A museum is more than a building.

A museum not only collects and tells stories-it also has a story of its own to tell. Our story includes forward-thinking Dundas residents who were ahead of their time in their vision for a purpose-built museum to preserve the town’s history. Learn more at map.dundasmuseum.ca/dundas-museum-archives

Founding a Museum: Thinking about the Future of the Past

Dundas’s sheltered valley and waterways attracted some of Ontario’s earliest settlements, from the Attiwandaron (Neutral) Nation to British Loyalist refugees from the United States of America. In the nineteenth century, Dundas also became a regional model of the industrial revolution. The massive factories and mills supplied unique new products to Canada and the world, leaving their mark on the town and on our modern way of life.

In the mid-twentieth century, the town’s residents realized they needed to preserve their heritage. The historical research of local reporters prompted the following headline in the March 13, 1941, Dundas Star: “Suggest Local Museum to Safeguard Records.” Around this idea, a group of citizens began to gather. They began writing the town’s history, gathered historical records, and founded the Dundas Historical Society in 1945.

Two of the most dedicated collectors were Henry and H. Graham Bertram, a father-and-son duo of industrial magnates. Their collection of Dundas-related records soon began to spill out of their company offices. A dedicated space was needed – and only the best would do.

A B&W portrait of H Graham Bertram, founder of the Dundas Historical Society Museum.
H. Graham Bertram

With a donation of land from Della Pirie, financial support from the Bertrams and an enthusiastic citizenry, the long-awaited Museum broke ground in 1955. Officially opening on April 21, 1956, the new Dundas Historical Society Museum was a remarkable building for its time. As one of Ontario’s rare purpose-built museums, the designers used cutting-edge building technology to render it fireproof and climate-controlled. In addition, all of the collections were protected by display cases donated by the Royal Ontario Museum.

The official opening of the Dundas Historical Society Museum, April 21, 1956.

The new Museum’s first curator was the inimitable Olive Newcombe.

Curator Oliver Newcombe gesturing to the Speaker’s Chair

Onwards and upwards: Expansions and Additions

The present Museum complex results from several additions and expansions to the 1956 structure. In 1974, Dundas’ first designated heritage building, the 1848 Doctor’s Office, was moved onto the museum grounds. In 1975, the Museum purchased the 1873 Pirie House, its next-door neighbour, in anticipation of future growth.

Due to healthy development in collections and use, the museum building itself has expanded twice. The first was in 1963, to add an extra gallery and storage space. The second was in 2012-2013, to integrate both the original Museum and the Pirie House wing. The result is a fully accessible multi-purpose facility that can accommodate and host both educational and community functions. In 2017 the Museum gardens underwent their own renovation, designed by landscape architect Natalie Jarvis and executed with assistance from Sunny Skies Landscaping and 8 Days a Week Sprinklers. The 2018 renovation removed asbestos tile from the original gallery floors and allowed for a modern refresh of the gallery spaces.

We believe the current Museum honours the foresight and intention of its founders. You can find out more about their stories at the Museum, and many of their family papers and possessions are now a part of the Museum’s collections!