|In 1960, the Town of Dryden celebrated the "Fiftieth" anniversary of becoming a town. Originally the Village of Dryden was part of Van Horne Township, but in 1910, the citizens voted to secede from Van Horne and become a separate municipality. Half a century later various celebrations were held to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of becoming a town. One of the events held was the exhibition of a temporary museum display. The late Russell Pollard and members of the Oddfellows Lodge, borrowed artifacts from local citizens and displayed them at the fairgrounds. After the event, the items were returned to their owners. Because the display was so popular with the public, the Dryden Observer suggested in their editorial, that the town should have a permanent museum. This idea had been echoed by many people and Mayor J. L. Skillen asked Mr. Pollard to form a committee to study the possibility of having a properly housed museum collection. The idea was brought forward to Town Council in 1963 in a proposal by the Dryden District Chamber of Commerce.
Mr. Pollard, as Chair of the Chamber's Ad-Hoc Committee suggested that a Tourist Bureau and Museum should be built on a property on Park Avenue, between Government Road and Highway 17, he pointed out that goverment grants were available to assist museums in their annual operation and that the Chamber was also prepared to assist. He added that there would have to be municipal participation in order to receive the grants. Mayor Alan Durance appointed Councillors Ted Sherwood and Harold Usher to study the idea further.
In April 1963, a By-Law was passed to purchase the suggested piece of land for use as a tourist bureau and museum. The new building was built on the site and in the spring of 1964, an article in the Dryden Observer called for artifacts to be loaned or donated to the new museum. Artifacts did come in that summer and the first displays were set up by Les Barrett, Tourist Bureau Manager and his assistant, Arthur L. Wilson. Art Wilson was a retired C.P.R. telegrapher with interests in prospecting and geology. He took on the position of the first curator of the museum. There was no salary for this as he was already an assistant in the Tourist Bureau.
After the first year of operation the museum received a grant from the province and the Town provided $1,000 annually, with the Chamber of Commerce covering the rest of the expenses. There was a fee of 25 cents for admission to the exhibits. Curator Wilson was assisted by volunteers, Oscar Agnew and Gerrie Noble. The Chamber unveiled a bronze plaque in the museum in 1965, in honor of the late Russell Pollard for his work as the "Father of the Museum Project".
In December of 1968, after six years as the curator, Art Wilson passed away. The position was filled by the Chamber in January 1969, with the appointment of Gerrie Noble. The museum's first budget was presented and passed that March, providing funds for new display cases and a very small annual stipend for the curator.
Les Barrett resigned as Tourist Bureau Manager and Secretary of the Chamber and was replaced by Mrs. Peggy Skramrud.
The curators up to this time had no training in museum operations, Curator Noble enrolled in the Ontario Museum Association's correspondence courses and training seminars to receive the required knowledge. In early 1972, Noble resigned as curator to accept a similar position with the Thunder Bay Historical Museum Society. Later that year, Mr. A. R. Wing, a retired Dryden High School Teacher, was appointed to the position of curator. No changes were made at the museum and after several years Mr. Wing moved away.
For several years more, there was no curator and a static museum display remained at the Tourist Bureau. Mrs. Louise Meloney was appointed Curator in February 1977, and began to make changes and hold activities. Having been involved previously with a crafts group, she enlisted some of the craft ladies to help at the museum and become a "Friends of the Museum" support group. Arts and crafts displays became part of the exhibitions at the museum.
On December 18, 1979 the Corporation of the Town of Dryden formerly established the first Board of Museum Management. Mrs. Susan Wells became a director and soon became aware of the cramped space allotted for the museum's activities. She was asked by the town to head a committee to explore the feasibility of getting a larger museum facility. A lack of local funds and provincial grants was encountered by the committee. Because of the museum's pressing need for more space, the Hatch family offered their original Grove Side Dairy farm house contingent upon its being moved to another tract of land, also to be provided by them. The museum committee members, after much consideration, deemed the project not financially feasible.
In 1985, Curator Meloney with the assistance of students hired on a Summer Youth Program, compiled a book entitled "Glimpes of Yesteryear" Dryden's Pioneer Tree and had it published. It contains stories of local people submitted by their families. That year an alternative site for a new museum came to light. The former Hambleton house at 15 Van Horne Avenue came on the market. Built originally in 1897 by James McFayden, it was passed to his daughter Gertrude who was married to William Hambleton. Hambleton was the Town Clerk for many years before retiring.
While the house had a history, the most recent owners had stripped out the interior. When their plans for a business failed, the house was left derelict and was boarded up. After much study, the Town Council approved the purchase of the property in May 1985. Mayor T.S. Jones asked Mel Fisher, Town Engineer to work with the museum committee in the conversion of the house into a workable museum. The renovations included the building of a completely new section at the rear of the house to provide the necessary offices and services required.
In 1986, Leah Gardner began her tenure at the museum as a summer staff member. Plans were underway at that time for the move of over 3,000 artifacts and display equipment to the new museum. The renovations began on the Hambleton house, but weather slowed the work as fall approached. It was also found that electrical and mechanical designs were too expensive, so it was back to the drawing board for redesigning with a limited budget in mind. Hopes for completion by the end of 1986 were dropped and the work continued on to the fall of 1987, when the keys for the building were turned over to staff. The move of the collection was made and the displays set up. The museum opened in the new building unofficially to the public in December of 1987. The total cost of the project, including renovations were estimated at $400,000.
On June 30, 1988, a beautiful sunny day, the official opening of the new museum was held. More than 150 people were present to see Mayor George Boissoneault and other dignitaries cut the ribbon. Boissonneault announced Meloney's retirement as Curator after 11 years and Edna Boon was introduced as the Curator of the new facility.
Mrs. Boon continued as Curator until August of 1992, when the Boon's left Dryden. Leah Gardner was promoted to Curator, having served as Assistant Curator since 1987.
On August 18, 2007, the museum celebrated 20 years in the Hambleton house.