The History of Quinte Educational Museum and Archives (QEMA)


When the Prince Edward County Board was created in 1969, the newly created County Board established the Board office in the former Bloomfield School.  In the 70s, the Board decided there was a need for additional office spaces as well a conference room for Board meetings.  Consequently, an extension was planned and the completed building would be known as the Educentre.  The Prince Edward County School Board of Education applied to the Local Improvement Program and received grants to erect the Educentre.  However, part of that project was to produce in the lower level of the Educentre an educational museum that would ensure the preservation of items related to the heritage of the County, and if possible arrange these items for display, thereby making them available for viewing by the general public. The Quinte Educational Museum and Archives (QEMA), created in the lower level of the new addition was an innovative way to achieve the necessary grants while fulfilling a need to preserve educational history. Thus, in 1978, QEMA with its unique beginnings became Prince Edward County’s newest museum with an archives component.


On June 14, 1976, Mrs. S. Beattie, Mr. J. Singleton, Miss L. Alexander and Miss D. Wiggins made a presentation, Project S.A.V.E., to the Board to jump start the museum part of the project.  The Board’s instructions were to continue with the collection of artifacts and documents, while the decision on the actual museum plan would be adopted later. At the same time, funds for furnishings were to be referred to the finance committee.  Permission was given to the Business Administrator to apply for a L.I.P. Grant to finish off the museum portion of the Educentre.  In 1976, six students were hired through an Ontario Experience 76 Grant to gather, sort and catalogue documents and artifacts. At the end of the summer the materials were moved into the basement space that had been allotted for the Quinte Educational Museum and Archives.


On May 24, 1977, the Prince Edward Board of Education formed an Independent Steering Committee to direct the design and function of the Educational Museum in the Educentre.  On June 7, 1977, an Ad Hoc Museum Committee was formed and Mr. G. Boult was hired to set up the museum.  In discussion, it was decided for FUNDING purposes the museum should be incorporated as an independent body with some ties retained with Prince Edward County Board of Education. The PURPOSE would be to assist with or become part of the school curriculum (Social Studies).  The NAME chosen was The Educational Museum and Archives of Ontario (EMA).  This name was changed later because it was considered unacceptable as it might give the impression that it was a Government sponsored Museum.  Prince Edward County Council gave permission Nov. 22, 1977 to use the present name Quinte Educational Museum and Archives (QEMA).  The following AIMS and OBJECTIVES (Mission) were developed:





ÿ        To tell the story of education in Ontario using wherever possible Prince Edward County as an example and primary source for collection of museum material;

ÿ        To support Canadian Studies for school curriculum;

ÿ        To encourage interest in education;

ÿ        To collect and preserve those artifacts and records which best illustrate the history and progress of education in Ontario;

ÿ        To provide an archives and library for educational research.


A Finance Committee was formed and a budget of $12,000 per year was allocated; most of which would be for the salary of a curator. The museum started to build on monetary donations, as well as educational material and documents donated mainly from retired teachers. Among these were the original drawings from the Mary, John and Peter Primer donated by Judge and Mrs. Robert Walmsley.


The museum was first opened to the public in September 1977.   QEMA was incorporated on April 7, 1978.  The constitution was prepared and an interim curator was hired.  School groups started to visit the museum.  Monetary donations as well as loans and donations of storage shelving and display cases continued.


However, QEMA was officially opened by the Honourable Pauline McGibbon, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, on Saturday, May 13, 1978. That summer, students were hired for a Summer Work Project to produce QEMA packs for use in the schools, classify material in the museum, open the museum to the public and expand the collection of audio tapes of reminiscences. Publicity was increased through newspapers in Kingston, Belleville, Wellington and Picton as well as flyers in high traffic tourist areas. 


