Oil Springs museum to open Jan. 26 after nearly a year of renos

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oil museum of canada photo Members of the Facility and Exhibition team strategized and used a little brute force to place the 1,000 pound wagon into its place at the newly renovated Oil Museum of Canada in Oil Springs recently. The facility is expected to open to the public Jan. 26 - six months later than first anticipated.

A construction project at the Oil Museum of Canada which was expected to take six months, will take almost a year to complete.

And it’s cost has now grown to over $1 million.

Lambton County officials say the opening date of the revamped museum originally planned for June 2021 is now expected Jan. 26. 

In February, contractors began stripping the 60 year-old museum to the studs as part of a plan to return the building to its original design by Ian Rutherford. One of the keys will be opening up the museum again by returning the walls of windows which allowed visitors to look out over the existing oil fields. 

The museum is also redesigning the exhibits based on the original vision of the museum’s founders to feature things like the geology of oil, how Indigenous people used oil, the discovery of oil and the reach of Lambton’s oil drillers as well as the history of Oil Springs and the boom there. 

But as the construction began, Ontario began to tighten work and social restrictions because of the rise of the COVID-19 virus. The restrictions, which lasted for several weeks, slowed the flow of construction materials which were already scarce because of a building boom across North America.

The contractors also had to figure out how many people would be able to work at one time, to make sure everyone properly distanced while the building was under construction.

As the June opening date rolled around, the province was reopening. Museums would be among the last venues to invite the public back in. By then, Oil Museum officials were thankful for the extra time as the construction lagged.

But the new opening date became October as supply shortages continued.

Monday, there was a light at the end of the tunnel according to Erin Dee-Richards, the curator of the Oil Museum of Canada. The engineers have given the green light to let visitors into the new space in Oil Springs when the county is ready to reopen.

That will be a month yet.

“Small things, deficiencies, that kind of thing, are being addressed. … We have our display cases in and got the interpreter panels printed and started installing those and employing artifacts to prepare them to be able to put onto display,” she says.

“We’re working towards an opening, a soft opening date of January 26 2022, which is a Wednesday, ” says Dee-Richards noting that is the museums regular winter hours.

“We’re not doing anything fancy at this point, just because of restrictions. We are going to be planning public grand reopening events for the springtime. We’re still going to be determining that date. 

“We’re just going to be opening our doors and allowing people to come and visit us again.”

Dee-Richards says there has been some concern that the museum has been closed for so long, it may be off some patron’s radars.

“We’ve been trying to up our social media presence, as well as we have a member E-blast that goes out with kind of behind the scenes pictures and information of what’s going on,” she says.

Employees have also started doing virtual programming, which has proven popular and has lead to an award for the museum.

“We’re hoping that those types of things are keeping people maybe not in the front of their mind, but at least keeping people remembering about us. People have been interacting with us on social media and they seem to be excited for us when we return.”

With the extra time to restore the museum comes extra cost according to the General Manager of cultural services for Lambton, Andrew Meyer. 

There have been about $167,000 in approved changes throughout the course of the construction, stretching the $880,000 price tag to about $1,048 million. Those costs will be finalized at the end of the project.

Meyers adds the cost over run will be covered with a contingency fund built into the contract and reserves at the county.