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Kirkland Lake woman fighting to save museum her grandfather helped build

The Oakes Project: Heritage, Arts and Tourism is talking to council tonight
Members of The Oakes Project: Heritage, Arts and Tourism (TOPHAT) gathered outside Kirkland Lake council chambers on May 9.

KIRKLAND LAKE - With her family’s legacy intertwined in its very foundation, a Kirkland Lake woman is on a mission to save the town’s museum.

The Sir Harry Oakes Château is on the clutches of closure. Not only does Beverley McChesney-Rumble want to protect the treasured landmark, but the memories and heritage passed down by her grandfather, who played a pivotal role in its construction.

David McChesney was a former reeve of Kirkland Lake and the head carpenter for Sir Harry Oakes.

“My grandfather, David, was the fellow that helped to build that particular château. There was a first version that burned down and the second one that that he lived in,” McChesney-Rumble said.

“My aunt also played with Nancy Oakes, the daughter of Sir Harry Oakes, at that building and also played with her down at their mansion in Niagara Falls that my grandfather also worked on.”

In March, Kirkland Lake announced that it was ending its lease agreement with the Ontario Heritage Trust (OHT) for the Sir Harry Oakes Château. The Museum of Northern History, which is located in the building, will be open to the public throughout the summer, with operations ending on Sept.1 and the town leaving the property by the end of the year.

SEE: It may be your last summer to visit the historic Oakes château in Kirkland Lake
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A group of concerned citizens called The Oakes Project: Heritage, Arts and Tourism (TOPHAT) has been created in hopes of saving the museum.

As the spokesperson for the group, McChesney-Rumble along with another representative from TOPHAT met with the town’s mayor, CAO and two staff members on Monday (May 13).

While the town reiterated that it has no intentions of revisiting the recently ended lease agreement, McChesney-Rumble said the town suggested that the group set up a nonprofit charitable corporation that could enter into a lease agreement with the OHT.

“So that's kind of where we're at now,” she said.

“We found the response a little bit horrifying that there was that little regard for being cognizant of the need to have a space and a place like that for culture and art in Kirkland lake,” she said.

“For the town to be willing so easily to sacrifice something which brings so much to the town to save a few bucks, when really it's a piddling amount if you look at their whole budget, it doesn't make sense.”

An online petition established by TOPHAT calling for the town to continue with the lease agreement has more than 6,200 signatures.

Although council is trying to balance its budget, McChesney-Rumble said it can never lose sight that a town is more than its roads and its sewers.

“It's places in the town and activities in the town that make people want to stay there and that make a place that people want to call their home,” she said.

“And we've got more and more people coming into town and more houses that are going to be built, which will help build our tax base. I think it's short-sighted right now to get rid of something like the museum without looking at all the implications that come with it.”

At tonight’s (May 21) regular council meeting, TOPHAT is making a delegation. It was initially supposed to take place at the town’s April 16 meeting but was cancelled due to the emergency flooding event.

The meeting can be watched on the town’s YouTube channel here

Marissa Lentz, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

About the Author: Marissa Lentz, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Marissa Lentz covers civic issues along the Highway 11 corridor under the Local Journalism Initiative, which is funded by the Government of Canada
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