Sarah handling a lot of the day to day concerns, gift shop, and fundraising makes it much easier to get projects done…having a second person on hand is a huge asset.” 

Hehn says for anyone looking to get into this field as a career, the best thing you can do to prepare is to volunteer first.   

“I would suggest that you become a volunteer or try to get a summer position so that you can experience it for yourself as to what it's like to work in a museum,” says Hehn, who adds they have interns and summer students working at the North Bay Museum every year.  

“If you are interested in it, just get as much experience as you can and combine that with your schooling because it will give you a bit of an advantage when you are looking for that full-time job. You also have to be ready to work with all kinds of different people because if you are working at a small museum you might not be able to just do research. You would have to do a whole range of things which I actually enjoy because you never get bored and your day is always different.”  

If you have a story suggestion for “Jobs of the Future” send Matt an email at [email protected]  

Matt Sookram

About the Author: Matt Sookram

Matthew Sookram is a Canadore College graduate. He has lived and worked in North Bay since 2009 covering different beats; everything from City Council to North Bay Battalion.
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