By Kevin Werner, News Staff
The Erland Lee Museum is open to the public.
At its annual general meeting inBarrieheld earlier this month, the Federated Women’s Institute of Ontario’s board of directors approved the reopening of the museum, a national historic site, after it was closed in December 2010.
“When I heard the news, I was ecstatic,” said Marian Austin, chair of the Friends of the Lee, which has campaigned to raise money to re-open the historical building, located on Ridge Road.
“It’s absolutely wonderful. It’s a really good feeling. This is what the members want. I feel there is now a lot of positive energy.”
Austin said the plan is to open the building up to the public on Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays, or by appointment by phone.
The Friends of the Lee had expected the facility to re-open last month when it held an event to sing carols and celebrate the occasion. But the board delayed the process until the Lee met an independent house inspection asked for by the FWIO. With the assistance of Glanbrook councillor Brenda Johnson and former Stoney Creek mayor Anne Bain, the Friends navigated the city of Hamilton’s bureaucracy to get all the necessary permits and inspections for the property completed.
“We just had to stand tough and get it done,” she said.
Over a span of two years, the Friends raised more than $30,000 to improve the structure. The money has gone towards constructing accessible washrooms between the Drive Shed and the house, a winding concrete walkway from the driveway to the washroom area, repairs to the Lee’s ceiling and new stairs. Volunteers from across Ontario have been descending on the building to clean and polish the historical rooms. A gift shop has also been upgraded.
Additional projects include painting the building and improving the rooms, with an idea to create an office for future use.
A FWIO consultant’s report presented to members in 2010 advised that to re-open the Lee it would cost about $1 million in repairs. WI members have always disputed that estimate, and the reason behind the FWIO’s closure of the building.
Plans are already under way to host the FWIO board of directors April 21, including the new provincial president Evelyn Peck, and president-elect Margaret Byl. Organizers will also be holding their annual pancake breakfast on behalf of the Lee April 6 at Christ Church Woodburn, and on June 22 they will be holding a draw for a hand-made quilt. The Lee will also be taking part in Doors Open Hamilton May 4 and 5.
Austin said she would love to begin holding the museum’s strawberry social, which had been a popular event in the past.
“I would like to bring it back,” she said. “We had been waiting to see if we were going to be open. Everything hinged on it.”
Under the board’s direction, the Friends of the Lee have two years to make the museum self-sustainable. The deadline is the summer of 2014.
The Lee’s fundraising activities, such as the selling of heritage cookbooks, and calendars are continuing. Volunteers have been holding craft sessions in the Drive Shed, including candle making, and other artistic teachings. Another fundraising idea is selling reproductions of the wedding announcement of Erland and Janet Lee. Austin said the original announcement was found during a cleaning of the house.
“That blew me away,” she said. “It’s a historical document. And it’s in really good shape.”
But what would make the Lee complete is if the Friends of the Lee can convince the FWIO to relocate its office fromGuelphto the Lee.Austin’s idea is to clean up one of the Lee’s rooms and make it into an office for the organization.
“If we could move the office, that would be perfect,” she said.