In the early years of the Museum and Archives, much of QEMA’s funding came from grants. The Ministry of Employment and Immigration gave Summer Youth Employment grants which allowed QEMA to hire two or three students during the summer.  Another boost came from The Ontario Career Action Programme that gave permission to hire a trainee curator for sixteen weeks and was funded entirely by the retraining program.  Through presentations by the by QEMA’s Board of Directors and letters to various stakeholders and businesses, donations were received from groups and organizations as well as individuals.


In June 1979, QEMA qualified for Registered Charity Status and our Corporation was assigned a number from Revenue Canada.  Fund raisers such as “Musicians’ in Concert” produced by Prince Edward Collegiate and Pinecrest Memorial Elementary School, the sale of Mika’s  publication, Prince Edward County Heritage featuring artifacts from the museum, in addition to the sale of hasty notes and membership fees ($2) helped with the expenses.  Through Summer Grant /83, three students and a project leader produced the booklet on early education in the county. Four hundred copies of The Twig is Bent…So grows the Tree were printed and sold @ $4. Bake sales in co-operation with public events such as Bloomfield’s Flag and Flower festival were also organized. 


 An association between QEMA and the Prince Edward Historical Society was formed when their president, Dr. Misener had acquired an Indian Artifact collection and needed space to sort, store and display.  Another artifact of interest was the restoration of an old manual-set printing press, the contribution of Gordon Crouse. Further, the Genealogical Society also became linked with the Museum.  They requested storage space and access for their researchers.  The curator was to donate one-third of her time to the Society’s needs in exchange for a generous donation.  There was a joint Open House with the Genealogical Society. This union continued until the Genealogical Society moved to their new building in Ameliasburgh in 1994. At this time Doug Crawford moved his Canning Museum Display into the space they had occupied at QEMA. 


During the eighties and nineties the QEMA’s Outreach Programme included numerous presentations by the Board of Directors and curators to organizations, Nursing Homes and Retirement Homes.  Museum tours were set up for children and adult groups. QEMA was present at various events around the County. Edukits were sent to the schools and competitive projects organized.


As with most organizations, there were ups and downs in QEMA’s history.  Sometimes morale was an issue when both attendance and support were low.  Two of the Presidents passed away while in office.  Others had to leave the Board because of ill health.  However, each time QEMA would bounce back and newcomers eagerly carried the load. During 1996-97 Municipal Restructuring and the Transition to the New Corporation of the County of Prince Edward took place, as well as the Amalgamation of Prince Edward and Hastings County School Boards. The Educentre would close January1998 and operations would be carried on in Belleville.  The Board of Directors was given until the end of the summer to find a new home.  After much searching for a new home that would be suitable and affordable it was decided as a last resort to rent a small area that was available in the PERCA centre for $100 a month.  In order to retain its corporation charter, QEMA had to keep operating.  Materials were stored at the C.M.Snider School, Wellington, Barrack 12-D, and Picton Archives. 


QEMA operated from the PERCA Centre from 1999 until 2003.  The summer curator students did amazing work setting up displays and artifacts that would identify with learning in a small rural school.  Because of the limited space, tours could not be held but people visiting the centre could follow the self- guided tour that was outlined in a duo tang.  Outreach was the focus during this phase of QEMA’s operations and the Directors took turns staffing while the curator was away.  The student also worked with the day campers that were with PERCA staff.  Even the $100 per month was difficult to raise. When the treasurer became worried about paying the next month’s rent, the Directors banded together and organized a Fun Fair Looney Day.  Other problems such as security became an issue as well.  Tirelessly, the Directors kept following leads for a home for QEMA and contacted many influential people for help.  It was at the June 2003 meeting that the Directors learned through contact by Debbie Moynes and Lyle Vanclief, that the Montgomery Family would donate the Victoria School house QEMA that was sitting on their land to QEMA.  In 2003, summer activities were carried on at PERCA.


