Steve Laforet’s Grade 5 class appeared before Windsor city council six years ago to request a better museum for the city and now it’s a reality.
The teacher from St. Anne French Immersion Catholic Elementary School attended the grand opening of the Chimczuk Museum Thursday with the Grade 4 class he currently teaches.
Laforet said he encouraged his Grade 5 class at the time to try to make the museum happen after they had toured other museums in Detroit and wondered why Windsor couldn’t have something similar.
“Some say that was the turning point, the catalyst in a long debate to see this action taken, to have this space created,” said Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens, who was a councillor at the time.
The students were visibly enthused when Dilkens invited them to tour the museum after the opening ceremonies in the ground floor of the Art Gallery of Windsor. Laforet said some his students asked him when they could return.
“What I liked about it is every part of Windsor’s history – we found the black history, we saw some of the automotive stuff, we’ve seen just about everything,” said Laforet. “It really covers it all.”
Having all of the text to go along with the exhibits in both English and French is also an asset for children who attend a French immersion school, he said.
The museum includes exhibits on First Nations and Windsor’s history from pre-history to present, as well as a learning and activity space for children.
Madelyne Della Valle, curator of the museum, said the new location has about 2,600 square feet of permanent exhibitions, compared to the 450 square feet of space at the Francois-Baby House museum, which will remain open.
The entire museum space at the Art Gallery building, which includes temporary galleries, is about 11,000 square feet. Della Valle said the museum now has a loading dock to bring in larger artifacts, which wasn’t possible at the Francois-Baby House.
The lead up to the museum opening was often controversial. Funds from the will of retired autoworker Joseph Chimczuk, which grew from $1 million to over $3 million since 1990, were tied up in court.
The funds could only be used if the museum was named after Chimczuk, but Dr. David Wonham, who treated Chimczuk’s wife, copyrighted the name Chimczuk Museum Inc. to ensure his name would be displayed prominently.
Wonham and the city came to an agreement last year and Dilkens recognized Wonham during his remarks at the opening ceremony.
Debbie Jones, Chimczuk’s grand niece, said she didn’t become aware of the discussion over the museum until last year.
“I’m glad that his wishes were carried out,” said Jones, who lives in Elora. “I’m glad that he wanted recognition for the contribution that immigrants gave to Canada, and the history is so important.”
Dilkens said Chimczuk’s money, once it grew by compound interest, helped leverage both federal and provincial funds to realize the museum.
“There was a lot of acrimony over the years about the Chimczuk will and then the money that was left to the City of Windsor,” he said. “You can see now it’s all resolved. At the end of the day, it’s just great to see the museum opened so the community can enjoy it.”
Admission to both the Chimzuck Museum and the Art Gallery of Windsor will be free Saturday with guided tours and events throughout the day.