Do We Still Need Museums?

Image of the outside of a yellow 2 storey house with a barn in the backgroundThe Bradley House (via

By: Kayleigh Robinson 

What is the point of museums in our society today? Why do we still go to them? We’ve all been on those school trips, where you watch as only 5 of the 25 kids in your class actually pay attention to the demonstration going on in front of them. This is, perhaps controversially, not entirely the student’s fault. History is often seen as stuffily academic and unimportant by the general population. As the only one interested in history in my entire extended family, I know this feeling well. It is up to the museum to foster that engagement. The only question is how? 

A History of Mississauga

Let’s take a step back for a moment. I’ve spent the last few weeks split between the Bradley Museum and the Small Arms Inspection Building (SAIB) in Mississauga. These are two very different spaces. The SAIB was originally used in World War Two as a munitions factory, where women from Mississauga and the surrounding area came to build guns and other weapons to be shipped out to troops in Europe. This was a period of female empowerment, there is no arguing that. However, there is the larger question, something that has been brought up every time I have spoken to someone in this building --  what violences did these women have a part in? Rifles there went on to be used in countless conflicts between 1940 and 1974. The wartime period is glorified by many, and I think it is up to museums to open up this difficult conversation.  

Image of a warehouse with large windows, exposed beams and ceiling Inside the Small Arms Inspection Building, Pre-Renovation (via

Then there is the Bradley Museum. While touring the area with my supervisor, she mentioned that the entire area was fabricated. By this I mean that all of the properties on the land surrounding the Bradley House were brought there from other locations in the area, or built there in the mid-20th century. Then my supervisor made the point that this reality is very freeing. If the entire museum is a construct, what keeps us from expanding on the history and moving past its colonial roots? The act of decolonization within museum circles is also very important in order for museums to stay relevant in our shifting society. Keep the stories of the first settlers to Mississauga alive, but also make sure to bend the discussion towards the Mississaugas of Credit Valley, and the other Indigenous groups who made this place their home for many, many years before white settlers came to their shores. 

So do we still need them?

This is a big question for someone still getting their history degree, I know. I also know that I don’t have the answer. I think no one really has the answer, but there are definitely people more qualified then I am thinking about this subject right now. I’ve had the privilege of having discussions with people on this topic every day of my placement, from conversations with my supervisor as she drives me home to workshops with curators at the SAIB. Museums need to evolve with society as it is today, and need to start asking difficult questions of their patrons.

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