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Toronto City Councillor Joe Mihevc is releasing details on wide-spread museum closures planned as part of the city's cost-cutting measures. Mr. Mihevc is seen here in this Dec. 5, 2006 file photo. (Simon Hayter/The Globe and Mail/Simon Hayter/The Globe and Mail)
Toronto City Councillor Joe Mihevc is releasing details on wide-spread museum closures planned as part of the city's cost-cutting measures. Mr. Mihevc is seen here in this Dec. 5, 2006 file photo. (Simon Hayter/The Globe and Mail/Simon Hayter/The Globe and Mail)

Municipal politics

City museums at risk, despite denials, Mihevc says Add to ...

A Toronto councillor is forging ahead with a campaign to rescue four city museums from being closed despite avowals from fellow politicians that no such threat exists.

Dozens of residents joined Councillor Joe Mihevc at Montgomery’s Inn Museum in Etobicoke on Sunday, one of the sites the city hall veteran says will be shuttered under a secret cost-cutting plan currently making the rounds among city staff.

“Heritage is not gravy,” said Mr. Mihevc, to a chorus of cheers. “This ill-advised move must be stopped.”

The four museums are being recommended to close based on low attendance, according to Mr. Mihevc. He said that the other facilities on the chopping black are Gibson House and Zion Schoolhouse in North York, along with the Market Gallery in St. Lawrence Market. In total, the measure would save $1-million, something the councillor attributes to Mayor Rob Ford’s demands for 10-per-cent cuts from every city department.

“It seems ludicrous to me,” said Irene Barton, a teacher who lives near Montgomery’s Inn and regularly brings school groups through the building. “It’s a link to the past. We’re so good in Canada at tearing down our past for no good reason. We need to fight to save this.”

So far, no document exists suggesting any such move is in the works. Soon after Mr. Mihevc’s allegations emerged on Saturday, fellow councillors took to their Twitter accounts to refute his claim.

Councillor Gary Crawford, a strong ally of Mr. Ford, accused Mr. Mihevc of “political grandstanding.”

“Councillor Mihevc should know better. For him to say we’re closing museums is a bit premature,” Mr. Crawford said on Sunday.

“Closing museums? In fact we are looking at ways to enhance heritage in Toronto,” wrote Councillor Jaye Robinson, a member of Mr. Ford’s cabinet-like executive committee.

By Sunday, Mr. Ford’s office had designated Ms. Robinson its spokeswoman on the issue. With the mayor in her corner, Ms. Robinson promptly toughened her stand against any threat of closings.

“We are not closing museums in Toronto,” she said. “We simply are not doing that. I will never support closing a museum and I think I’m in good company on council.”

Though she is a rookie councillor, Ms. Robinson has shown that she holds considerable sway on council, owing largely to her role as a moderate voice within Mr. Ford’s inner circle.

Mr. Ford and his brother, Councillor Doug Ford, were on track to scrap long-held designs for Toronto’s Port Lands and plant a Ferris wheel, megamall and monorail on the city’s waterfront until she came out firmly against the idea.

During a council session in September, she successfully repelled a proposal to close poorly attended museums with a motion that directed the city manager to examine putting museums under Heritage Toronto, which would then be spun off as a not-for-profit organization.

“It was clear there was no appetite for closing museums at that council meeting,” she said. “That’s why I was so baffled when I got up Saturday morning and heard Councillor Mihevc talking about museum closures. I’m perplexed and a little disappointed. He has no staff report to verify what he’s saying. It’s simply stirring a pot that doesn’t need to be stirred.”

Mr. Mihevc insisted his source is sterling.

“I would not be putting so much work in this if I didn’t have very solid ground for making the case that I’m making,” he said. “They’ll call me a liar and a grandstander. If that means this proposal gets fixed or erased because of it, that’s fine. As long as our museums are saved, that’s fine. I would love to be proven wrong on this.”

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