By Danny Gallagher
Canadian Baseball Network
Almost a year ago at this time not long before Christmas, Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum officials were reeling with confusion and extreme disappointment.
Hoping for good news from Santa in the form of high-end financial support from town council in St. Marys, Ont. where their facility is located, those officials instead were rejected in their attempt to secure funding for an estimated $6-million expansion project.
One December later, exciting things in the form of a compromise project are starting to take shape. A $1.2-million improvement plan has begun and will be completed in stages next year.
The current museum of 1,000 square feet will be expanded by 2,500 square feet and there will be a renovation to the inside of the existing structure. The renovation to the inside will allow visitors a more memorable experience.
Marklevitz Architects Inc. of Stratford, Ont. has been brought on board and Elgin Contracting and Restoration Ltd. of St. Thomas, Ont. has been awarded the contract for the expansion.
This project is made possible by a number of generous private donations and funding through the Canada 150 Community Infrastructure Program. The bulk of the construction is set to be completed by March 31, 2018, with renovations to the current museum scheduled to take place following the expansion.
So by the time the 2018 Hall of Fame induction ceremony is held in mid-June, a vast portion of the work will be available for the public to see. The renovations will include a new entrance and gift shop area, an accessible washroom and new auditorium/exhibition space. The main focus of the project will be to create a secure archive facility and resource library for the hall’s extensive collection which consists of over 6,000 books and magazines and more than 10,000 artifacts and papers.
In collaboration with the recently founded Centre for Canadian Baseball Research, the Hall's project will permit visitors to come in and research books and journals, many of them over 100 years old. It will not be a lending library, though.
The hall has also hired highly energized BaAm Productions of Toronto to bring a professional, visitor-improvement outlook to the project.
"BaAm has a real specialization in creating exhibits related to sports and they have a broader experience in museum exhibit creation,'' said Adam Stephens, chairman of the Hall's board of directors. "BaAm will be responsible for development and creation of the exhibits and for installation of those exhibits.
"BaAm helps with events surrounding the Major League Baseball all-star game, fan appreciation events for certain MLB teams and they do work affiliated with the Grey Cup and NHL Winter Classic. BaAm is uniquely positioned in the marketplace to deliver a high-level project. They've got a real niche in sports.
"The way I see it, the project delivers three main things: It improves the visitor experience, it allows us to better and properly prepare the collection of exhibits we have and it allows us to make available the rich collection of books and articles with our partnership with the Centre for Canadian Baseball Research in terms of making these important resources available to the public. It consolidates the extremely great collection of books and articles not easily accessible by the public and the collection of the founders of the centre. It's literally a treasure trove.''
The centre's founders are sports historian and Seneca College instructor Bill Humber of Bowmanville, Ont., writer and author Chip Martin of London, Ont., hall volunteer and inductee selector Andrew North of St. Marys and Bob Barney, professor emeritus at the School of Kinesiology at London's University of Western Ontario.
"There will be a grand opening at the completion of this project,'' Stephens said. "We're not tied to any particular timetable for a grand opening but we expect there will be a lot to celebrate. We are excited to begin this new chapter in our history and this project will ensure that our vast collection can be enjoyed by future generations.''
The hall is also raising funds for this project through its 14th annual holiday silent auction which is in full swing. It's your chance to get a hold of many autographed items.
Items autographed by the likes of Tim Raines, Gary Carter, Ferguson Jenkins, Vladimir Guerrero, Jose Bautista, Kendrys Morales, Kevin Pillar and Aaron Sanchez are up for grabs. A Raines jersey valued at $350 already has a bid in for $260.
Items signed by Dave Keon, Auston Matthews and Connor McDavid are also available along with Blue Jays/Maple Leafs tickets and non-sports prizes. The highest bid so far at last look for any item was $525 for the Stratford Package: gift cards for the Stratford Festival, dinner tickets at the Red Rabbit restaurant and accomodations at the Bruce Hotel.