Friday, 19 August 2011

How the Viking Relics Came to the Nipigon Historical Museum

L.M.( Buzz ) Lein  1912 - 1995

Buzz Lein's passing was a great loss for the Nipigon Museum in 1995. 

I knew Buzz from his Nipigon Years, so I wrote about my Museum memories of him.

Buzz Lein was a collector.  In 1970 he collected a group of friends together and they met in St. Edward Separate School, in Mr. Choiselat's room.  It was decided that Nipigon needed a Cultural Complex ( a generic title to cover the debate of what to call it). This wasn't just an off the cuff meeting.  We had flow charts, time lines, committees and sub committees designated from finance to research.

Thus came about the creation of the Nipigon Historical Museum Society.  In 1972 the Township of Nipigon created the Nipigon Museum Board to go with the newly acquired building, Domtar's Woodlands Office to become the Museum. Buzz was appointed the first chairman a position he held until his retirement. His pet peeve for those years was never having a petty cash. " I can't even go out and buy a box of stick pins!"

Buzz was a tenacious communicator. If he wasn't talking you into something he was trying to talk you out of something...for the museum, naturally.  If you lived far away he wrote you letters, and more letters and still more letters.  Take the Beardmore Relics for example:  Poor Mr. H.Hickl-Szabo was curator of the European Department of the Royal Ontario Museum. He got his first letter in August of 1974.

The Nipigon Museum wished to borrow the Beardmore Relics to the home folks what they looked like.

By 1977 ...this came:

Dear Sir: While the whole affair of the so-called 'Beardmore Relics" harks back to 1935, I will refer only to my file, which begins in August 1974.  Since then you have been most eager to persuade our Director to lend - perhaps not realizing that even if you involve the Government the final verdict will at least be influenced by my attitude.

It is for that reason that you and I should try now to size up the situation.  Your persistence, I confess, fills me with admiration, because I realize that it is born of your dedication to your museum.  I might even guess that the flourishing of your museum is judged, falsely, by attendance. But I am in no position to pass judgement even though I you a chance to judge my attitude.  My attitude is a negative one, but you must realize that it is based on the principles of my profession, to be spelled out here as the prevention of the perpetuation of a hoax.

While all this deals with the perhaps philosophical lardings of the situation, let us look at the legal angle.  You feel so safe saying, "the Beardmore Relics should be brought home to Nipigon"; but the home of these fragments is Scandinavia, and they were bought from a private owner by the Director of the Royal Ontario Museum of Archaeology Dr.C.T. Currelly, with money donated after taxes by a private sponsor of the R.O.M. 

Neither your Museum, nor Mr. Stokes, nor anyone else you wish to involve, has any claim to the relics.

Just as I suggest that we should regard each other as colleagues, I now suggest that you should drop the whole matter once and for all, and leave me in peace to deal with controversial subjects which are under my jurisdiction.  With all good wishes for the season...H. Hickl-Szabo



In 1982 the Beardmore Relics REPRODUCTIONS went on display in the Nipigon Museum along with a reprint of A.D. Tushingham's article: The Beardmore Relics: Hoax or History.

The 1990 fire burned their case down to the casters bust the reproductions were picked up intact out of the ashes.

We have had a few days to reminisce and always Buzz's sense of humour is the first topic of conversation. In his writings, Museum Musings, he would sometimes poke fun at someone or someplace.  If he knew you, you were fair game.  If he met him at the Post Office on a Saturday morning, chances were he's drag you to the library, order a couple cups of instant coffee from the staff pot, and then ply you with assorted books that would give you the feel of history of the fur trade and then he would invite you to visit the museum.

To be given a museum tour by Buzz was something special that even strangers recognized.  I remember one lady had been looking through the building for about an hour and then went up to Buzz and said, "Now, I want to see it though your eyes."

Buzz was one of our summer curators even after he moved to Midland.  We set up on e of the upstairs rooms as a bedroom and he found the quiet workroom atmosphere easy to write in.

When he discovered some significant fact in history to do with our area he was determined that it be recognized.  Two road side historic plaques were dedicated to our prehistoric cultures. At last report the plaque at the old Kama Lookout is still there but the other has succumbed to vandalism.

Buzz retired from Nipigon in 1975.  In a way I'm glad he did for now I have nearly twenty years of letters to treasure with my memories.

Memories of crawling around on the floor of his Railway Street home looking at large maps of the Nipigon River.  Or shading in contour maps of the Nipigon area with blue pencil crayon..."Listen kid, if you want to know where the copper culture Indians lived you got to bring the water level up to where it was a couple thousand years ago..."

Memories of a man who saw what was,
 knew what had been
and dreamed of what could be. 
 A starter,
a doer
and a finisher.

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