Telling Ontario's Stories in the 21st Century

A Discussion Paper for Community Museums and Heritage Organizations

Table of Contents

  • Overview
    • Ontario's Community Museums and Heritage Organizations
    • Indigenous Communities and Organizations
    • Provincial Support for Community Museums and Heritage Organizations
  • Part One: Key Themes
    • Build Capacity
    • Strength Leadership
    • Support More Diverse Organizations
  • Part Two: Specific Topics
    • Sustainability
    • Performance Measures and Outcomes
    • Digital Transformation
    • Archaeological Collections Management
    • Community Hubs
  • Next Steps and Closing

How to Participate

Your responses will help shape how MTCS supports the community museum and heritage sector.

  1. Please read the paper, discuss it with your colleagues, and send us your views in one submission per organization.
    • Provide concise responses by limiting your answers to a maximum of 250 words or less per discussion question.
    • Please indicate if there are questions that do not apply to your organization or where you do not have the information to answer the question.
  2. There are several discussion questions. You do not need to answer all the questions. Please respond to the ones you feel are most important for your organization.
  3. Send your responses to by midnight March 20, 2018.


Ontario’s Culture Strategy commits to review and update provincial funding programs for community museums and heritage organizations to build capacity, strengthen leadership and support more diverse organizations.

Recently, the Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture, and Sport (MTCS) launched Ontario’s first Culture Strategy. The Strategy sets out a vision for culture in the province including guiding principles, four overarching goals, and key strategies and actions [1]. As part of the Strategy’s goal to strengthen culture in communities, a key commitment is to review and update provincial funding programs for community museums and heritage organizations to build capacity, strengthen leadership and support more diverse organizations as part of the goal to strengthen culture in communities.

This discussion paper is the first step in moving forward on that commitment and builds upon on what we heard during Culture Talks, the government’s engagement to inform the Culture Strategy.

We heard the important role community museums and heritage organizations play in their local communities, and collectively to conserve and promote Ontario’s heritage.

This discussion paper is divided into two parts:

  • Part One focuses on the three broad themes in the Culture Strategy commitment - strengthening leadership, building capacity and supporting diverse organizations. This section seeks to understand what program changes are needed to better support the above themes.
  • Part Two explores specific topics that were identified during Culture Talks. Gathering more evidence on these topics will also help inform other key actions in the Culture Strategy from the perspective of the community museums and heritage sector, which includes Indigenous voices and various cultural heritage organizations across Ontario.

We want to hear from organizations with primary mandates that support the cultural heritage sector in Ontario. This may include:

  • Community museums, organizations that identify as museums, heritage or historical societies and associations
  • Community archives
  • Indigenous communities and organizations, Indigenous cultural centres and heritage organizations
  • Cultural heritage networks or sector organizations
  • Cultural heritage organizations that receive provincial funding and those that do not

Ontario’s Community Museums and Heritage Organizations

Ontario’s community museums and heritage organizations have developed and changed over the decades. The ways through which heritage is promoted, preserved, consumed and celebrated is evolving due to significant demographic, technological and fiscal changes. Ontario’s cultural heritage sector consists of various organizations from traditional collection-based museums and community archives to community hubs and cultural networks. Community museums and heritage organizations acknowledge the past and strengthen the future. Some of these organizations tackle a wide range of social justice issues through their services and educational programming (e.g., addressing racism, fostering diversity and inclusion, and tackling climate change and environmental protection).

Community museums and heritage organizations are also providing opportunities for economic inclusion through volunteerism, and delivering skills and training for newcomers and youth. Community museums and archives are important cultural assets that provide stories and source materials for cultural productions and inspire the arts, film and television productions, all of which fuel the creative economy. Many community museums are a key part of Ontario’s cultural tourism landscape. Some community museums support small businesses by providing a space for commercial exchange such as hosting local farmers’ markets and gift shops selling local works.

