Burlington Councillors Vote for Additional $1M for Joseph Brant Museum

The Joseph Brant Museum in Burlington has been in operation since 1942. Built as a community museum, it is a replica of the original homestead of Joseph Brant, also known as Thayendanegea (1742-1807), one of the most well known Native Americans of his generation to the Americans and the British. The museum was established to honour and recognize Burlington’s past and its relevance to the present and future through innovative sharing and collecting of the city’s heritage. It’s also intended to provide lifelong learning experiences.

For a mid-sized Canadian city such as Burlington, it is quite a worthy goal to keep and maintain such a cultural institution in its midst. But like everything else in life, it costs money to keep it and maintain the quality for people to enjoy. Debating over where that money comes from has been a contentious issue for Burlington city council.

It’s not like the Joseph Brant Museum didn’t receive a generous amount of funding as of late. According to a memo sent out by Coun. Blair Lancaster to her colleagues during a recent council committee meeting, a total of $9,688,559 has already been put forward from the following:

  • City of Burlington: $2,120,000 committed, with the same amount allocated.

  • Joseph Brant Museum Foundation: $2,589,559 committed, but not yet fully raised.

  • Government of Canada: $4,479,000 committed through the Cultural Spaces Fund.

  • Provincial government: $500,000 committed through Ontario Trillium Foundation.

Lancaster’s motion calls for an addition $1 million on top of the $2.1 million already allocated by Burlington taxpayers to go to the museum’s renovations. The justification being that even with all the announced funding, there is still a gap of $1 million. Lancaster said this provision was needed to address a timing issue, just in case the renovation to the museum did not receive further provincial government funding, Nevertheless, Lancaster was confident that the province would still cover the additional $1 million.

The renovated Joseph Brant Museum would look something like this:

During the meeting while most of Lancaster’s fellow council members expressed support for the motion, a few raised concerns. Coun. Jack Dennison asked if the Joseph Brant Foundation (JBF) was able to raise that much money on its own, then why can’t they raise the remaining $1 million and not lean on the taxpayers, which staff replied that $1.2 million was already what the Foundation could successfully raise on their own. Coun. Marianne Meed Ward asked Lancaster to clarify that her motion essentially would be asking that if the province didn’t cover the $1 million, then the money would come from City of Burlington coffers and not the JBF.

Lancaster said that in order to get the project moving ahead at this particular time, they needed to secure the funding this way. She also reminded the rest of her colleagues that a contingency fund was built in and further delays will simply add additional costs to the project, especially if the delays cause the development to be done over the winter months.

Lancaster often repeated the line that all three parties (the city, the province and the JBF) were committed to funding the project, and that there were further opportunities to discuss funding, not exactly giving a definitive ‘yes or no’ answer to Meed Ward’s question. Lancaster did give a firm ‘No’ on Meed Ward asking if Lancaster’s motion could be amended to say that the JBF would repay the $1 million to the City of Burlington.

Coun. Rick Craven, whose ward contains the Joseph Brant Museum, provided more supportive comments and basically parroted Lancaster’s confidence to get this project and to get ‘shovels in the ground’. Craven chided Dennison on the constant debate over whether taxpayers dollars should go into cultural service, saying that sophisticated cities understand the importance of culture and it is ‘time to finish the job’ in Burlington.

Coun. Paul Sharman asked how much is in the contingency fund (which is about 15 per cent) and opined that he’s seen art all over the world and that Burlington, as perhaps ‘the best city in Canada’, therefore there’s no need to delay the funding of the project, echoing Craven and Lancaster’s comments. But Lancaster seemed to take issue with her colleague Meed Ward apparently just explaining the background of the scope of the work into the Joseph Brant Museum project in order to explain how she would vote on the matter, saying that the only thing that should be discussed is the funding.

Meed Ward said before approving additional money there should be a review as to the scope of this project, because it had been on the books a very long time and circumstances may have changed. Until she gets more information, Meed Ward said she would not be voting for the motion to approve the $1 million. Craven pointed out that the Six Nations representatives were in support of the project, and Dennison mentioned that approving this would require additional staffing costs, operating costs, and maybe some wage parity issues as well. Dennison answered that he would have been willing to support an increase of 25 per cent, but not 300, therefore he said he would be voting against the motion as well.

Lancaster replied that the Museum does have a business model that does not increase the operating costs, and the scope of the costs would not increase significantly. And in the end, Burlington councillors voted to approve sending the motion to be voted on in July in regular council for the additional $1 million, with Meed Ward and Dennison being the dissenting votes.

It will be interesting to see as things move forward, whether the province would indeed cough up another $1 million for the Joseph Brant Museum renovations, negating the need for Burlington taxpayers to foot that bill. Only time will tell.

Artistic rendition courtesy of the Joseph Brant Museum

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