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Ross Farm Museum teaches heritage skills

The Ross Farm Museum is located at 4568 Highway 12, New Ross, N.S. - Matthew Gates - Ross Farm Museum
The Ross Farm Museum is located at 4568 Highway 12, New Ross, N.S. - Matthew Gates - Ross Farm Museum - Contributed

What’s old is new again

Many life skills that were once vital for survival have, for various reasons, fallen out of fashion over the years.

But now, many of these same skills – quilting, natural dyeing, cooking and preserving foods, blacksmithing, backyard gardening, animal husbandry – are once again in high demand.

“We recognized this wave coming 10 or 15 years ago, with the slow food movement, sustainability and concern about food security,” says Lisa Wolfe, recently-retired director of Ross Farm Museum.

The museum now boasts a state-of-the-art Heritage Skills Learning Centre, complete with a fully-functioning industrial kitchen, a working hearth, changing exhibits and classroom space for traditional workshops.

Lisa Wolfe, recently-retired director of Ross Farm Museum, was presented with the Award for Excellence in Museum Practices in September.
Lisa Wolfe, recently-retired director of Ross Farm Museum, was presented with the Award for Excellence in Museum Practices in September.

Wolfe retired in April after a 20-year stint as the director of the museum. In September, she was presented with the Award for Excellence in Museum Practices. Established in 2013, this award acknowledges and celebrates individuals, volunteer or paid, who have made remarkable contributions towards a better understanding of the province’s human or natural history. The award is presented by the Association of Nova Scotia Museums.

Under Wolfe’s leadership, the museum raised more than $4.4 million, including $1.6 million from private donors, to make the centre a reality.

25,000 people each year visit Ross Farm Museum for a glimpse into Nova Scotia’s agricultural past. The land is still farmed with oxen, as it was in the 1800s, and visitors may see food being prepared over an open fire, straw hats being woven or butter being churned. There is a working blacksmith shop, as well as a stave mill and cooperage producing barrels.

Many of the life skills that were once vital for survival but have long since fallen by the wayside, such as blacksmithing, pictured above, are garnering renewed interest and are on display at the Ross Farm Museum. - Matthew Gates - Ross Farm Museum
Many of the life skills that were once vital for survival but have long since fallen by the wayside, such as blacksmithing, pictured above, are garnering renewed interest and are on display at the Ross Farm Museum. - Matthew Gates - Ross Farm Museum

The original farmhouse dates back to 1816, and the museum was opened in 1970. The 60-acre site features walking trails and a lake.

Staff at the museum are not play-acting – the coopers make actual barrels that are used by industry. Over the years, visitors would inquire about the skill sets on display, and how they could be acquired. This was the genesis of the Heritage Skills Learning Centre.

“People were telling us that they wanted to learn these skills,” Wolfe says.

Unfortunately, there was no suitable classroom space at the farm for teaching these skills. So, about a decade ago, they began the process with a feasibility study, a functional analysis of existing space, a business plan and a fundraising plan.

“We had to have our ducks in a row, to make sure this was something people wanted and that there were enough people interested to make this work,” Wolfe says. “Our donors believed in this because we were looking forward at things like small farms and rural economic development.”

About 25,000 people visit Ross Farm Museum each year for a glimpse into Nova Scotia’s agricultural past. - Matthew Gates - Ross Farm Museum
About 25,000 people visit Ross Farm Museum each year for a glimpse into Nova Scotia’s agricultural past. - Matthew Gates - Ross Farm Museum

 

Wolfe organized many community workshops during her 20-year tenure at the museum, keeping stakeholders engaged and involved with its major projects. She also forged partnerships to connect the heritage skills interpreted on the farm with sustainability practices, and ensured that the new learning centre is equipped with a geothermal system for long-term sustainability.

“We worked with Efficiency Nova Scotia and with Emera to make the facility as energy efficient as possible,” Wolfe says. “The building has two green roofs and is bermed into the side of a hill.”

With an open concept, the facility can be used for travelling exhibits, craft fairs and community events when not in use as classrooms. Courses can be taught in the kitchen and hearth rooms. The 16,000-square-foot structure was designed by Jost Architects of Annapolis Royal.

“We wanted it to blend into the landscape of the surrounding community,” Wolfe says. “So when you’re driving by, it just looks like a big barn.”

The Ross Farm Museum is located at 4568 Highway 12, New Ross, N.S.

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