There is also a growing awareness that the way Indigenous cultures and histories have been represented has not always been appropriate, accurate or respectful, and sometimes it has been directly harmful. Across the cultural heritage sector there is a growing awareness of the importance of including Indigenous perspectives. Indigenous cultural centres and heritage organizations play an important role in teaching the residents of Ontario and visitors about Indigenous cultures and histories. Some organizations have a role in acknowledging the past, while others prioritize promoting the strength and depth of Indigenous cultures in Ontario today.

Indigenous Communities and Organizations

The relationship between Ontario and Indigenous peoples in the province is in a time of transition and reconciliation. As outlined in The Journey Together: Ontario’s Commitment to Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples, the province is committed to Indigenous partners to address the legacy of residential schools, close gaps and remove barriers, create a culturally relevant and responsive justice system, support Indigenous culture, and reconcile relationships with Indigenous peoples.

During the Culture Strategy engagement process, we heard from Indigenous partners that their communities have concerns with accessing artifacts and collections, and the way in which Indigenous histories are told by non-Indigenous organizations. We also heard that there are opportunities for better relationships between Ontario’s museums and Indigenous communities. Non-Indigenous participants also indicated their desire to learn more about Indigenous histories and cultures in Ontario.

We will continue to collect Indigenous feedback throughout our work. We listened to Indigenous partners and committed several actions in the Culture Strategy on strengthening relationships with Indigenous communities. For example, in 2017, Ontario launched a new annual $5 million Indigenous Culture Fund, administered by the Ontario Arts Council to support cultural activities and programming in Indigenous communities. As other Culture Strategy initiatives are realized, we will continue to engage with Indigenous communities and organizations.

Provincial Support for Community Museums and Heritage Organizations

The ministry has provided provincial core operating support to community museums and heritage organizations for decades and recognizes that this support is necessary for the community museums and heritage sector to thrive. The ministry established its funding programs in the late 1970s and early 1980s with the goal to help build community museums and heritage organizations. There are three main ways that the ministry supports the community museum and heritage sector:

  1. The Community Museum Operating Grant (CMOG)[2] is a statutory program governed by Regulation 877 “Grants for Museums” of the Ontario Heritage Act (OHA). This program provides operating funding for community museums who meet the eligibility requirements set out in the regulation, including meeting the Standards for Community Museums in Ontario. In order to qualify for CMOG, community museums need to meet the ten Standards for Community Museums in Ontario. These standards represent the minimum requirements for the operation of a community museum based on accepted best practices.[3] Today, many community museums meet, or even exceed, these standards.
  2. The Heritage Organizations Development Grant (HODG)[4] is a statutory program governed by Regulation 879 “Grants to Incorporated Historical Societies and Historical Associations” of the OHA. This program provides operating funding to historical societies and associations. Eligible recipients are non-profit corporations that promote increased knowledge, appreciation and awareness of their community’s and our province’s heritage.
  3. The Provincial Heritage Organization Grant Program (PHO) is a non-statutory program that provides annual operating funding to 12 non-governmental, not-for-profit heritage organizations. These organizations represent disciplines such as archaeology, genealogy, architecture, history, archives, and museums. PHOs that offer heritage programs and services to their members and to the general public, are registered non-profit organizations or charities, operate on a year-round basis, and operate provincially in scope are the recipients of the grant.

Since 2013, the Ontario government has invested $30.2 million through CMOG, HODG and the PHO programs.

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Part One: Key Themes

The commitment to review and update provincial funding programs for the community museums and heritage sector also aligns with the Ontario Museum Association’s Ontario’s Museums 2025 Strategic Vision & Action Plan that includes an action to “Renew current museum funding models and recommend new funding strategy”.[5] The following three themes – build capacity, strengthen leadership and support more diverse organizations – are explored in more detail, with a series of discussion questions following each section.

Build Capacity

The results from Culture Talks indicated that building capacity is a key priority for the sector. We heard that organizations need enhanced capacity support in order to stay vital and be responsive to their community needs and opportunities, which require both short and long-term capacity support.