QEMA Directors pursued the possibility of moving the Schoolhouse to Ameliasburgh and began negotiations. The result was the moving of Victoria School 5.5 km. from the Weese and Gore Roads to a site in the Ameliasburgh Historical Museum in August 2005.  Much fund raising was done as well as large donations from the Retired Teacher’s of Ontario, The Stark Fund, Lennox and Addington Community Futures Development Corporation and the John Parrot Foundation.   QEMA’s Historian Dan Rainey recorded the move with his camera. The pictures may be seen in the book The Victoria School House A Sense of Community that he and his sister, Helen Tompkins wrote and published in 2006 as a fund raiser for QEMA.   


During the move in 2005 Prince Edward Community Services approved the request of QEMA to use office space in their facility on Ross St in Picton.  Later, in the fall of 2006, the Corporation for the County of Prince Edward through the Department of Parks Recreation and Culture granted QEMA the use the Ameliasburgh Satellite office in the Town Hall.  The summer outreach Program was operated from this base in the summer of 2005. A phone and internet hook-up service was set up.

Through the Job Creation Partnership with Human Resources Development Canada (HRDC) invaluable assistance with the moving project and Museum and Archives setup of the artifacts and archives that had been in “exile” since 1998 was provided by Wayne Zybala (2005) while in the office on Ross Street and Wally Salamanchuk (2006) assumed this role when the office space in Ameliasburgh was made available to QEMA.


There was much work repairing the century-old Victoria Schoolhouse and preparing the surrounding area for the opening May 20, 2006.  Both the Victoria Schoolhouse and the Satellite Office were open and staffed for the summer events planned by the Ameliasburgh Museum.  The Grand Opening of the Victoria School House was held Saturday, September 29, 2007 at 12:30 p.m. This coincided with the opening of the Ameliasburgh Fair.  After the fair was officially opened, the politicians and other dignitaries attended the Victoria School House Opening. 


Restoration of the School House continued with beautiful maple flooring and platform, blackboards installed, lighting with original fixtures, insulation and painting inside and outside.  The building is secure and QEMA is proud to have this as part of its Museum complex. Visitors entering are awed by the progress.


At the same time, the spirit of QEMA lives on at the Satellite office as funds have gone into computers, materials for storing and displaying artifacts, and housing for the archival material.  Summer students have assisted in the creation of the Policy and Procedures Manual, hands-on educational programs at the Schoolhouse, Learning in a One-Room Schoolhouse Boxes, initially working on the website, renovations, cataloguing books and documents, and educational displays that depict the evolving educational system.  Volunteers and Directors continue to work in the Victoria Schoolhouse and the Archives.  Outreach is an ongoing process with communication in the community.  Resource materials are prepared and sent to schools prior to their visits. 


In order to fund the ongoing costs of maintenance and development, fund raising activities are planned such as the Annual Victorian Galas, yard sales and musical shows featuring top entertainers, Music in the Schoolhouse Nights, 50/50 Draws, Craft Shows, Sale of our publications, The Victoria Schoolhouse – A Sense of Community and The Saga of the One-Room Schoolhouse, as well as numbered watercolour prints of the Victoria Schoolhouse by Laurie Scott.


The Schoolhouse is becoming a place where small community events can be held.  Down Memory Lane nights are held where members reminisce about their school days. Three music evenings were held during 2009.  Women’s groups hold meetings and reunions here. The school house is becoming “a sense of community”.  At the same time the Museum and Archives attracts visitors sometimes to find their roots or just to view the educational displays that depict school life a century ago.


The spirit of QEMA continues to grow through membership, numbering 100 in 2011, activities involving the community and long range planning.  The crisis over losing its home has not only made it stronger but has opened new doors and visions.  From its unique beginnings in the lower level of the Educentre, QEMA has blossomed, thanks to the dedication of Directors, friends of the past, volunteers and membership.  In many ways, QEMA is like the ‘Mythical Phoenix Rising’.  The phoenix is the mythical bird that never dies but rather “flies far ahead to the front, always scanning the landscape and distant space.  It represents our capacity for vision, for collecting sensory information about our environment, and the events unfolding within it”. (The Feng Shui Handbook)





By Louise Sallans

Membership Chair and former QEMA President


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