The ‘Musée très surprenant’

By Leslie Foster

‘Surprising’ Clarence-Rockland Museum offers an eclectic mix of historical treasures


The Clarence-Rockland museum is unlike any museum you’ve visited.

The “Musée très surprenant” (very surprising museum) is housed in the École La Ste-Famille, an old school house, at 687 Laurier in Rockland, Ont., a bilingual community about 40 kilometres east of downtown Ottawa.

The building was erected in 1909, and its nine rooms house more than 16,000 photos, documents, newspapers, books, records, military medals, old tools and utensils, clothes, plaques, trophies and more.

The joy of visiting the museum is not found exclusively in the incredible volume of treasures it houses.

Meeting the curator, Gilles Chartrand, is a true pleasure.

Chartrand, who is retired after 42 years in the insurance industry, has been a collector for more than 40 years. He says he is in his element sharing the history of the region and interesting artifacts from days gone by.

The exhibits started with his personal collections and have grown through donations and loans since it opened in April 2010.

You can’t help but walk away having learned something. You will definitely remember your visit to this little-known museum, as Chartrand is unforgettable.

His passion is contagious.

Salle Marc Dorion houses sports memorabilia, including items donated by Marc Dorion, a Canadian Paralympic ice sledge hockey player. Salle Famille Laporte houses models of buildings from 1868 Rockland.

Chartrand shares many details and stories of the years when Rockland was a mill town. Salle des Archives has more than 800 binders, containing approximately 450,000 catalogued, general-interest documents, pins, badges, and photos.

La Salle Gilles Chartrand is a multi-purpose room that serves as an art gallery. It also features a collection about war and world conflicts, and showcases a collection of military medals.

In 2011, the museum opened a special Inuit exhibit with over 300 items, which is regularly visited by school groups.

Every square inch of museum space is filled with history. There are even exhibits in the basement, where you’ll find treasures such as old washing machines and drills. Chartrand recently added items that teach about geology, archeology, mineralogy, fossils, reptiles, and mammals, including dinosaurs.

A couple of things make this museum truly unique:

you are allowed to touch almost everything and you can borrow items. With so much information housed in one location, many people use the museum’s collections for research.

And Chartrand welcomes children to explore the museum and touch the artifacts.

“They are remarkably gentle with everything. They love to touch everything,” he says. “They’re curious about the items … ask lots of questions. They don’t want to leave.”

Children and adults alike will be amazed by the working gramophone, two working harmoniums, and all kinds of tools and utensils from long ago. It’s fun to try and guess what some of the tools were used for. And Chartrand has the answers.

There are many learning modules offered at the museum, and Chartrand brings lessons into the community, often visiting other museums, schools, clubs, and old age residences.

A new exhibit will open on Dec. 14 featuring more than 100 items from the attic of La Maison Tucker House, a local environmental learning and retreat centre. Some items have

been hidden in the attic for 80 years. One impressive item on display is a pre-Confederation map, an incredible history lesson on its own.

The museum is open Monday to Friday, 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., closed for lunch. You can make arrangements to visit

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in the evening or on weekends by appointment.

Admission is free, but donations are gratefully accepted.

To learn more about the museum, visit www.facebook.

com/, call 613-446-7319, or stop by.