Building capacity is a broad term that means different things to different organizations and communities depending on their needs and goals. It is the process of enhancing an organization's ability to perform specific activities and to develop internally to better fulfill a defined mission. Capacity support can help an organization undertake a new risk or innovation or improve performance to yield measurable and sustainable results.

Building capacity leads to an improvement or an ability to undertake work that was not previously attainable.

A key part of building capacity is that there is a solid understanding of the obstacles that inhibit an individual or organization from fulfilling its mission. During Culture Talks we heard about some of the capacity challenges faced by the sector including aging infrastructure, a need for more evidence-based research, and opportunities for more collaborations.

We heard that digital transformation is seen as a key priority to help organizations remain vital in their communities and engage with youth. Archival organizations in particular identified digital preservation as an emerging pressure.

Build Capacity Discussion Questions:

  • What are your top short-term (e.g., specialized training, access to data, research needs) and long-term (e.g., financial sustainability, ability to undertake evaluation exercises) capacity needs?
  • What activities does your organization currently undertake to improve its own capacity (e.g., attend conferences, professional development activities, fundraising)?
  • What tools and/or supports could effectively assist your organization to build capacity?
  • Are there innovation or performance improvement initiatives you are considering, and if so are there barriers to achieving progress on that initiative?

Strengthen Leadership

Leadership is demonstrated when individuals or organizations strategically adapt to respond to diverse community needs and interests. Leadership involves setting a vision that inspires others in an organization. Leading organizations often have competencies in collaboration and partnership-building, innovation, advocacy, impact measurement, community engagement, strategic planning, risk-taking, change-making and modeling diversity values.

Ontario’s community museums and heritage organizations lead and innovate in a number of ways: through new and multi-functional buildings, through collaborations and partnerships, through new programs and services, or by diversifying to reach new audiences. Community museums and heritage organizations can help newcomers settle into their communities, help youth connect with history, and partner with other health and social service organizations to make history relevant. They also tell the stories of our past, whether they celebrate cultural pride, or share the unpleasant realities of suffering that has occurred.

Community museums and heritage organizations can be leaders by continuing to champion change as part of the journey towards reconciliation. The Truth and Reconciliation Final Report (the TRC Report)[6] features 94 Calls to Action to facilitate reconciliation and address the legacy of residential schools, including a set of recommendations relating specifically to museums and archives.

TRC Report highlights regional and local museums:

“…regional and local museums also have a critical role to play in creating opportunities for Canadians to examine the historical injustices suffered by First Nations, Inuit, Métis peoples, engage in public dialogue about what has been done and what remains to be done to remedy these harms, and reflect on the spirit and intent of reconciliation. Through their exhibits, education outreach, and research programs, all museums are well positioned to contribute to education for reconciliation.” [7]

Calls to Action 69 & 70 of the TRC Final Report also recognize the unique role of archives in reconciliation[8]. Although the Call to Action’s focus is on federal organizations, there is an opportunity for archives in Ontario to be leaders in reconciliation efforts by facilitating access to records, promoting historical research, and preserving documentary memory for current and future generations.

We heard through Culture Talks that Ontario’s community museums and archives also echoed the sentiment about the important role they can play in the reconciliation of mainstream institutions with Indigenous communities. Strengthening leadership could take shape in many ways depending on an organization’s need. It could involve supporting activities for staff training and development or initiatives that promote collaboration and partnerships. Organizations that are strong and innovative could take on a mentorship role and work with organizations that are in need of specialized expertise.

Leadership Discussion Questions:

  • How does your organization demonstrate leadership?
  • What are some of the barriers for your organization when it comes to leadership, and how are you working to overcome them?
  • What tools and/or supports might help build leadership in your organization?
  • If you are an Indigenous community or organization, what relationships do you have with non-Indigenous heritage organizations? What tools and/or supports would help you develop those relationships?
  • For community museums and heritage organizations, what tools and/or supports would help you to work with Indigenous communities or organizations?
  • What are some of the ways that community museums and heritage organizations could demonstrate leadership in reconciliation with Indigenous communities?

