An Ian Gillespie article in the London Free Press this past week highlights one of this city's long-term heritage problems. The article discusses former fire chief Jim Fitzgerald's collection of firefighting memorabilia, some of which dates back to the 1840s. The artifacts include photos, posters, helmets, hoses, alarms, masks, coats, etc. Every item tells a tale about brave firefighters of London's past.
Jim's collection was recently on display at City Hall lobby. Which is nice because normally no one would get to see it. Though he's tried for years to get the city to establish a firefighting museum, the city's just not interested. "I can't get to first base," he was quoted as saying. "It's sad." He adds: "It's a damn shame this stuff isn't in a permanent home." Presumably the artifacts spend most of their time in Jim's basement.
Of course, it's not just firefighting "stuff" that doesn't have a permanent home in London. Witness the recent closure of the Guy Lombardo Museum near the former Wonderland Gardens and the wrangling over ownership of the music legend's speedboat.
Then there are the various London museums in crowded, inappropriate quarters - like the First Hussars Museum in an Ontario cottage behind the Old Courthouse. Or the ones in out of the way places - like the Secrets of Radar Museum somewhere behind Parkwood Hospital. (I know, veterans will find it there - but who else?)
What this city needs is a real historical museum (by "real" I mean not like Museum London) with sections devoted to: the founding of the city at the Forks, the First Hussars, the Western Fair, Guy Lombardo and the Royal Canadians, the Medical Hall of Fame, Royal Canadian Regiment and the Secrets of Radar. There would be room for firefighting artifacts. Throw in a section on London's role as a refuge for fugitive slaves before the Civil War. Have a special display on our worst disaster, the Victoria riverboat capsizing. The role of the railway in developing the city.
I could go on but you get the point. Most of our heritage should be under one roof, not scattered throughout the city. And we don't even need to build new. There's an unused library on Queens Ave. Its lobby is probably large enough to hold Engine 86. There are dozens of empty stores on Dundas Street, most large enough to hold Tempo VI. There's an empty Normal School in Wortley Village...
If we build it - and make it good - they will come. Even pay. And Jim could get all that "stuff" out of his basement.