New book explores history of Manitoba Museum


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This article was published 29/09/2020 (978 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A new book explains why it took so long to build a stand-alone museum to highlight Manitoba’s heritage.

On Tues., Oct. 6, Jim Burns will launch his 183-page book Fire, Folly and Fiasco: Why it took 100 years to build the Manitoba Museum. McNally Robinson Booksellers will host the virtual event, which will be moderated by Manitoba Historical Society president Gordon Goldsborough.

Burns, a paleontologist and curator emeritus at the Royal Alberta Museum, moved to Winnipeg in 2007. He began volunteering the following year at the Manitoba Museum (formerly the Museum of Man and Nature).

Supplied photo Author and paleontologist Jim Burns has written the story of how the Manitoba Museum came to be.

“When I started volunteering at the museum in 2008, I found that there was no history of the Manitoba Museum or any of these preceding efforts to establish museums,” he said.

“I was working in the collections there for a while and I got the idea a couple years later that maybe a book was in order. I worked on that book on and off for the succeeding 10 years.”

Manitoba became a province on July 15, 1870, and the museum officially opened on July 15, 1970, exactly a century later.

“There’s 100 years of fumbling and bumbling in trying to establish a proper museum,” said Burns, a Norwood Flats resident.

“There are just so many neat stories about everything that took place along the way.”

Burns begins his book with a nod to the first repository of Manitoba’s heritage, which was kept in Andrew Bannatyne’s home that also served as the province’s first legislative building in 1871.

“The legislature took over the second floor and operated there for just under two years, when it burned down,” he said. “They managed to rescue some materials from there, but this should have been a wake-up warning bell.”

In 1879, the Historical and Scientific Society of Manitoba was established with an ambitious mandate to collect everything that pertained to the province’s history. More mishaps occurred, which Burns delves into in his historical exploration.

The core of the book hinges on Manitoba’s exhibition at Chicago’s 1893 World Fair, which featured a costly pavilion to attract people to the province.

“The material for the exhibition was to come back to Manitoba to be the nucleus of a museum here in Winnipeg. It never happened,” Burns said.

“There were no blueprints for a building. Nothing even existed that could stand in. There was not even a discussion in legislature. It was just a ruse for the newspapers.”

Burns also highlights the Ancient Free and Accepted Masons’ 10-day “loan curio exhibition” in the spring of 1898, which attracted thousands of people to what was essentially a pop-up museum. That event showcased a slice of the province’s rich history — and proved that Manitobans would gather for a glimpse at items of antiquity.

The 20-chapter book bursts with historical tidbits to entice those who would like to learn more about Manitoba’s often-thwarted journey to its first stand-alone museum.

To register for the virtual book launch, which begins at 7 p.m. on Oct. 6, visit the McNally Robinson Booksellers website at

Copies of Fire, Folly and Fiasco: Why it took 100 years to build the Manitoba Museum are available through McNally for $28.

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