Support More Diverse Organization

During Culture Talks, community museums and heritage organizations advocated that the ministry expand the types of heritage organizations and activities it supports. The term 'diversity' is a broad term that could encompass various meanings and interpretations.

Supporting more diverse organizations could mean that programs should support cultural heritage organizations that reflect the Province’s diverse communities so that all Ontarians can see themselves represented. Diversity is also the presence of a wide range of human qualities and attributes within an organization (including its mandate, exhibits, programs and services). The dimensions of diversity include, but are not limited to, ancestry, culture, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, language, physical and intellectual ability, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, and socio-economic status.

Supporting diverse organizations could also mean providing access to services for organizations at various stages of their development (start-ups versus established organizations) or for new models of heritage organizations (pop ups, networks, digital or virtual organizations). It could also mean offering tailored support for organizations in different geographical regions across the province.

Support More Diverse Organizations Discussion Questions:

  • If you do not receive MTCS operating funding through the CMOG, HODG or PHO program, please explain why. Are there barriers that prevent you from applying (e.g. unaware of programs, ineligible and why, application processes, not interested, etc.)?
  • Do you feel that the current programs’ eligibility criteria reflect and consider the current composition of community museums and the heritage sector in Ontario?
  • How could MTCS support more diverse community museums and heritage organizations? Please discuss some tools and/or resources.
  • How is your organization supporting and reflecting diversity? Please describe one example.

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Part Two: Specific Topics

This section will explore some of the specific topics that organizations identified during the Culture Talks. Although some of these topics overlap with other commitments of the Culture Strategy, we want to expand on what we heard and help inform other commitments from a community museums and heritage perspective.


As part of the government’s commitment to maintaining a balanced budget, MTCS, like all ministries, has to ensure spending remains sustainable and aligns with current provincial priorities. Many community museums and heritage organizations are taking steps to improve their sustainability in number of ways. Some organizations are sharing resources and co-developing programming with other community partners. Others are seizing opportunities for revenue generating activities and leveraging tourism opportunities.

There are innovative organizations that are developing private enterprises as part of their not-for–profit museum or heritage organization. These organizations are aiming to create a steady stream of revenue that in turn will help support their cultural heritage activities.

A trend in the United States is the emergence of social impact investing in the cultural heritage sector. Some of the innovations in the United States may warrant more investigation on their applicability for Ontario’s cultural heritage sector. The American Alliance of Museums’ publication ‘Museum 2040: A Museum magazine Special edition’ highlights examples of social impact investors who are providing capital to cultural non-profits. These projects show that the cultural heritage sector is capable of demonstrating measurable social and/or environmental impact.[9] This development suggests that investing in high impact cultural organizations is a viable choice for an investor seeking to maximize social or environmental impact alongside a financial return.

We heard from you about the need for more opportunities for collaborations and partnerships in order to maximize resources. We’ve also heard that government funding models could be redesigned to support organizational capacity. While there are challenges in securing philanthropic support, we also heard that the potential is there and organizations require capacity for fundraising.

Sustainability Discussion Questions:

  • Do you currently share any resources with other organizations? What are some opportunities and barriers for collaboration and resource sharing with other organizations?
  • What tools or supports could help your organization be more sustainable? Please think about topics related to innovation or risk-taking that could help your organization be more sustainable (e.g., social enterprise, fundraising). Please cite any examples in Ontario, outside of Ontario, or international models that could be researched.
  • Have you accessed other provincial support programs? If so which ones? If you haven’t, why not?

Performance Measures and Outcomes

Performance measurement involves the collection, analysis and sharing of data and information. It is a critical part of seeing whether the desired outcomes, goals or mission of an organization are being met or whether more work is needed.

Performance measurement varies greatly and there is no one size fits all approach. The elements of performance measurement that may differ from model to model are aspects such as what is chosen to be measured, how it is measured and evaluated, how it is reported, and how it is integrated with a planning cycle.

