Living Heritage: Our values, beliefs and ways of life shape our sense of identity, belonging and place, connecting past, present and future.
Kristin Catherwood | fromthegap.com

Ecomuseums

Sometimes called “museums without walls,” ecomuseums are locally-run community museums that foster sustainable forms of social and economic development based on in situ conservation and interpretation of natural and cultural heritage. The ecomuseum model was developed in France in the early 1970s to foster holistic interpretations of cultural heritage.  The aim was to combine tangible objects, sites, and built structures with the traditions, practices, and customs associated with intangible cultural heritage (ICH), also known as “living heritage.” As the idea caught on, the model was broadened to include natural heritage, including local flora and fauna, important wildlife habitats and geomorphology sites. 

The Saskatchewan museum community first talked about ecomuseums shortly after the model started to flourish in Europe, but while some were developed in other parts of Canada, none took root here.  In 2011, to assess the current potential for their development, the Royal Saskatchewan Museum (RSM) sent out a wide call for interest and received positive responses from over 15 locations across the province.  Simultaneously, Heritage Saskatchewan initiated research regarding the broader scope of heritage, which resulted in a publication called Living Heritage & Quality of Life – Reframing Heritage Activity in Saskatchewan.  As a follow-up to this publication, the Museums Association of Saskatchewan (MAS) published a series of documents called Museums and Sustainability – Social Sustainability, examining links between the museum community (including three ecomuseum site case studies) and the social, economic, and environmental aspects of sustainability.


Saskatchewan Ecomuseums Initiative
In 2012, the Saskatchewan Ecomuseums Initiative (SEI) was established and soon expanded to include other partners. Participation in the SEI is a major focus of the Museums Association of SK’s Museums & Sustainability Initiative that encompasses both how museums can, themselves, be more sustainable and how museums can contribute to the sustainability of their communities. On February 21, 2013, a workshop took place in Regina which included over a dozen potential stakeholders and community leaders from across the province interested in the ecomuseum model. From the workshop comments, a Ecomuseum Planning Framework was established.

The Saskatchewan-United Nations Regional Centre of Expertise (RCE) on Education for Sustainable Development, affiliated with both Saskatchewan universities and Saskatchewan Polytech, also recognizes the SEI as a core project.  The current SEI Steering Committee is chaired by the RSM and includes Heritage Saskatchewan (HS), Museums Association of Saskatchewan (MAS), SaskCulture, Heritage Canada the National Trust (HCNT), and Raven Consortium Inc., (an association of First Nations consultants).

Through the SEI and the work of these partners, there is growing enthusiasm for the Ecomuseum Concept at the provincial level, and a number of interested communities (Val Marie, Nipawin, North Central Regina, Wolseley, and Katepwa) are exploring its potential as demonstration sites.  These sites range from rural prairie and boreal fringe communities, to an inner city neighbourhood, and they all include a focus on First Nations heritage.


The SEI and Heritage Saskatchewan
The SEI, of which Heritage Saskatchewan is a member, continued to support a number of ecomuseums and communities interested in establishing ecomuseums. Heritage Saskatchewan's commitment continues to be as an advisory body providing that advice to consultants and ecomuseum communities throughout Saskatchewan.

As participants in the ecomuseum network, Heritage Saskatchewan is able to disseminate information regarding Living Heritage and holistic approaches to community development; and also to learn firsthand about what is happening at the community level, and offer help when needed. This past year, the SEI underwent changes to reflect the growth in ecomuseums in the province and the need for the original steering group members to re-examine our roles moving forward. The newly formed Ecomuseum Network will now fall under the purview of the Museums Association of Saskatchewan (MAS) and be operated not unlike a Special Interest Group, where the members can seek assistance through MAS's advisory services but also inform MAS about their needs. The original steering committee members (all provincial organizations, for the most part) will continue to operate as an advisory body and provide advice and assistance with items such as conferences and advice specific to our areas of expertise. The change will see our 'group' becoming the Ecomuseum Partnership to better reflect our involvement moving forward.

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