On June 15 and 16 Westfield is officially launching our 60th Anniversary Season. On that particular weekend there will be music, Steam Traction Engine Rides, a Rug Hooking exhibit, a Costume exhibit, Blacksmithing demonstrations, family crafts and so much more from 12:00 to 4:00 p.m. We will also officially open a new interactive garden space and Tracey-Mae Chambers’ Installation #hopeandhealingcanada will be on display until October 2024.

We are also launching a series of articles highlighting some interesting treasures from the Westfield Collection. First up is the Accession Register.

Thanks to Lisa for the article and Christian for the photographs. 

The Accessions Register:  Bible of the Museum World

Traditionally a bound, ledger-style volume, an accessions register is meant to be a definitive record of all the objects that are or have been, a part of a museum’s collections. In careful printing and rhythmic cursive, its long lists of names, dates, donors, and objects document the growth and evolution of a museum’s collections in real time.  Through this process, the register becomes not only one of the most important, foundational documents in a museum’s holdings but an irreplaceable artifact in its own right.

Westfield’s first accession register is a fascinating object.  Intriguingly, it begins on page 120, in direct contravention of one of the cardinal rules of accession register-keeping – that no pages may be removed.  This leaves us to wonder – what became of pages 1 through 120?  Perhaps this age-worn volume had a previous life.  The scribblings found inside the front cover suggest this.  A young writer “Jack,” seems to have been practicing his signature, making note of his homework – “book report,” and trying his hand at portraiture.

Museums typically use a standardized cataloguing system in assigning unique identifying numbers to artifacts.  Known as accession numbers, these link an object to its documentation.  An object number 2015.07.6, for example, would tell us that an artifact was donated in 2024, that it was the 7th donation received in that year and the 6th item in that donation.  (It can get more detailed than that, with a’s and b’s and x-numbers, but we won’t go there.)  Unusually, Westfield’s very first register begins its long lists without accession numbers.  But several pages in, we see a magic number – 1964.01.01.  More on this later.

An interesting thing about accession registers is that they not only provide a detailed record of collections but also reveal societal values and cultural priorities of their time.  During the 1960s, particularly with the Centennial celebrations of 1967 approaching, national pride was on the rise.  This led to a surge in support for heritage projects and the establishment of new museums, like Westfield.  A growing emphasis on cultural preservation and the educational potential of museums created a sense of urgency to collect and preserve artifacts that told the foundational stories of Canada, its communities and people.

The accession registers of Ontario museums born in this time typically reflect a strong interest in regional and local histories.  This movement led to the enthusiastic collection of agricultural and domestic artifacts. Westfield’s ploughs, pitchforks, oil lamps and wagons all have siblings in similar rural Ontario museums.  Personal objects such as clothing, toys and household items were collected to provide a window into daily life in small communities and rural environments.  Comprised of all of these things and more, Westfield’s diverse collection now includes approximately 28 000 artifacts.

For Canadian museums born in the 1960s, the establishment of a formal collections register was recognized as an important step toward professionalization.  With the adoption of sound collections management practices, Westfield was right on trend.  This first register, now a little tired and ragged, is at the root of our sleek new collections database.  An artifact from Westfield’s earliest days, it stands as a testament to the vision of those who recognized the importance of putting pen to paper.  Sixty years on, we celebrate them.

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