Outcomes-based performance measurement can help inform program results, demonstrate value, and support evidence-based decision-making. Some organizations are shifting from simply quantitative data collection and output reporting towards outcome-based performance measurement to better demonstrate the impact of their services and programs. This idea was also reinforced through the findings from Culture Talks --- there is a desire amongst stakeholders to better link funding to key outcomes.

Some common themes when understanding outputs and outcomes could be:

  • Outputs are the tangible items produced through activity (e.g., number of customers served or number of inspections). Output measures are very useful for projecting expenditures and assessing resource needs within specific time frames.
  • Outcomes help to demonstrate the extent to which activities contribute to the achievement of organizational objectives. Outcome measures cannot be separated from objectives because they are intended to measure the degree to which objectives are being met.

Outcomes can be linked to broader social and economic goals (e.g., helping families, building communities, jobs and building skills, collaborating with partners). Outcomes can be divided into short-term and long term outcomes. An example of a short term cultural outcome could be “improved community awareness of cultural heritage assets”, and an example of a long term cultural outcome could be “people of all ages, communities and abilities have opportunities to participate in and be exposed to a range of cultural activities, programs and products”.

The Ontario Trillium Foundation (OTF) (an agency of MTCS) has recently developed an Investment Strategy, rooted in the Canadian Index of Wellbeing, linking action areas to priority outcomes. In this model, every grant allocated is an investment in only those activities that will achieve one of the priority outcomes.[10]

Performance Measures and Outcomes Discussion Questions:

  • What are your organization’s Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and supporting data sources? If you have several KPIs, please use your discretion and highlight up to three that you feel would support an outcomes-based program model. If you do not have KPIs please indicate why.
  • What is your main challenge related to performance measurement? Please describe one key challenge and how you are working to overcome it.
  • Please describe a few key characteristics of transparent benchmarks and assessments that would be suitable for the government to request as part of reporting.

Digital Transformation

The Ontario Culture Strategy includes a commitment to develop a better understanding of the impact of the digital transformation on culture and, as a first step, work with partners to organize a digital culture symposium to bring together stakeholders from all culture sectors to share experiences and expertise, build capacity to address digital challenges and take advantage of new opportunities.

We heard that for community museums and archival organizations, online display and storage of collections and information on websites represents one of the most widespread applications of using digital technology to preserve documentary heritage in archives and facilitate access to archival records and museum collections. The adoption of new technologies has also given rise to different experiences for visitors through virtual museum environments, interactive media, apps and social media engagement. The transformation to a digital world with more online access to cultural assets can also provide new opportunities to examine and interact with cultural objects, attract more visitors, and enhance revenue generation.

Although there are a number of opportunities, there are challenges as well. Like other sectors, keeping pace with new technologies, training and retaining knowledgeable staff with skills to adapt to changing digital needs are some of the key challenges with going digital. There are also costs associated with providing both online and in person experiences, identifying which digital technologies are suitable to meet the needs of audiences, technological infrastructure, including adequate broadband and bandwidth especially for rural, remote, and northern communities.

Digital Transformation Discussion Questions:

  • Describe your top digital priority? Please limit to one description.
  • Is there a community museum or heritage organization that you would identify as a leader in digital transformation and why?
  • What would your organization benefit from the most? Please select one.
    • Opportunities for networking or developing collaborations with other digital leaders in the industry/private sector
    • Digital literacy, training and skills development
    • Digitizing content
    • Digital marketing and reaching new audiences

Archaeological Collections Management

Ontario’s Culture Strategy includes a commitment to work with Indigenous partners, archaeologists, museums and others to improve the conservation of archaeological collections. These collections include artifacts uncovered by archaeologists from sites in Ontario as well as associated records of archaeological fieldwork, such as field notes, photographs and artifact catalogues.

