From a young age, Kira Westby decided to dedicate herself to preserving the past.
“I was really big into dinosaurs as a kid. I think somewhere there’s a Grade 8 project that asked me what I was going to be when I grew up and I picked an archaeologist and stuck with that,” said Westby. “I remember going to museums when I was a kid and thinking it was really cool.”
Since then, she has grown out of dinosaurs and has moved on with the purpose of reinvigorating the past through the presentation of artifacts.
“I’ve always been interested in history and in the past. Museums are a great place for that because not only do you come into physical contact with pieces from history, whether it’s documents or artifacts, it’s a great place for sharing history,” she said.
Westby is the Bulkley Valley Museum’s new curator.
The Ontario-native studied archaeology and history at Wilfred Laurier University and completed her masters at the University of Western Ontario. As part of that program, she completed a 12-week internship at the museum in Peterborough.
She also spent three years at the collections repository at the university doing database development and collections management.
Westby spent some time in the field doing excavation, but prefers being on the interpretive side of things and piecing together the past.
“It’s the interpretation that’s important. Without the context, that china cup is just a china cup. Once you know the story behind it, that china cup was brought by the first settler who arrived here, and they brought it back with them from the east,” she said. “It’s all about the interpretive value of these pieces, otherwise, they’re not as significant without their stories”
As the museum curator (the museum is staffed by Westby and another full-time staff member), she is responsible for making a lot of day-to-day decisions around collections, exhibits and education programming.
According to David McKenzie, president of the board, the museum is undergoing some changes, and so far, Westby has been up to the challenge.
“She had this vibrant personality and excellent qualifications,” said McKenzie. “We felt that she could do a really good job. She has discovered things that we didn’t know about. She’s been getting right in there . . . She’s bringing a fresh outlook to the position.”
While she’s been on the job for just under two months, she already has big plans for the museum.
According to Westby, one of the biggest challenges that the museum faces is its lack of storage space for its roughly 3,000 artifacts ranging from barber scissors to mining equipment.
Currently, some artifacts are stored in-house, while some of the larger pieces are stored in facilities around town; but she hopes to change that.
“[The museum] doesn’t have one storage location where it can have all of its stuff stored at the right temperature and secure from mice getting in,” said Westby. “The collections will be a focus for us in the new year. We need to do some re-housing in our back storage room here.”
Starting in January, there are also plans to slowly bring out all the artifacts for public display in the gallery, and updating their archival database.
“I think it’s important that people care about history. People feel that connection to their grandparents or generations older than that and the museum is a place where those things are kept and held,” she said. “It’s like you’re the keeper of the past.”
There are roughly 5,535 people who have come through the museum this year.