Currently many archaeologists store their collections in business offices, rented storage space or private residences. The government is working to facilitate the deposit of archaeological collections into public institutions, such as museums, repositories and Indigenous cultural centres. This can help to ensure that archaeological collections receive ethical and sustainable long term care and create opportunities for Indigenous communities, researchers, and the public to appropriately access them for research, education and cultural purposes.

There are challenges that Indigenous communities, museums and other public institutions may face in accepting and caring for archaeological collections – costs, space and staffing, preservation and interpretation to name a few. During Culture Talks we heard that Ontario museums and heritage organizations often struggle to find ways to make archaeological collections accessible and relevant to the public while implementing effective collections management policies to ensure their preservation. We also heard that there are opportunities to digitize collections and to enhance the role of Indigenous communities in archaeological collections management, interpretation and exhibition.

We are aware that there are other collections priorities in addition to archaeological collections. Ensuring museum and archival collections remain relevant and meaningful, and reflect diverse communities is a key priority of the sector. Although the primary focus of this section is on archaeological collections, we would like to better understand broader collection priorities in addition to archaeological collections.

Archaeological Management Discussion Questions:

  • Do you currently have any archaeological artifacts in your collection? What challenges or opportunities do you see around accepting, preserving and/or exhibiting archaeological artifacts?
  • What guidance or training would your organization most benefit from related to archaeological collections?
  • Do you incorporate the voices of indigenous communities in your archaeological and/or other collections practices? If so, how? If you do not involve indigenous people, what are the barriers in doing so?
  • For non-archaeological collections, what is your top collections management priority?

Community Hubs

The Culture Strategy includes a commitment to "work with government partners and culture stakeholders to maximize the use of public libraries, museums, galleries and other culture facilities as community hubs and explore opportunities to integrate arts and culture activities and spaces into schools and other community facilities."

Community hubs are a service delivery model that brings together service providers to offer a range of services that respond to demonstrated community needs. Community hubs can be about co-location of services online and in neighborhoods. Hubs exist in a range of sectors: business/economic development, community and social integration services, and health. Commonly recognized outcomes of community hubs include improved access to a range of client-centered services, optimized use of existing buildings and operating cost savings through facility sharing. Similar to community hubs, there are also cultural hubs. Cultural hubs bring together culture services and programs in a specific location. It may include a performing arts centre, art gallery, library, outdoor program space, and indoor cultural space or even digital hub that brings together cultural, social, and economic benefits for a community.[11]

Community Hubs Discussion Questions:

  • Do you consider your organization to be a cultural and/or community hub? In what ways?
  • Please describe the top barrier community museums and heritage organizations face in becoming a cultural and/or community hub, and how can the sector work with the government to overcome these barriers?
  • What tools and resources would be helpful to your organization as you pursue cultural and community hub collaborations?

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Next Steps and Closing

We will analyze and consider your feedback over the coming months and we will publish a summary report of the comments from the discussion paper this spring. We appreciate all the enthusiasm that has been generated with this review to update provincial funding programs for community museums and heritage organizations. Together we can work to build capacity, strengthen leadership and support more diverse organizations.

  • Is there anything else you wish to add? Limit your responses to 250 words or less.

Thank you for your feedback and we look forward to reading your responses.

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  • American Alliance of Museums publication ‘Museum 2040: A Museum magazine special edition. November/December 2017
  • Government of Ontario. (2016, August 16). The Ontario Culture Strategy: Telling our Stories, Growing our Economy. Web. Retrieved on June 6, 2017.
  • Government of Ontario (N.d). E-Laws- Ontario Heritage Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. O.18. Web. Retrieved on June 29, 2017.
  • Ontario Museum Association (N.d) Ontario’s Museums 2025 Strategic Vision and Action Plan. Web. Retrieved on October 31, 2017.
  • Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (N.d.). TRC Final Report. Web. Retrieved June 6, 2017.
  • Ontario Trillium Foundation (N.d.). Canadian Index of Well-Being. Web Retrieved on June 6, 2017.
  • Town of Oakville (N.d.) Downtown Cultural Hub Study. Web. Retrieved on June 6, 2017.

Works Cited